Sunday, January 6, 2013

Behind The Scenes: Corrupted Files and the Importance of Backup Files

A Page from the Access Database

When I was't enjoying holiday events with friends and family, I was working on my great database match-up project. With a couple of days of long hard work planned, I anticipated finishing it in time for New Year's Eve festivities.

Then at about ten o'clock in the evening New Year's Eve Eve disaster stuck. My family tree program totally freaked out, sent me a strange message, and then shut down. In most cases, a instance like this is not a cause for panic. Usually a deep breath, a wiping of the hands on the pants legs, and a click to reopen the program solves the problem. However, such was not the case on December 30th.

The family tree program opened, but gave me two messages. First that the program had not closed down correctly and that I might have to compact the file. (Compact file - what is that?!). Second that the file was already open or was an invalid file type. (umm - I just opened it, so how can it be already open and INVALID?!!! - it wasn't invalid two seconds ago).  The file did open and all the data appeared to be present, but every time I tried to add something new the program shut down. Additionally all attempts to compact the file crashed the program as well. Something. Was. Wrong.

The next day I repaired the program with the original disc and then did some searching for the second error on the Internet. First I found this helpful post from Virginia Family Tree Genealogy. The post's author suggested exporting the file that wouldn't open. Seemed like a good idea. However, the program wanted to compact the file prior to export. When the compacting still wasn't finished 22 hours later, I decided it wasn't working. Why did I let it go so long? My file was huge, over 10 years old, contained information on nearly 4000 people, and had never been compacted before. I had no idea how long it might take. The software manufacturer on one of their pages said it might take "some time."

I found a page from the manufacturer here and followed their directions on working with corrupted files. I finally gave up and decided to use the back up from December 29th. I also discovered that while I couldn't export the entire file, I could export individual families. I did so for the families I had been working with on the 30th and merged them with the new file. I compacted the new file (following the helpful hints posted here) and it took about 20 seconds for a 25 MB file to become a 15 MB file. Apparently, somebody's definition of "some time" is different than mine. By the end of New Year's Day, I was back up and running.

I was surprisingly calm throughout this entire event. The most important part of my data is in Access and that wasn't bothered at all. I could use that information to recreate any changes I had made to the family tree file on the 30th. My data in the family tree program seemed to be there, I just had to get it out. Also, I had a backup that was less than 24 hours old. If I hadn't had a recent backup I probably would have cried for days. At the same time I was trying to solve this crisis, I visited the Microsoft Fixit Solution Center and used it to tweak Window and I repaired Microsoft Office. My computer is running much better now, so I suppose one could say the whole episode was a blessing.

While I was slowed by the corrupted files (and a post-New Year family visit), I did finish the project on Saturday, January 5th. Now on to the next projects ... I hope they don't end being as "easy" as this one.


Maria said...

I'm just leaving a wee comment in here to thank you for your blog. I'm reading it all through, as it's part of my final year dissertation (I'm researching on identity among other topics). I can only say it's really interesting and critical, which is appreciated when researching on this field. Thanks for your continuous and informative work!

Amanda E. Epperson said...

Maria, Thanks for visiting the blog. I'm glad you have found it helpful. Good luck with your dissertation (which I'm sure is finished by now).

Ruby said...

It's amazing how you stayed calm through that series of system failures, Amanda. You wouldn't have finished your work if it wasn't for the file you backed up on December 29th. This just shows the importance of having back-up for every file you have. Thanks for sharing, and I hope you don't encounter similar events in the future.

Ruby Badcoe @ Williams Data Management

Amanda E. Epperson said...

Thanks Ruby. The recent backup really saved me. Family Tree makes a backup automatically is you close the program using the X in the upper right hand corner. I now have copies everywhere - an amazon cloud, dropbox, my laptop, an external hard drive, and about two jump drives.

Jim Adams said...

That is quite the close call! Shows how important backing up files and having multiple copies in different mediums can help avoid data loss. Frankly, I'd rather lose a week's worth of progress on a file than lose everything altogether, especially if it's a database or something I've been working on for quite some time.

Jim | EMS Imaging


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