I’ve been working on condensing all of my genealogy files into a central location that I can access from anywhere – in other words, I’ve been trying to put everything out on “the cloud”. Now, I’m no slouch when it comes to technology, but my goodness, I’m about ready to throw in the towel on this idea! And it all comes down to 2 basic things….storage space and the ability to access and update my files on my iPad or iPhone as well as any computer I happen to be using.

Here’s my dilemma. I have long been a user of Dropbox, and I love it because of the automatic syncing.  But my Dropbox has been taken over by my home business. I actually have 2 accounts – the business account is massive and the other account – which was originally created for my genealogy stuff – is pretty small. Plus, I have to keep the business Dropbox synced on my laptop, so to access files on the other account, I need to sign in online – not really what I’m looking for. And even though I have my iPad Dropbox account set to read my genealogy Dropbox files, I can’t edit files easily without opening them in different apps that don’t automatically save the changes in Dropbox. Too much of a hassle. I have pages and pages of apps that different people have recommended, but they don’t seem to keep the files updated the way that I’d expect them to. I’m looking for EASY – not more apps!

So, I’ve spent the last week putting every scanned file that I have into my Google Drive. My thinking was that I would put images into Google Drive, but put spreadsheets and word processing files into another cloud service because I’m not comfortable with the fact that editing a Word document in Google Drive means converting it to Google Docs. My formatting gets changed and on the iPad, you can’t see – not to mention add or edit – any of the footnotes. (Update – As I’ve continued to work o this project, I see that I am not totally correct. I CAN edit files in Word as long as I’m on a computer. But I can’t see any of the Word files in the “Docs” app on my iPad that connects to my Google Drive. They don’t even show up in the list of files. I can only see Google Docs files.I was so happy to discover that I could still edit files in Word on my laptop that I’ll have to think about what I want to do. Just keep the Word files and not convert them to Docs? Convert something to Docs before I take my iPad to the library so that I can see the files? I don’t want to have multiple copies always wondering if I’ve updated correctly….still thinking this through.)That’s a pretty important thing in genealogy research. Can I live without seeing footnotes on the iPad version? Probably. Will that feature be updated in the future? Most likely. Am I willing to take the total dive into Google Docs for all of my genealogy work? My mind says “yes”, but my heart is just not sure. It would mean uploading all of my Word documents, converting them to Google Docs and then deleting the Word docs – since I only want to keep the updated stuff.  No more, “which version is the most recent?” for me! And I would no longer be working in Word or Excel, but in Docs and Sheets. Hmmm….

I recently bought a new laptop for my son who is starting his senior year in college. He has never had a new laptop, he’s always had the hand-me-down laptops from his older brother. When we bought the laptop, we had to make the decision about the Office package he would have. We could have Office 2013 for one price – good forever, but on one laptop only and no updates for new features. If I know anything about software, it’s that updates are coming more often! Or he could get Office 365 for a student and have the automatic updates for 4 years and he could install it on up to 5 devices. (Just let me say that it is MUCH cheaper to get Office 365 as a student! Around $80 for 4 years compared to $100 a year for non-students. YIKES!) But with Office 365, everything is cloud based. Nothing to install. That’s the wave of the future and I can see that for sure! Why would I not be willing to use Google Docs to do the same type of thing – but for free?

Still uncertain, I’m looking at other options. I’ve had SkyDrive on my laptop for a long time and I have quite a few genealogy files on there. In fact, it has become my collection point during this organization process. My thinking has been that everything new I collect needs to be in one place so I can get in the habit of using my cloud storage and so that I can stop wondering if I’ve collected everything off of my various flashdrives.

For quite awhile, I’ve been expecting that the SkyDrive label in my Explorer list would automatically change names to OneDrive since that change was made by the company, but it hasn’t and today I have a big mystery on my hands! I have 2 different Outlook email accounts, 1 for personal email and 1 for genealogy email. They each have their own OneDrive account, but neither of them is the SkyDrive account on my computer! I have no idea how to access this SkyDrive account from a different computer and now I’m worried that if the SkyDrive DID automatically update to something else, everything will be gone. The scramble is on. Move everything to OneDrive?

So I opened the OneDrive app on my iPad and I can see all of the files attached to one of my Outlook emails. So far, so good. I can see that I have a nice set of genealogy notes on there that I must have saved awhile back. When I clicked on one of the sets of notes, it opened with the Microsoft Word app that I have on my iPad. Good! I like using Word – it’s what I’m used to and I should be able to keep all my formatting and I can see the footnotes on my iPad! But wait, while I can READ all of my notes in the Word app, I cannot WRITE or EDIT anything without the Office 365 account. Screeching halt! There’s no way that I’m going to pay that much money for an updated version of Microsoft Office while I’m perfectly happy with my 2010 version just so I can access and update files on my iPad. Especially while I have free access to something very similar using Google. Find an app that will open the file – sure. But does it automatically save the update in OneDrive – not that I can find. It would mean re-uploading and that’s something I’d rather avoid because I know that’s where my weakness is. I’m going for the KISS method, for sure and while I thought OneDrive was going to be the answer, I think I’m ruling that out.

But what about storage space? Is there a possibility that I could eventually use up all of the space that I’m giving with a Google Drive account? Probably. But you know what? Gmail is free – I can have all of the Gmail addresses that I want! To try this out, I set up a new Gmail account using a specific surname thinking that I could set up 4 accounts if I wanted – one for each grandparent’s line. Voila! 15 gb of storage! And I have a feeling that the amount of free storage given for email accounts will increase over time, but we’ll see. The biggest drawback to this method – I’d have to sign into a specific account to see those records. But that’s a problem for another day…

So what have I learned? I can’t continue to use flashdrives as my genealogy storage. They are too easy to lose and I’m sure I’ll experience a failure sooner or later. If I wasn’t worried about computer crashes or accessibility, I’d just keep everything on my laptop. That would be the easiest solution by far. To back up files, I like using flashdrives, but my “addiction” to them has turned my genealogy life into chaos. . Keeping files in the cloud makes the most sense. Training myself to ONLY work on with the files from the cloud will be the priority. No more, “I’ll put this on my flashdrive for now and find the proper place for it later”!

I’m so glad I decided to take today to figure out which cloud storage works best on my iPad, because THAT has been eye-opening. It has become the deciding factor as I want to become more portable in my genealogy work. Google Drive is the winner for me, but with reservations. We’ll see how this “experiment” works over time!