At the World's Fair in Seattle, I watched a man walk a cable stretched between two stadiums. He was about 100 feet in the air and if he had fallen, he would have pancaked on the ground. I once fell about fifty feet off of a cliff I was free climbing into the top of a tree. The tree broke my fall and I wasn't hurt, but had I missed the tree, I wouldn't be writing this blog post. Both of these events illustrate an important fact, you can proceed without protection but the laws of nature are inevitable. If either the cable walker or I had continued to pursue our unprotected avocations, we would both, almost without fail, have paid the piper at some time in our lives.
Genealogy isn't usually death defying, but sometimes the consequences of disregarding common practices of protection can lead to losses that some of us would prefer to die rather than suffer. I write this as the list of houses burned to piles of ashes continues to grow in the Western U.S. You have probably guessed by now I am talking about backing up your work on something besides the main hard drive you are working on. What would you lose in your genealogy if your house burned down to the ground today? If that loss would be devastating, then you are not in any position to feel comfortable about your procedures for backing up your data.
Some losses cannot be avoided. For example, during the progress of any war (choose one) valuable documents and historical artifacts are destroyed. Even if the curators of those items had the best possible protection, there are some events that cannot be avoided. So somewhere in all of the angst of potential loss there needs to be a measure of reasonableness. You cannot live your life in dread of losing things or you cannot live your life. But with the technology we have today, you can prevent most things from being lost completely and you can certainly stop devastating loss of your genealogical work.
As you can probably guess, there is always something that happens to get me started on some tirade or another. In this case, it was spending a couple of hours with a friend who had parked his genealogy on a computer ten years ago and forgotten about it. Time passed, he decided to change the direction of his life and went back to retrieve his data, only to find that the computer had long since died. This situation had a silver lining, he had a paper print out of his work. So we spent some time gathering what other information we could find from New.FamilySearch.org and sent him on his way.
Not all of my experiences with genealogists turn out satisfactorily. As I look around and see so many people carrying around flash drives with all of their data, I remember how many times I have misplaced a flash drive. Just this week I had to drive back to the Mesa FamilySearch Library to retrieve a flash drive I left on a computer in the Training Center. Hmm. It can happen to anyone, but most of us are not getting any younger and how many times have you spent an hour or so looking for something you misplaced around the house. Flash drives are marvelous little things, but they are little.
Should I go back through all of the methods of backing up your data? I spent this past week making sure each of my Terabyte plus drives was completely backed up with all of my data, that is three different drives in addition to what is on four different computers. I also make a hard disk copy of everything and give it one of my children for safekeeping, off site, all the way across the country. By the way, it about time to do that again. I would like to use an online service, but my files are so large, that is not financially practical for me. I do keep all of my current working files online.
Think it through. Start now to preserve your data.