Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Moving or backing up your genealogy files -- Part One

One of the most persistent questions I get during classes or presentations involves the issue of backing up genealogy files or moving them from one device to another. This problem comes up in the context of acquiring a new genealogy program and in using a storage device, usually a flash drive (also known as thumb drive and several other names). The concept of moving a file from one device to another or even moving the file from one folder or storage location on the same computer turns out to be a rather difficult concept to understand, especially for new computer users.

The first step in understanding how to move a file involves understanding how files are stored on your own computer, tablet, iPad, or laptop. All of these devices have a physical mechanism, such as a flash memory drive or a mechanical hard drive for storing both the programs and the files you create with those programs. That is why, when you close the program and go back to it later, the information you entered into the program is still there.

Programs such as genealogical database programs (Personal Ancestral File, Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic or Reunion on Apple computers and many others) all create a place on your computer where the information you enter is stored. When you start entering information, you have to create a "new file" and give that file a name. Unless you tell your computer program otherwise, that new file will be stored in some standard or default location on your computer's hard drive or other storage drive. Unfortunately, many people have no idea where the program is storing the information they enter. Even though this file is electronic it has an actual physical presence and is represented by some sort of icon (little picture) or file name on your computer. You have to realize that the file is really there in some physical location represented by the file name or icon.

Let's suppose that you are creating a file in Ancestral Quest, RootsMagic or Legacy Family Tree or Reunion. Each of these programs will place that new file in their default location chosen by the programmers or developers of the program. Unless you choose otherwise, every new file you create with your program (any program including word processing or drawing or whatever) will always be stored in the default location for that program.

The key here is that you can physically move these electronic files from one storage location to another on your computer or onto an external storage device. You can either move the original file or a make a copy of that original file and move or copy the copied file to a new location. Unfortunately, if you do not understand where your original file was located, you can also accidentally erase a file or move it to a location unrecognized by the program.

I have seen people with copies of literally dozens of individual data files on their computers or flash drives with no idea that they had that many copies and no idea which of all the files was the one they were working on. I highly recommend adding a date the file was first created, such as today's date 20130217, to all of your file names so that you can tell which file is the most recent.

On most computers and other devices, every file created on the device has a unique pathway showing where that file is located. On Windows devices, that pathway is usually shown in the extreme top of your computer screen when you open the file. It may look something like this:


If the file were created today. This tells you where the file is physically located on your hard drive or storage device. If you were to find this file on your computer on either an Apple or Windows computer, you would see either a file name or an icon representing the file. Navigating your way around a computer is not easy and you may need to get some help in the way of classes or mentoring. If what I have explained so far makes no sense to you, you are not alone. But if you don't understand how to find your original file, seek help.

It is absolutely crucial to either making a backup of your data file or moving it to another device to understand how and where this system of storing files on computers works.

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