Thursday, 5 July 2018

However careful you are...

For the last week or so, on and off, I've been reconstructing a large and important folder in my digital photo archive - the genealogical one of myself.

Believe it or not, I somehow managed to overlook transferring this folder to another storage medium when decommissioning my desktop PC at the end of June. For I did carry out my plan to shift all of the Photo Archive (some 105,000 pictures, plus other material) to two external drives that I could plug into my laptop - and then switch off the eleven-year-old PC forever, before it decided to retire itself without warning.

It was a massive job. I devoted a day to it. I was most methodical. I took great care. Even so, I missed one of the biggest folders, which I had kept to last. Duh.

Each of my 'genealogical' folders contain pictures of the individual concerned, and - if I have them - shots of their home, their possessions, and important documents like a birth certificate.

My own folder was no different, except that there was an awful lot more material in it than in the other 'genealogical' folders. The last General Backup for which I can quote figures for myself was the one in March 2015. In that monster backup, I preserved a copy of 13,559 'Lucy' files (mostly photos) in 347 subfolders - all relating to myself, my various homes, and my sundry possessions. In all 34.6GB worth.

That was in March 2015. Three years later, I would have surely had 40GB worth of personal stuff.  And all of that had been missed. By the time I realised (with momentary horror) what I'd done, I had wiped the PC and ripped the C: and D: hard drives out of it - it had felt like an Aztec ritual, cutting the still-warm heart out of a sacrificial victim. Electronic blood everywhere. All done without suspecting that 40GB of my life had been accidentally discarded.

Actually, I'm over-dramatising just a bit. After that March 2015 backup, I decided that it was too unwieldy to have my personal genealogical material in a single folder, and I split it up into three parts: myself up to 2008; myself 2009 to 2013; and myself from 2014. It was only the third folder that had been lost: the personal photos of the last four and a half years. Bad enough, though.

What to do now?

Well, to some extent my personal folder could be reconstructed from photos elsewhere in my collection. For instance, I have a 'Best Pictures' collection on my laptop, with an exact copy on my phone, so that one is effectively a backup for the other. It's wasn't hard to copy shots from that into my reconstruction. In fact it was a quicker job than you might think. Every one of the 105,000 digital photos retained since the year 2000 had been fully captioned. Therefore that was true of the 'Best' collection also. So if I wanted to, say, find pictures of my car Fiona, I merely had to run a search on the 'Best' folder using the keyword 'Fiona' - and voilĂ  - there were the best shots of her, to copy and paste into a new 'Fiona' folder in my reconstruction. All the way back to 2010 when I'd bought her.

Similarly, searching my 'Best' collection with other keywords located other shots to pop into my rebooted personal folder. Searching for 'Lucy' was the easiest, naturally!

And I could be cunning with this searching. Supposing, for example, I knew there were shots of something I'd bought on a caravan holiday - a certain jacket, say - but 'jacket' yielded nothing in the search results. All was not lost. A search using the caravan site name or location might well bring forth a picture of the item, unpacked in my caravan straight after purchase. Hurrah!

But such searching wouldn't work with everything. In many cases, the captioning was never specific enough. All I could do then was wade through the 'Best' photos year by year and hope to find what I wanted. And if it wasn't there, that was that.

Though not necessarily. There were the Immediate Backups. After each photo-processing session, I'd immediately copy that batch onto a small external hard drive, into a dated folder. Plugging the Immediate Backup drive into the laptop, I was delighted to find that I could search those backups with keywords - and it still held backups of all pictures retained back to 2013. Not just the 'best'. That proved to be a fruitful source of pictures for my reconstruction.

And I could download some shots from the Cloud. Google should have a copy of every photo I've included in my blog posts back to 2009. And similarly for every shot uploaded to Flickr, and still displayed there. That said, these are, in the main, 'best' shots, and so there won't be much extra stuff in the Cloud. More particularly, there won't be much really personal stuff, as I've always been careful about what goes into the public arena. Shots of my face, yes; shots of my car, yes; shots of my caravan, yes; shots of my jewellery, yes; but not - for instance - shots of my home as it looks from the road.

Well, I'm almost at the end of my reconstruction. The new genealogical file is substantial, but decidedly slimmer than the old, because an awful lot is missing from it. Some of the lost subfolders contained all the digital shots that ever existed of certain things, not just the most recent pictures. For instance, I've lost nearly all the photos I had of my home prior to 2013 - an important loss, because it had been in the family since 2000 and I wanted to build up a full record of every room, and how the gardens fronts and rear have changed over the years. Oh well.

Nevertheless, it's a decently-informative genealogical folder. Anyone doing genealogical research in future decades will find a lot of what they want in it.

But it's not a fat folder. In Slimming World terms, it's a folder that has lost weight, gained several weight-loss certificates, and could now wear a flattering bikini if it wanted to.


  1. I never cease to be impressed by the military precision with which you keep records of almost everything related to your life - often with spreadsheets in glorious technicolour.

    All of which makes this lapse especially hard to stomach. I wish you a speedy recovery from the trauma.

    Thought... Would there be anything of value in those colour transparencies that you chose not to reprocess?

  2. Yes, it is a surprising lapse, but one I have managed to recover from pretty well. I'd say it was a 70% recovery so far.

    The transparency era ended around 1990 and isn't relevant here. Some very early shots of my home when purchased in 2000 are on prints that I can dig out and scan again.

    Old shots of one's home are useful for seeing what may lie beneath later decoration, fitting of cupboards, or garden landscaping - pipes, electrical conduits, etc.


  3. My ancient creaking PC sits beside the new one. The old one is stuffed with things and I find myself deleting so much rather than saving to the backup drive which I finally found after a year, note to self, do not buy such small backup drives... I once lost everything on my Psion pocket computer when both main and backup batteries died when they were nearly new, I hardly used it after that though before I had run y small business from it. It was years before I would trust anything computery again. I wish I had your patience.

    Good luck with the recovery, should we send get well soon cards?

  4. 'recovery' I mean I have restored about 70% of what used to be in the old genealogical folder for myself! And not meaning that my ditsy mind is 70% back to its normal sharp, attentive focus.



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