Backup and Recovery


Every computer user needs a strategy for making backup copies of their precious data. Modern PCs are a lot more reliable than they used to be, but can still fail without warning. In addition, the user could make a mistake that corrupts their files, or the PC gets damaged or stolen.

A file that is not backed up is a file that you are happy to lose.

This overview of backup options considers options within ƒh, and gives pointers for more experienced PC users for incorporating ƒh into a general backup strategy.

What needs to be backed up?

See Understanding the Scope of Features for a full description of where ƒh saves its data. A comprehensive backup needs to save all of these data, covering both your tree and program settings.

Options within Family Historian

These options give comprehensive coverage of ƒh data and settings but do not copy any other files.  They are most appropriate for less experienced PC users, as they are easy to set up and use and do not require detailed knowledge of PC filing systems.

A limitation of these methods is that they do not copy any other user data, so need to be part of an overall strategy to protect your user data, not your sole backup mechanism.

User data

ƒh provides three different data backups, with increasing scope, ranging from just the GEDCOM file to all files in the relevant project folder. Note that media files are copied only if they are within the project folder. Files held elsewhere that are linked to your project are not copied.

Backup options are set from the Backup tab under either File > Backup/Restore > Backup Options… or Tools > Preferences in the ƒh menu, both of which bring up the selection form.  The various options available are well described in the ƒh help for Version 6 and Version 7.

To run a backup, select File > Backup/Restore   and the required backup type from the main ƒh menu.  If the option is set (on by default), ƒh will also save a backup when closing the program (if the project has changed).

ƒh also takes automatic “snapshots” of the project GEDCOM file to facilitate restoring an older version in the event of error or corruption.  Optimisation of snapshot frequency is described in the program help for both Version 6 and Version 7.

Backup file

The ƒh backup compresses your data into a single backup file. These backup files use the standard Compressed (zipped) Folder format. In ƒh version 7 they are saved as Family Historian Backup (.fhbak) files, but earlier ƒh versions retain the default .zip extension. If necessary, advanced users can unpack them by using utilities such as 7-Zip and PkZip (but note that ƒh blocks opening .fhbak files by simply right-clicking and selecting Open, as this produces a message directing users to restore using ƒh).

Program settings

Although many individual ƒh custom features can be saved or exported individually, the program does not provide any options for automatically saving all customisations and other settings in the same way as it does for user project data. The easiest option is to download either the Backup and Restore Family Historian Settings plugin or the new Backup and Restore Family Historian Settings via Windows plugin. Guidance on how to use the plugins are given in their help documentation.

Why two plugins?

The original Backup and Restore Family Historian Settings plugin has been available since the days of ƒh5, but it is becoming increasingly more complex to fully encompass the variability in different languages and other national settings while still supporting all versions of ƒh.

The new Backup and Restore Family Historian Settings via Windows plugin, released in May 2022, takes a different approach.  Instead of managing all copying directly within the plugin, it creates simple scripts that direct Windows to do the actual copying.  All the complex variability is managed automatically by Windows, which is a global product designed to do just this.

The new plugin has a number of advantages over its predecessor:

  • Simpler menu selections, with full support for ƒh7 custom fonts and zoom with no separate configuration required, while still supporting ƒh6 and ƒh5.
  • Faster backup, particularly when updating an existing backup.
  • A fully automatic restore process, without having to close ƒh manually to complete the restore.
  • Support for Windows 10/11 long path names, enabling more deeply nested backup locations or settings files.
  • Tested extensively for use in MacOS and Linux (version 1.1 onwards).
  • Creates templates for technically-minded users to develop advanced features such as automatic backups that run even when ƒh is not open.

The established plugin also has its benefits:

  • Greater fine control over restoring individual settings files.
  • Very familiar to existing users over many years use.

The Windows plugin can restore backups created by its predecessor, but the reverse is not true.  However, users who are comfortable with manipulating Windows files directly using File Explorer can restore either backup (either full or in part) directly from Windows.  All either plugin does is copy two folders and extract two Registry keys.

Ancestral Sources Backups

If you use Ancestral Sources, use its Tools > Backup/Restore A.S. Options to save/recover settings, and backup the three Ancestral Sources folders specified in Tools > Options under AS Folders.

Where to save

Backups should be saved to a location that is separate from your PC to give maximum protection. While saving a second copy of your files to another folder on the PC is better than no backup at all, it is not secure against something happening to the PC (mechanical failure, theft, accidental damage, etc). The two most common options today are an external hard disk or “in the cloud”.

Simple USB sticks are cheap and are plenty big enough for family history projects, but are relatively slow to write to and not particularly robust. While USB hard disks are significantly more expensive, they are much faster (particularly USB3), more robust, and have much bigger capacity. They are the better option if you can afford it.

An alternative is to subscribe to an external data storage service such as OneDrive, Dropbox, or Google Drive, which can be used for backup as well as synchronising Family Historian between multiple PCs.  All of these services provide a limited free allowance, but charge for larger capacities. If you are happy to trust the provider to manage your data, they are a reliable and convenient option.

Integrating Family Historian into a general backup strategy

The more experienced PC user will already have a system for backing up their files, so may prefer to integrate ƒh with this rather than using the dedicated ƒh backup. Understanding the Scope of Features gives an overview of the locations to the copied. Backing up ƒh settings is simply a matter of copying the relevant ProgramData and AppData folders, plus the two Registry keys that ƒh users for settings (extracted to file with the Windows reg command if necessary).

A general backup strategy of this type is independent of ƒh, so you can use whichever backup tool you prefer.  Many options are available, from simple file copying to sophisticated applications that manage automated backups or real-time syncing.  Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 provide a File History backup option that automatically saves old versions of files when they are overwritten (similar to the inbuilt Snapshot feature in ƒh, but of much wider applicability).  This can be a useful option, particularly if the old copies are saved on an external or network drive, but note that it only protects files in defined locations, not all files.  File History is available in Windows Settings > Backup.

Restoring data

A backup is only useful if it can be restored when required. You need to know where your backup files are and how to access them.

The methods described here are equally applicable for restoring ƒh to its original location (say after upgrading a hard disk) or to a different location, PC, or user name.

A backup (both user data and settings) should only be restored back into the same high level version of ƒh that it was created from (i.e. Version 6 in Version 6 and Version 7 into Version 7).   The sub-version restored into can be equivalent or newer than the version backup up from, but should not be older (e.g. Version 7.0.7 into Version 7.0.8 is ok, but the other way around may give unpredictable results).  Calico Pie only make the latest sub-version available, so older ones are not available unless you have saved the original installation file (which is recommended best practice, in case you need to downgrade a version for any reason).

Start the restore process by installing the appropriate version of the application, and in the case of Version 7, ensure that it activates correctly.

If you have used the ƒh backup methods, select File > Backup/Restore > Restore Backup… to restore your user data. Reinstall the Backup and Restore Family Historian Settings plugin, and follow the help guidance for how to restore program settings.

If you have used your own backup method, close ƒh and use the method appropriate for your chosen method to restore user data, the ProgramData and AppData folders, and the two Registry keys.  Note that the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\WOW6432Node\Calico Pie\Family Historian\2.0\Preferences key contains specific file locations for the default project, along with project and backup folders.  If these are different in the new installation, you can either edit the reg file (which is a plain text file), or leave it as it is and set the new values within ƒh after completing the restore.


Last update: 01 Dec 2022