Keep Your Digital Files Safe

Have You Ever Lost Precious Data Files?

Computer Crash

Most of us engaged in family history work will have a slew of digital photos & documents stored on our computer’s hard drive representing years of hard working to collect them. We always hope that we will never lose those files. Working in a FamilySearch Library however, I have quickly learned that folks in general do not practice safe backup strategies. A staff member had all of her family history files stored on her laptop. One day that hard drive just crashed and all those files disappeared. Years of work gone in a second and there was no backup done. Have you ever experiences data loss? It's heart wrenching.

Common reasons for delaying backing up your computer include:

  • My computer is new so the hard drive should last a long time

  • Not “getting around to it”

  • Not having enough storage media for full backups

  • Not knowing how to do it

Common storage mistakes made when backing up your files:

Technology advances, and new devices become old devices over time. I used to store backups on DVDs, and then onto Blu-Ray data disks. DVDs would hold up to 4.7 gigabytes of data. That used to be a huge amount of storage, but as file sizes increase and the amount of data I have has also increased, they no longer were useful. To back up my 43,000 image files, I would need 40+ disks each time I made a backup. The other issue with CDRs/DVDs/BluRay disks is that they are prone to lose data over time, some say in 5-10 years.

Another technology advancement that is going to become pushed aside is the Type-A USB connections that are common in USB flash disks. More computer manufacturers are going to a newer USB-C interface connection. The same thing happened with the 3.5” floppy drives a long time ago. They were useful at the time, but have become dinosaurs now. Think what will happen to the USB hard drives that have a Type-A connection. It will become harder in the future to pull information off of those storage drives. What this entails for us, is to create a plan to re-evaluate our backup plans at least yearly.

Here is another complicating issue with accessing storage files in the future. Older software applications, like WordPerfect, WordStar, and others that used a proprietary file type will become unreadable in the future, if they haven’t already. Software companies come and go, and with it the ability to open up your stored files. More developers are using more common file types that are easily read between programs. Interestingly, even Microsoft Word files from the early versions can not even be read by the newer Microsoft Word programs. It is important to review what file types you are storing, as they may become “extinct” over time. Do this on a yearly basis.

It is important to realize that many storage media has a “shelf life” just sitting in a drawer somewhere. Here are some interesting facts. 1) Hard drives – 2 to 5 years of constant use, or 30 years when dormant. 2) Solid state drive (SSD) – up to 5 to 10 years with constant use. 3) CDs and DVDs – 2 to 5 years of constant use. 4) USB sticks – Up to 10 years, but you are more likely to lose the USB before the data expires. 5) Vinyl Records / M Disk – Like a CD/DVD but with the actual data pressed into the surface. While not practical for data backup technically can last for hundreds of years.

How Can I Learn More About Safely Backing Up My Files?

Here is a website page that can explain these things in more detail. Click HERE

Now go forth and create good backups!

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