Backing Up Your Genealogy Records

This might be a quick and common sense tip for most folks who regularly work on family history research, but I was reminded of something today — you absolutely must back up your genealogy research.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I was just a teenager. I started climbing my family tree when I was 16. I started with the basics — interviewing family in older generations for example, including both of my grandfathers.

But years later I lost most of that research in a disastrous house fire. That included losing handwritten stories left behind by those family members. And while I didn’t know it at the time, I would lose them both without about six years of that fire.

When you’re 19, as I was during the fire, you feel like you have your whole life ahead of you — like you’ll always have time. I learned the hard way, time is never guaranteed. And that’s a lesson life keeps throwing at me in some rather painful ways. But this was one of the worst because I’d really started to bond with one of those grandfathers over their stories. I wrote down what I remembered and verified what I could. But it’ll never be the same.

So those handwritten records in particular — they’re precious. Scan them. Keep off-site digital copies. Put the originals in fire-safe boxes if possible.


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But that’s not why this issue of backing up genealogy records came to mind today.

I just signed up for six months of Ancestry.com, which I haven’t done any fresh research on in years. I seemed to have tapped out their resources on the lines I was focusing on previously. But now there are new hints, and I have new leads to follow, so I decided to give it a try again.

And I was reminded of something that angered me when I left them previously. While you keep your tree if you unsubscribe, you lost copies of all records you’ve already researched, even if you’ve save it to that tree. That’s always been absurd — you already paid for the time to find and access those, so it’s always annoyed me the way they essentially hold your research hostage while they’ll still charge other people to access your personal records you uploaded to the site.

But you can (or at least you could before) download copies to your computer when you find things line census records or vital records.

So consider this a quick reminder. If you use Ancestry, or any family history research service that lets you download the documents locally, make backups of everything. This way if you ever decide to switch platforms or move to local software instead of an online service, you’ll have your tree and all records safe and sound.


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