Anders Family
David Asbel Anders with
Jim and Tina Smith Anders

US GenWeb Project

Rufus and Florence Hall Owen Family in 1947
Rufus and Florence Hall Owen and children

US GenWeb Archives Project


Transylvania County, NC 

GenWeb Project

NC GenWeb


First Step: Creating A Backup Plan


It happened January 2002.   About 6am, after about an hour of quietly working at my computer, it stopped making that gentle comforting little humming noise when the hard drive was in use.  Instead, there was an ominous clicking sound as I repeatedly attempted to re-boot the computer with sinking feeling of knowing, despite my wishful denial, that my hard drive had spontaneously self-destructed making all of its contents, including years of research, inaccessible in a mere split second.  

This happens far more often than we would like to think and will likely happen to you at some point if it hasn't already.  In my case, the one faint glimmer of hope was that I had a small fireproof safe with a series of freshly updated backup cds.  Start planning now to make sure your data can survive a disaster. 

When you begin using your computer for research – or anything else – the first step should be to establish a regular backup system.   A few things to keep in mind: 

1. You can never be too paranoid about backing up data. 

2. Basic backups can be easy using an online service such as  Small files can even be backed up for free using a service such as briefcase. As your research and computer skills grow, you will want to keep a collection of back-up cds.  

3. Homemade backups are usually made with recordable cds.  Once you have the drive, the cds are pretty cheap. And the majority of computers in use today have a CD drive to read them.  If you have a recordable DVD then go ahead and use these since that is where the technology is heading.  Floppies are not a good choice since they don't hold much, are pretty unstable and are already outdated technology.  Zip drives and memory sticks are other options, though they are limited to other computers that are able to use them.

4. Back-up often.  How often? Figure out how much time you are personally willing to put into re-entering stuff and plan accordingly. I back-up at least weekly. But if I spend a full day at the database, I go ahead and do a daily back-up.  

5. Save your old back-ups.  Sometimes a file will pick up a gremlin in the transfer making your back-up copy unusable. If this occurs, an earlier disk may have a working copy only slightly more out of date. Saving old back-ups, especially of web page designs, may provide a helpful reference after several updates or help in any copyright disputes. And re-using disks can promote physical breakdown of the disk, especially magnetic based floppies.  

6. Don’t forget registration codes and passwords.  Maintain a list and keep it with your back-ups.  

7. Keep back-ups safe.  A small fire-proof safe with back-up disks, software disks and a list of registration codes and passwords provide an important computer emergency kit. Store this away from the computer (in case of theft the disks might get left behind) in a dry area with moderate temperature.  

8. Keep a copy outside your house.  Fires and thieves and such will take both your computer and your disks. Find someone you trust as a “backup buddy” to regularly exchange data. Exchange of passwords and people to contact will allow your friend to temporarily maintain web sites and notify electronic friends in case of an emergency.  

9. Don’t trust your back-up disks to last.  Yes, those fancy “archival quality” cds are supposed to last 100 years. And the plastic base probably will – certainly better than cassette tapes that can turn to a disturbing ooze after a couple of decades or so. But the microscopic bits of information will probably start to break down a heck of a lot sooner. And cd drives probably won’t exist 100 years from now. If you use cds for data storage such as electronic photo albums, plan on copying these disks at least every three years or so onto whatever the new technology is.  

10. Electronic files are convenient and easy to share.  But they are never a substitute for the real thing. Original historic documents such as old family letters, diaries or photographs should be maintained in a professionally managed archive with appropriate climate/fire/critter/acid, etc. controls in place.  Do make sure the collections are managed by an experienced archivist with an appropriate masters degree.  Volunteer managed facilities, including the majority of historical and genealogical societies and the Transylvania County Archives, often miss the minor details that could mean disaster for your documents.   Keep duplicate and electronic copies at home for day to day use and consider donating the original to ensure that it is available to future researchers - and yourself. Think of it as the ultimate backup.

11.  What are you waiting for?  Backup your files NOW and OFTEN!  

 - Linda Hoxit Raxter, originally posted January 4, 2003

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