Backup and Recovery


Think about what the implications would be if your hard disk suddenly failed now. If you could live with losing a week's work, you can presumably afford to backup onto another medium only once a week. If you couldn't face losing even a day's work (perhaps because the data came from an interview which you won't be able to repeat) backup onto another medium at the end of each day. If your genealogy research is your life's work and really precious, think about giving a copy to a trusted friend to keep in case you're burgled or the house burns down. There are also internet backup services. You never need to lose data if you're careful.
(p216 of the fh V5 manual)

That is what is formally known as a 'risk' analysis. Consider each 'risk' such as accidental data loss, PC/Disk failure, power/lightning surge, burglary, fire or flood, and imagine how your backups would cope. For example, simply creating backups on your PC disk would only protect against accidental data loss and none of the other 'risks'. The safest backups are those kept in a different location such as with a friend or relative, or these days in cloud storage on the Internet. Think of it like insurance; you hope the 'risk' won't happen, but you are protected in case it does. Consider not just your genealogy data but all other important documents, photos, etc. Finally, from time to time, check you can restore from your backups, because if you cannot then they are worthless.

Backing up your Family History Data

Image showing the Backup option under the File menu Image showing the Backup Family Tree File dialogue

When you exit from fh you will be prompted to backup your family tree data. It is recommended that you always do this and leave the Prompt for Backup on Exit option ticked.

You can also force a backup at any time by using the File > Backup/Restore command.

This will save a compressed (zipped) version of your family history data onto your computer in the location specified in the Preferences Dialogue in fh. These backup files are standard Compressed (zipped) Folders that if necessary can be unpacked using right-click Extract All….

Backup Size Limit

Beware that there is 4 GByte file size limit on FAT32 formatted disks, which may be a problem with large V5+ Projects using the Medium Backup or Full Backup options. The solution is to convert the disk to NTFS format as explained in How to Convert FAT Disks to NTFS.

Restoring your Family History Data

If your family history data becomes damaged you can restore from the most recent backup using the File > Backup/Restore > Restore… option.

To restore a GEDCOM only file, first select the FH Gedcom Backup … .zip file, and then navigate to the .fh_data folder within the Project folder and save the .ged file, overwriting the existing file of the same name.

You can use the same technique to transfer your family history data from one PC to another PC after copying the backup file.

If transferring a GEDCOM only file, then first use File > Project Window > New Project > Start a new project and give it the same name as the original Project, before restoring the backup file.

Version 5+

Prior to fh V5 only the GEDCOM file could be restored, and the Small Gedcom Backup still offers this option, but with V5 the Medium Backup and Full Backup options have been added.

When restoring from a Medium Backup (FH Project Backup (min) … .zip) or Full Backup (FH Project Backup … .zip), fh insists on creating a new Project folder.

Once the restored family tree Project has been ratified, then the original damaged Project can be deleted, and the new Project renamed to the original, using File > Project Window > More Tasks….

Version 6+

Since fh V6 automatic snapshots are regularly taken of the Project Gedcom file. These can be used to restore just the Gedcom file using the File > Backup/Restore > Revert to Snapshot… command and choosing a Snapshot Taken date.

View or change Backup & Recovery Preferences

Image showing the Backup tab in the Preferences screen

Select the menu item Tools > Preferences… and then select the Backup tab.

On this screen you can choose the folder to which fh saves backups and you can specify whether fh prompts you to backup every time you exit.

Another option is to choose whether the backup file is named with a date in the format Year-Month-Day or in the format Day-Month-Year. The Year-Month-Day format is recommended because this ensures that the backup files appear in date order when viewed in alphabetical order in Windows Explorer. e.g. with this option ticked a backup created at 11:17 on 4th Oct 2006 of a family tree file called 'Mytree' would be named Mytree - 2006-10-04

fh V5 adds some extra options for the backup filename prefixes for each of the three options.

What is not backed up?

Data stored in the Windows Registry is not backed up. This includes the Preference settings, and the Core Standard Diagrams of Ancestors, Descendants, Ancestors & Descendants, All Relatives, Everyone, and Blank Diagram default settings.

Customisation information stored in the Family Historian Program Data Folder is not backed up.

Version 5+

Prior to fh V5 the backup routines did not backup any image files or other multimedia linked to the family tree file, but since V5 the Medium Backup option includes these, and the Full Backup option backs up everything within the Project folder.

Items not in the Project folder are not backed up. This includes any custom queries, reports, diagram types, diagram text schemes, fact sets, property box tabs, or plugins that you might have modified. You will need to use File > Import/Export > Export to save them in the Public folder within the Project folder, or make backup copies of them for yourself from the Family Historian Program Data Folder.

Since V5 there is a plugin by Mike Tate which backs up all related items not in the Project folder - Backup and Restore Family Historian Settings.

Version 4

All project files for V4 are stored by Default in a {documents}/Family Historian Projects folder. It is important to ensure, in addition to the fh Backups (zip files), that you keep safe copies of this folder and sub-folders.

As this is stored in your Documents folder your normal backup routine should include everything in your Documents folder any way, as any documents and images will be stored within Documents by default.

The advice for items not in the Project folder is the same as for Version 5+ above.

Ancestral Sources Backups

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

Making a Safe Backup

There are a number of places where you could choose to make a backup of your data:

  1. Folders on the same hard-disk as the rest of your data: this can be useful in case of accidental deletion of your original copy but in the event of hard-disk failure this is completely useless as you lose your backup at the same time as your original file. Your hard-disk will fail, it might be today or it might be in 10 years time, it is impossible to predict. The Family Historian backups described earlier in this article are saved to the same hard-disk by default and are therefore not secured against hard-disk failure.
  2. Folders on another hard-disk in your computer: this is a better option as your backup should be safe if the hard-disk with the original data fails. If you do have 2 hard-disks in your computer then it is a good idea to make regular copies of your data onto the other hard-disk. You could also set the Family Historian backup folder to be on this second hard-disk. However, in the event of a fire, flood, theft of the computer or major system fault it is again possible that you could lose your original data and backup all in one go. Some more expensive computer systems, particularly servers use a system called RAID which involves data automatically being written to multiple disk-drives so that the computer can continue to function even if a hard-disk fails. However, even these systems need a secondary level of backup to an external storage medium.
  3. External Storage: It is vital that external storage is used even if methods 1 or 2 are also being carried out. Backups should be made to external storage devices that can normally be stored in a different location than your PC to avoid the danger of losing your data via disasters such as fire or theft, etc. The more common backup solutions are:
    • External hard-disk
    • External tape-drive
    • DVD or CD optical disk
    • USB pen drive memory stick or flash memory
    • Remote Backup where websites provide secure storage space to allow you to copy your data to the cloud via your Internet connection. This is becoming more attractive as broadband speeds increase. See the Downloads and Links ~ Synchronise and Backup Tools.

For more information on methods of backup see the Wikipedia Backup article.

Windows Previous File Versions

Sometimes Windows keeps old versions of files automatically without your knowledge, and it may be possible to recover them as follows.

  • If necessary create a dummy file or folder with the same name as the one to be recovered. e.g use FH to create a dummy Project with the same name as the corrupted Project.
  • Right-click on the file or folder, then choose Restore previous versions and wait for the list to be populated.
  • If you are lucky you can choose from any number of past versions to Restore.

Backup and Copying Software

There are many programs which provide assistance in backing up your data and your whole PC set-up, and there are thousands of words on the Internet on disaster recovery strategies. For most fh users the most important things to backup are the GED file and the attached media. If you use the suggested method from the how to Organise Your Files article, this will mean you need only to backup your family history folder, plus the configuration information stored in the Family Historian Program Data Folder to another device as detailed above, and to make sure you have all your original CD's, downloads, and licence details needed to reinstall fh in an Installation Archive. If you bought a V3 Upgrade remember you will also need your V2 CD to install on to a new or rebuilt PC. Similarly, if you bought a V4 Upgrade you will need to be able to reinstall V3. However, these requirements were relaxed with the V5 & V6 Upgrades. See Family Historian Installation Advice for further details.

Jane Taubman uses the following programs for backup:

Jane uses the paid for version of Syncback, but the Freeware version is easily capable of doing disk to disk or disk to KeyDrive copies.

Family Historian Forum Discussions on this subject

  • Backup - Wikipedia article on Backup