Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Modifying Dropbox for Genealogists

Beginning Genealogy Lesson #3
(c) 2010

By now you've chosen a genealogy software management program to record the data you collect on each ancestor on your tree, and to attach multi-media files to each ancestor in question. Now Ol' Myrt would like to discuss how to EASILY save the information in two places for security reasons.

You've heard me mention a few times lately. Dick Eastman has written about it, too.
Now I'd like you to officially sign up for Dropbox, and when installing your genealogy software, tell it to keep your genealogy data files in your drop box folder, as I will explain below.

You want Dropbox since it will make a copy of your genealogy data entries, and all multi-media files. If your hard drive crashes, you can easily install Dropbox when the new hard drive is installed, and in a short time connected to the internet, your data will be synced from the online copy of your files. Also:

  • No more worries about backing up and restoring with often purchasing a new computer means a new operating system and incompatible restore options.
  • You may access all files from any computer with internet access, and readily view, edit, save, delete and share these files.
  • You may place files to share in another folder, and designate the email address of your research buddy to send the "share" invitation. (I've done this with the 'forGeneJ" file folder shown below. When she logs in to the internet, the 'forGeneJ" folder will automatically appear in her MyDropbox folder.)

Here's what DearMYRTLE's MyDropbox folder looks like. Normally, when looking for your MyDropbox folder, you'll find Dropbox installs it in your computer's MyDocuments folder.


The actual long-hand location of the Dropbox folder on my hard drive is:


This extended file location information is only important if you plan to use a second computer, such as a laptop, to access these same files on a regular basis.

You must be sure when installing Dropbox on the second computer, that the directory path remains the same, so that documents linked to individuals in your genealogy database program will be properly attached when using the second computer.

This is a screen shot of my "genealogy data" folder within my Dropbox folder. Notice that it contains a folder for each of my major surnames, mostly to organize scanned images. The actual RootsMagic database resides in it's own folder, and I've created a folder to keep track of the .pdf files for LDS Temple work I've created and shared with other family members.

The green check-mark above indicates that all files in each folder have been synced to the folder online.

OK - Here's a little bit of a review about Dropbox...
So get your free space at, set up your MyDocuments folder to include all pertinent genealogy data in it's own folder, with sub folders for major surnames liek Ol' Myrt has done.

Then go into your genealogy management program, and tell it to keep it's files in the MyDropbox folder on your hard drive. In RootsMagic, I clicked Tools>Program Options, then clicked Folders.

You can click the blue square on the right side of each file's field to click and find the appropriate folder on your hard drive. That way, you don't have to remember to type the long-hand version of the file location (I notice RM truncated MyDocuments to Documents -- oh well, it works. That much I know.)

Notice that for multi-media files, I have RootsMagic look first in the "genealogy data" folder, so I can click to the appropriate surname folder, and select the scanned image of a document or an ancestor's portrait.

Let me know how your assignment is coming along.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.


  1. One little sentence you wrote may have cleared up a problem I've been having for months! Thank you so much!

  2. What little sentence might that be?

    Just sign me curious Myrt :)

  3. Let me just point out that using DropBox does NOT eliminate the need for backups (although it certainly goes a long way in that regard).

    Let's say you're working on your genealogy and have it set up as you have suggested. Then your computer goes haywire and your genealogy database gets corrupted. If you rely solely on Dropbox, such database corruption would be replicated, making the data unusable anywhere.

    It's best to maintain a regularly scheduled backup of some sort that copies your database to another file. You can't have too many backups, but you certainly can have too few. Don't find out the hard way you've got the latter.

  4. A agree about multiple scheduled backups of data. That is so technical many folks mess up, and just don't do them, because they are confusing.

    Ol' Myrt here has made backups of all (not just genealogy) data created in earlier versions of Windows that didn't "work" on the restore option on a new machine with a newer version of Windows. So much for back-wards compatibility.

    Fortunately when closing most genealogy software, like RootsMagic, we're prompted to do a backup. RM give the file a unique name. Those backups are also stored in my Dropbox folder.

    I've maintained multiple sets of backups since the old 2.31 days of PAF Personal Ancestral File. I kept seven sets of floppies (the tech at the time), and didn't reuse the first set until I'd gone through all seven sets. This worked particularly well for recovering from end-user data input errors. In the days before a pedigree view, it was very easy to add people to one's database twice (once as a child and once as a parent.)

    Thanks for your comment, Greg. Point well taken.

  5. Myrt....I would be interested to see how the family files are organized. I would also like to see how you organized your paper files. Is this something that you would include in an upcoming blog post??

  6. I second Talon's request. I've been trying to organize my files for years now and don't think I've gotten it down yet. I currently have all photos in a genealogy folder in My Photos and then in My Documents another genealogy folder containing all census records, birth, marriage, death certificates, etc. Obviously not working that great!

  7. I opened up a Dropbox acct, but I don't understand how to get a gedcom there that my cousin in another state can access and load on his PC.

  8. What you do is:
    1. CREATE A FOLDER in your COMPUTER'S DROPBOX folder for your cousin. Name it something like:

    2. Create the GEDCOM file.

    3. Place a copy of the GEDCOM file in your computer's Dropbox file called "ForMyCousin".

    4. Go back one level, so you can see all the folders in your computer's Dropbox folder.

    5. Right click on the "ForMyCousin" and chose to share. You'll then be asked to specify your cousin's email address.

    6. Dropbox will then send a notice to your cousin's email address things will go fine from there.

    For more info on Dropbox sharing see:

    Good luck!

  9. Oh Myrt, You are brilliant!!! I have had a Dropbox account for a while now and I love it. It hadn't occurred to me to put my genealogy data base there. I will be completing this assignment pronto!

  10. you break down surnames further such as by family? I have over 400 Doddema's and that just seems a little unwieldy.

    Would love to hear your opinion!

  11. When saving the files in the surname folder, I specify family such as:


  12. Greg, you're absolutely right about backing up the database in multiple files. Also, even the free 2GB accounts have 30 days of backups on the Dropbox server. My husband and I were so impressed with our free accounts that we upgraded to Pro and now have unlimited file restoration. (Not retroactive--begins when upgraded.) More info can be found at Dropbox:

  13. Thanks Myrtle! I have been wondering how to always keep synced between my desktop and laptop! I've worried about changing data or adding documents in one place and not the other and somehow losing it or getting two different databases for my genealogy program. Now the problem is solved--effortlessly synced!