Family history and dropbox – how can it be used?

Whilst trying to unravel and de-mystify some of the technology available on the internet and show how useful they are for family historians as part of an IT toolkit, we wrote a post on the Family Historian and Cloud Computing

We suggested trying out a number of different systems, one of these being ‘Dropbox’.

What is Dropbox?

Dropbox is a simple online ‘cloud’ storage system that allows you to make your files accessible from almost anywhere. It eliminates having to e-mail files to yourself or use a memory stick, you can create files on your laptop or tablet anywhere in the world and access them anywhere in the world.

As a family historian you may be working at an archive or library, you can create a file upload it to dropbox and it will be ready for you to use when you get home to work on your main PC.

Here’s how it works. 

  • Install dropbox onto your computer. You need to register and once done you have access to 2GB of free storage space, this is ample for most family historians.
  • After installation, the Dropbox interface is just like any other folder on your computer. An additional folder is created which has it’s own icon, which will appear on your PC.
  • You simply drag and drop to move files around and any files or folders that are uploaded to Dropbox will immediately be synchronized within your account.
  • All changes made to the data being stored, is instantly updated to all the computers linked to that account
  • Sometimes I have accidentely deleted a file and so was pleased to discover that with Dropbox, you can undelete a file.

If you are on holiday and can’t get to any of your computers you can still access your files by simply going to the Dropbox web site and viewing them from there. This interface also remembers all the changes you made to your files and allows you to restore any previous versions. This is excellent news for family historians where sometimes spurious data is collected and dropped in on chance.
Where Dropbox really comes into it’s own, is the way it allows you to share whatever you want with other people, if you wish to. Many family historians work collaboratively with members of their family and it is useful to be able to collect research and share it with family in say Australia.  Each individual folder can be shared with other people and these people will be able to add, edit, and delete the contents inside it  but will not be able to access anything outside of that specific folder.

Dropbox acts like any other folder on your computer and automatically backs it up in the cloud. This safeguards your family history research from hard drive failure, which if it happens and you’ve not backed up can be heart breaking, as years of work is lost. Don’t think it can’t happen in ten years I have had two hard drive failures.

Think also about autonomy, you may think that having your GEDCOM on a commercial site means your data is safe from a PC failure and so it is but it is no longer your data and do you want all your research notes, photos etc on a commercial site?

By using something like Dropbox, you maintain control over how your data is stored.

Download Dropbox and give it a try, there is nothing to lose and possibly much to gain

You can also Download Dropbox for Ipad

For other cloud storage systems, try Box which gives you 5GB storage, so worth having alongside Dropbox