Backing Up Offsite: A Safe Deposit Box Solution

January is the time of year when I religiously try to update my offsite backup files.  I’ve been following this process for several years since I moved to Colorado and didn’t have a family member nearby where I could store a physical backup of my most important items.

Deena external hard drivesThose who know me well also know I keep many redundant backups, so may wonder why I go to the trouble to make a physical backup at an offsite location.  Between 4 external hard drives, 2 Carbonite cloud backup subscriptions, and a small fire-proof safe, it may seem a little odd to also have an “old fashioned” backup system at a safe deposit box.  I may be a bit OCD about my backups, but there’s a method to my madness in following this routine.

First, if my house suffered some sort of natural disaster like a fire or flood–certainly not outside the realm of possibility in Colorado–I may not have access to retrieve items from my home for some time.  Even important documents like insurance policies in the fire-proof safe might be inaccessible if they are under water or the house is structurally damaged and I cannot physically get inside.

Second, even if I rushed out to buy a new laptop in the wake of a disaster, it would take weeks for all my data to be fully restored from my cloud backup services.  I know this to be true because I’ve tested out the process when switching between computers, which in many ways mimics a disaster-recovery situation.  For someone who has in excess of a terabyte of online data, my data consumption patterns don’t fit the standard mold of the cloud backup services, and, if you read the fine print, you’ll understand why it can take so long to restore (yes, they are losing money on me and my big data!).

Last, having an offsite backup forces me to think about updating my files annually.  It’s easy to be lulled into false security when all backups are inside your house or in the cloud, and you aren’t forced to evaluate them on a periodic basis.  Another factor is that we value what we pay for:  when I write the annual safe deposit box rental check, it’s good motivation for me to update my files so I am getting my money’s worth.  Sometimes we just need a little nudge to do the right thing.

Safe Deposit BoxHow did I choose my safe deposit box?  Because many bank branches don’t even offer safe deposit box services, I opted to use a private company, Colorado Vault & Safe Deposit Box Co.  Starting at $5 per month, various sized boxes are available, and the facility offers 24-hour access in the event of an emergency.  I opted for a medium-sized box so that I could store large stacks of DVD backups and a couple small external hard drives.

Deena's medium safe deposit boxMy box measures approximately 3″ x 10″ x 22″, and is much larger and cheaper than what I could have gotten at a bank.  Plus there are many other benefits of a private safe deposit box company that make it more convenient and stress-free than a traditional bank model.  I can walk in without an appointment, retrieve the external hard drive from the safe deposit box, go to a private customer room, hook the hard drive up to my laptop, update the backup, and voila, I’m done–return the hard drive to the box and have it locked back up in the vault, safe and secure for another year.

Deena's Safe Deposit Box Contents

Because I plan to make new backups every January, I’m capturing the previous year’s data.  I maintain an inventory of what is already in the box, listing the date ranges that are covered by each of the backups.  With this knowledge, I only have to make incremental backups to capture the new information that was created or updated in the previous year.  This is much more efficient than redoing all the backups each year, and guards against overwriting a good backup with a file that has since become corrupted.  I use high capacity DVDs that allow 8.5GB of storage instead of only 4.7GB, so I minimize the space that is consumed by the physical media.  I have many years of room for backup before I will fill up my box.

What’s in my box?  Because I’m the family historian, I have thousands of high-resolution digitized photos saved in .tif archival formats.  Many of these photos have been scanned from vintage photos that date back 100 or more years.  Not only do I have my own digital photo collections, but I also maintain backups of my parents and in-laws photos as a safeguard.  Besides the photos, I have scans of scrapbooks and other sentimental memorabilia.  To round it out, all my family’s “vital” documents such as birth and marriage certificates, wills, and powers of attorney are also kept in the box–a genealogist’s goldmine.  Beyond these heritage items, there are many other important items I could include in the box, as outlined in this online checklist.

vault door barsEven in today’s modern world where high-tech gizmos and new solutions in the cloud seem to materialize every day, there’s still value in securing your electronic data or physical valuables in a safe deposit box.  As genealogists, we often talk about the proverbial brick wall when we are stuck in our research–but what about changing the perspective and thinking about the solid steel walls of a vault for protecting and keeping safe what we’ve already painstakingly discovered?

If you are in the Denver-metro area, I recommend that you give Stewart or Frank at Colorado Vault & Safe Deposit Box Co. a visit.  They are friendly and knowledgeable, and can help you establish a physical space that works for your backups or physical irreplaceable items.  Check out or call 720-879-7134, and tell them DigiDeena sent you.

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