A 3-2-1 Backup plan means a backup plan for when you lose your computer files due to hard drive failure, theft, fire, etc.

This has become the industry standard for a minimum level of preparedness and protection for our digital files. The plan, in a nutshell, is to have:



  • 3 copies of your data, on at least
  • 2 different local storage devices, with at least
  • 1 copy being offsite

3 copies, 2 local storage devices, 1 offsite

  • 3 copies means your original and 2 more copies This is like having 3 keys to your house, an original and 2 copies.
  • 2 different storage devices means your hard drive (the one inside your primary computer), an external hard drive (you plugin to your computer and copy all the files to), or cloud backup (a service you pay for with an offsite company) You can use hard drives for both storage devices, they just need to be two distinct, separate hard drives in case one fails. In the key example, the 3 copies are also the 3 distinct storage types and if one key wears out, and won’t open the door, the other two are still useful.
  • 1 copy offsite means you need to have 1 of these copies somewhere other than your home or primary residence where you keep the original. This could be your office, another family member’s home, or the cloud. This is like giving a key to your home to a trusted family member or friend who lives in a different house.



You have a backup plan for getting back into your home…what about your computer?

3-2-1 plan is like having 3 keys to your home, on at least 2 devices, and 1 offsite. With the key example, this would be a 3-3-1 plan. 3 copies, on 2 different devices, with 1 offsite. Image by geralt on Pixabay 

If you don’t believe you need a 3-2-1 plan, read these Horror Stories.

My friend had her computers and phones stolen from her home. Goodbye, everything!

Another friend’s home burned down and they lost everything. They woke up in the middle of the night to a house fire and barely made it out alive. The whole home burned to the ground and they still don’t know if their pets survived.

My friend’s computer crashed and she had no backup and she’s now going to pay $2,000 to have someone try to restore and save her files. All her photos of her children as well as important home files were stored on the computer that crashed.

I was outside trimming bushes when I smelled gas from the gas meter. I called the gas company and when they walked into the room that smelled of gas, they wouldn’t even flip the light switch on! They had me leave the house, with my dogs, and they spent an hour fixing a leak. And all of my family history papers and photos were in the corner room by the gas meter. I’d gathered them all into one room to make sure I didn’t miss anything as I started my digitizing efforts. I kept thinking, one month away from having it all digitized and I could lose everything!

These are just a few examples. The truth is, disasters will happen and all computers die.


My 3-2-1 plan for my Personal Computer Files

3 copies

  • I have my original hard drive on my desktop computer and I keep an external hard drive copy (so 2 copies here)
  • I have TimeMachine backup to an external hard drive kept in my basement (onsite)–this is for Mac/Apple computers. Check out Zinstall or other programs for Windows computers.
  • I have a cloud backup with Backblaze (Backblaze is for both Windows and Mac computers. $60 per year includes my desktop and external hard drive with .5 TB of extra photos & docs).

2 different local storage types

  • 1 storage type is the main computer hard drive
  • 1 storage type is my external hard drive that I can grab in an emergency (you can buy these at Walmart or other stores for less than $100)

1 offsite storage

  • 1 copy is offsite with Backblaze


What Backblaze Looks Like on my Computer

My Personal Plan with Backblaze automatically and continuously backs up my desktop computer and my family history external hard drive (AlysonFamilyHistory) when it’s plugged in to my computer. I need to plug the FamilyHistory drive in at least monthly to keep it backed up.



My 3-2-1- Plan for my Family History Files

3 copies

  • I have all my digitized family history files on an external hard drive (they don’t fit on my computer)
  • I have a duplicate copy at Backblaze
  • Each of my siblings has a duplicate copy of these digitized family history files on an external hard drive – so I have 5 complete copies of my Family history files 

2 different storage types

  • An external hard drive with me
  • An external hard drive with each sibling and one in cloud storage with Backblaze (again, more than 2 storage types because these are valuable to me)

1 copy offsite

  • I actually have 4 offsite copies – one with each sibling and one copy offsite with Backblaze



“Wife Insurance”

A 3-2-1 plan is just another type of insurance. A good portion of our personal budgets are spent on insurance plans: health insurance, car insurance, homeowners or renters insurance, life insurance… we all carry multiple types of insurance to protect us from the high costs of crises. People jokingly call Backblaze and similar services “wife insurance” because the wife is the one who’s going to explode if all the family photos are lost. Whatever you want to call it, it’s one more part of a family disaster preparedness plan that shouldn’t be overlooked and as insurance goes, it’s relatively cheap (all my computer files restored for $60/year).

 I was trying to do it all myself by giving external hard drives to family members but I am not convinced they’ll be responsive if I ever lose my copy and I need to get it back from them. I’m not sure trusting your backup copy with people who don’t choose to backup their own files is a solid plan. And it might not be fair to make another family member bear the responsibility for your valuables. I’m also creating a personal library at Internet Archive but anything I store there is freely accessible to everyone, so that limits what I’m willing to upload to their site.



Other Options

There are other options for backing up your computer over the internet to a storage service. A few I looked at were:

 And there are multiple options for backing up individual files on your computer and making them accessible from any location, but this is not a true backup of your entire computer.

I went with Backblaze because it is the simplest program for getting my entire computer backed-up and having it done automatically, in the background, while I work on my computer. Their prices were the lowest. They have a good reputation and have been in the industry for a while. I’ve seen them as a vendor at RootsTech and am so mad I missed their class this year, but here’s a link to their handout, How Not To Be a Victim of Hard Drive Failure. It took two days for their initial backup to finish running on my computer but I was able to use my computer as it backed it up. This is not an affiliate post – just my write-up about what has worked for me. I’ll share other tips from bloggers and industry professionals on the OnGenealogy Pinterest Boards, especially:

Best with your research. Don’t forget to back it up!

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