Lessons in Digital Loss

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay, used with permission


Last week, my laptop turned into a brick.

Despite my own efforts following online suggestions, help from Apple Care over the phone, and techs at my local Apple repair place trying all sorts of tricks, so far, my most valuable tool is still a brick.  Deeper diagnostics are being run to see what needs to be done.

Thankfully, my college kiddo is home this semester and I can use his Chromebook.  But!  I am having serious laptop withdrawals.  His Chromebook doesn’t hold a candle to my Macbook Pro with retina display.  It is a serious struggle to read some of the 18th century French records I have been working in on his screen.  And the fancy detailed photo editing I like to do?  Not a chance on his Chromebook, not least of all because he doesn’t have Photoshop.

Hopefully my laptop is repairable.  Soon.

Hopefully the bill isn’t too steep.

This recent loss has caused me to reflect on things I am grateful for and things I need to work on with my computer and digital habits.  I thought I would share said thoughts as a cautionary tale.



Things I Need to Work On


I never could figure out how to use Time Machine, I definitely need to do that when I get my laptop back!  The Apple repair guy already has that on his list for when I come in.

I need to learn about online backup options.  This one comes down to dollars and time, but right now I’m thinking about all of the organization I will have lost now that they have to wipe my hard drive and start over.

I had a handful of receipts that I need for my taxes on my hard drive.  I don’t have a back up.  I will have to remember and find those receipts in my various accounts, email, etc.

I’m seriously sad about my online bookmarks, will they show up when I login to Google once I have my laptop back . . . ?  I need to learn more about this!



Things I Am Grateful For


I quit relying on my computer as a storage device a long time ago (aside from receipts).  I have various file folders on there that I fill with items to be moved to external storage.  Record images are uploaded to my private Ancestry tree as soon as I retrieve them.  Photos are backed up in 5 places as soon as I “deal” with them, 6 if I share them here.  All photo scans are on external drives and often Flickr as soon as they are scanned.  Every so often I transfer the records and photos in my file folders to external storage and then empty the files on my laptop.  I did this about 4 days before my computer died.

Because of that – the good news is that I am losing very few files.  I have two video files that I hadn’t transferred yet but they are still in Dropbox and just need to be downloaded again.  I have two other video files that are in one back up location but need to be backed up more broadly.  I will lose a few Illustrator files but have jpegs so they can be recreated.  I will lose a few record images but they are in my Ancestry tree.  There is no chance I will remember which files they are, but thankfully Ancestry has their super clunky media tab that shows items in order of upload so I will be able to figure it out.  I will lose a small number of photo scans that I hadn’t put anywhere else, but I know exactly which physical folders they come from and can figure out what is missing and re-scan those 10 or so items.

I am sad about the organization I have lost.  For instance, I have a folder on my desktop called “Items emailed to [insert cousin name here].”  This helps me remember which record images, photos, reports, and newspaper articles I have emailed that cousin – a descendant of John Costello from his first wife!  Again, these files aren’t about storage, just my reminder of what I have sent.  I need to adjust and create a list in my Google Drive instead.

I have a physical password book and I am pretty obsessive about keeping it updated.  There is one notable exception, I recently created a new Dropbox account because I was at my local Family History Center and needed to file share on the spot but didn’t have my password book.  I saved the password into my computer but hadn’t added it to my password book.  That new Dropbox account has those two video files I hadn’t backed up anywhere yet.  I will just have to reset my password and I should be good to go.

I use Google Drive for so much of my work – client reports, my own research logs and reports, genealogy correspondence, power points, lecture handouts, and lots more.  This means that all of my most used files aren’t on my computer anyway.  All of those crucial documents are easily accessed.  Finished work products are downloaded and stored on external devices.



Mid-Project Loss


At the time my laptop died, I was working on a research project regarding a photo postcard my cousin Gregg sent to me.  I had a whole bunch of tabs open to various historical maps that were helping me identify a series of historical addresses in Scotland.  I was also creating my own map of relevant addresses for the family members associated with the postcard.  I lost my open tabs.  I have a jpeg of the map in progress but not the Photoshop file.  I can recreate the Photoshop file from the jpeg.

I learned a valuable lesson with this loss.  I had a research log open and was updating it.  What I hadn’t done was add the historical map images or weblinks into my research log aside from the map I was using as the basis for my own map.  I was still gathering and processing the data, mentally, and on my computer.  I was going to narrow down the open maps to the most relevant maps for my project, then save the links, download the maps, and create citations.

This project is fairly complex and taught me that I need to adjust my weblink habits as I research.  From now on, I will have an open Google doc with different category headings and all relevant or potentially relevant weblinks will go right in the doc ASAP.





All in all, I’m in pretty good shape for someone that doesn’t know how to use Time Machine and doesn’t use a cloud backup service.  PHEW!  This could have been a MUCH bigger problem than it is.

I have lost a lot of time both on trying to get my computer running again and in lost efficiency using my son’s Chromebook.  That is understandable but still frustrating.

I have learned some lessons and need to make some adjustments to my computer and digital habits.



Happy Tuesday, I hope your week goes more smoothly than mine!  What computer and digital habits do you need to improve?  xoxo



25 thoughts on “Lessons in Digital Loss”

  1. So sorry about all that. I don’t think you will lose your Chrome bookmarks as they seem to go wherever you sign into Google.

    I back up to both One Drive and to Carbonite plus I not often enough back up to an external hard drive. My photos are on both Apple and on Google. My tree is backed up on Ancestry (where I work on it) and on FamilyTreeMaker. My emails are on Gmail. So I am hoping I’ve done enough, but I won’t know until disaster strikes and I have to retrieve it all.

    1. Thank you, Amy. It has been a big pain. They still haven’t been able to tell me what is wrong with my laptop. I keep getting updates that not good news… Still hoping it is repairable though!

      It sounds like you are pretty well protected. Do you like Carbonite plus? Have you ever needed to retrieve data from them?

      1. I like Carbonite and used it when I bought a new computer three years ago. I was able to import whatever was on my hard drive into the new computer. But now I am using OneDrive more than I used because my hard drive is getting so full that I just keep most documents on OneDrive, so Carbonite no longer contains my whole set, just what is on the hard drive. I find all this very nerve-wracking, but I figure that OneDrive is Microsoft and they aren’t going anywhere. But I do need to remember to back up to the external hard drive. Maybe tomorrow.

        1. Thank you for this Amy! One of the things I need to understand better are the options for cloud storage that aren’t just a backup of the hard drive. I regularly clean things off my computer so it runs faster, but I still want access to those items…

    1. Good! 😉 Figure out where your weaknesses are and shore them up!! Hopefully you are in good shape. ❤️

  2. My lesson yesterday was that Adobe Help really does help! My computer was on it’s last leg so I replaced it. But Photoshop Elements was on a DVD and there is no drive in the new computer. I finally got into chat with Adobe and after verifying the serial number, he actually downloaded the program and installed it on my new computer – all I did was sit there and watch. So I guess my learning was to be sure to keep the serial numbers of whatever programs you use.

    Glad your problem isn’t too bad.

    1. Wow! That is awesome, Debi!! I’ve actually been worried about a few of my Adobe programs. Guess I’ll set that worry down for now. ❤️

    1. Thank you, Su! Me too. Still no answers and the longer it takes the more worried I am…

      No hanging head in shame!! Just make a plan. 😉

    1. Good! Hopefully you will be able to figure out your weaknesses and address them before you are in my boat making a list of items you need to find, rescan, recreate, etc. ❤️

    1. Thank you, Marian! I love my Mac also. It’s my second one and I love it so much. I certainly don’t want to go back either. ❤️

  3. Sounds like you’ve got everything covered, Amberly. But this is scary.
    I backup to IDrive every morning. It is set up to do a backup of my emails in Outlook as well as all documents and photos. My GEDCOM is in my Dropbox and is also backed up to IDrive. I really (really, really) need to backup to the 3TB harddrive I have.

    1. Yes, Cathy, scary is the right word for sure! I need to make a better, more complete back up plan that requires less work on my part. I’ve been getting a few good suggestions. I’m just hoping to get my laptop back soon, I feel very unsettled without it.

  4. So sorry for what happened…I had something similar last year and fortunately I’d been backing up regularly to two external hard drives. The Dell techs were amazed when, after determining I’d have to reinstall Win 10, that I already had a full b/u ready. I’m still leery of online backup sites, though, but do have some info stored there – my RM and FTM files are backed up to Dropbox.

    1. Thank you, Teresa! I finally got my laptop back today with a brand new hard drive. (aka – completely empty of my stuff.) Now I am working on my new digital preservation plan. Hopefully I fill in all of the gaps from before!!

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