Back in 2015, rumors of a possible sale of Ancestry.com sparked reactions ranging from "Run! The sky is falling!!" to "Yawn..." A common theme among many of the posts in social media was that everyone should download their GEDCOM files from Ancestry ASAP.
Those people who urged everyone to download their GEDCOMs from Ancestry were spot on... but not for the reason they think.
You SHOULD go download your GEDCOM and other files from Ancestry… and any other website where you have them.
Note that I said “download,” not “delete.” It isn’t that I think that Ancestry or any other website is going anywhere. It’s a matter of sensible data management.
Eggs and Baskets
The great thing about electronic files — GEDCOMs, digitized photos, audio files, etc. — is that you can easily have multiple copies of the same data. (It’s also a challenge, but that’s a topic for another post.) When you have multiple copies, you don’t need to have all of your eggs in one virtual basket.
LOCKSS - Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe
Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe (LOCKSS) is an archival principle that does just what it says. There’s safety in numbers.
One of anything is vulnerable. If that one thing is destroyed or lost, that’s it. It’s gone. With lots of copies, you increase the odds of that item surviving. Losing one doesn’t mean you lose everything.
While I don’t think that a sale of Ancestry would mean the shuttering of the site (I mean, do you pay $2.5B – $3B for something and then shut it down?!), you shouldn’t have the only copy of your files there. You shouldn’t have the only copy of your file anywhere. You shouldn’t have only one copy. Period.
You shouldn't have only one copy of your #genealogy data.
Let’s say that the site where you have your data has trouble with a server; the site is down while they fix it. Your data is inaccessible during that time. Same if you lose your Internet connection. If you can’t reach the web, you can’t reach your data.
And there’s the possibility that the site where you have your data goes out of business.
On the flip side, don’t let your computer store the only copy you have. When that computer dies — and it’s when, not if — you could lose it all. Utilize the Internet as off-site storage.
We Can Play It Safe
Genealogists use many types of data. We have GEDCOMs, photos saved as JPGs and TIFFs, PDFs of family histories. It takes us a long time to compile it all and we don’t want to have to recreate it.
We owe it to ourselves to not have only one copy — not on Ancestry, not on our laptop, not anywhere. When we use the LOCKSS principle, we help ensure that our data lives on.