Thursday, April 7, 2016

RootsWeb FreePages Data Loss

Logo of RootsWeb by AncestryWhen the RootsWeb servers crashed, I warned that some later loss was possible. Companies run backups periodically. Any information added to RootsWeb after the last backup would be lost. It turns out, in the case of RootsTech FreePages, that loss is rather dramatic. On 28 March 2016 Ancestry.com sent the following email out to RootsWeb users:

As you may know, the RootsWeb site was recently unavailable as the result of a hardware failure in our datacenter. Our development and web operations teams worked diligently and carefully to address the issues, and as a result, the site is now available again.  

Regretfully, despite their best efforts, our teams were not able to retrieve all of the data associated with the site. Specifically, we were unable to retrieve content from FreePages added after the summer of 2015. We understand these pages are important to you and are very sorry that we are not able to recover the data that was lost as a result of the hardware failure. Going forward, we are adding additional technical resources to support the site and ensure such an issue does not occur again.

If you have a backup of your own please upload it to the site so that you have the most current version of your pages.

If you have any concerns, please contact our Member Services through our support form.

While Ancestry didn’t offer further explanation as to why no backups were available after the summer of 2015, several possibilities come to mind. A best practice in technology is to test your backups. It doesn’t matter if you religiously backup your files if, when the time comes, you are unable to restore the files. It is possible that Ancestry has been backing up the disks, but the tapes they were using were bad. Or their backup automation software wasn’t working correctly. Or Ancestry had inadvertently left one or more disks off the list and they weren’t being backed up at all.

One FreePages user, Wayne Brown, posted a message on the RootsWeb message boards, lamenting that his website at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~sanway/ was completely lost. He created it after summer 2015, so as far as RootsWeb is concerned, his website never existed. To make matters worse, he didn’t have a backup. If you’ve lost information and don’t have a backup, there may be a way to recover some of the lost information.

  1. Go to the Internet Archive at https://archive.org/. They have archives of 472 billion web pages. They may have yours.
  2. Enter the URL into the WayBack Machine search box.
  3. The Internet Archive shows if and when it archived that page:
    image
  4. If the page has been archived, Archive.org shows a bar graph of sorts, indicating months in which backups were made. Select the year of interest.
  5. Underneath the bar graph Archive.org displays a calendar with blue circles over dates when the page was archived.
  6. With some luck, your page was archived. Click the most recent date.
  7. Click the X to remove the WayBack Machine header from your page.
  8. Copy and paste missing information.
  9. While you can use the Save function of your browser, be warned that the RootsWeb and Internet Archive web servers add lots of goop to your pages. You will find they have added lots of complex HTML that you don’t want. But, if you scan down through the page, you’ll eventually find the HTML you wrote.

Good luck!

9 comments:

  1. This is one reason I will pay for software to reside on my computer so I will have both a local copy to back up as well as the cloud. And if both sets of backups are destroyed, it probably means this planet doesn't exist anymore.

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  2. One might expect a company with a net worth of $2.6 billion dollars could do a better job of providing customer service, unless of course their most important customers are financial groups vying to purchase them. Semiannual backups and selling off their flagship genealogy program shows a shall we say, a callous and dismissive customer attitude.

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  3. Wow, even our tiny school district backup data each night, three separate times.

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  4. People seem surprised by Ancestry's inability to recover data after a computer malfunction. It certainly **could** be because of their "callous and dismissive" attitude towards their customers. More likely it is due to incompetence on the part of the organization charged with backing up data. I worked for a large company with extensive computer assets. Although data backup can be highly automated, the jobs are not glamorous, don't require extensive training, and are done by folks willing to work third shift. We had cases where tapes were stored in an temperature controlled room that actually wasn't; high temperatures destroyed the tapes. The tapes were never tested or rewritten so the problem wasn't discovered until a major CAD/CAM upgrade came along years down the road. Another time we backed up data on computer in a secure area by putting the same backup tape into the computer and overwriting it each evening for three years until the tape wore out. In all cases a procedure that tested the integrity of the backups periodically would have prevented bigger problems from developing.

    My guess is that Ancestry management is discovering the value of a well trained and motivated workforce in their backroom operations.

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    Replies
    1. Based on my experience in government I agree. So many things can wrong by miscommunication and not confirming everything little thing. Even with the best intentions, few like to spend time on the details in case something goes wrong.

      I'm sorry for all who lost data. I've been burned before by my own or others' actions, so I try hard to always have local copies of anything related to websites I create, edit, or contribute to.

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  5. Corporate and municipal/governmental organizations the world over have trouble with the pesky 3-Ps: Policy, Planning and Procedure. Effective organization can be quite simple, but incompetence really does "trickle down." So many organizations neglect staff training because they do not wish to add accompanying pay.

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  6. Ancestry is very sorry. That has to be good enough, right?
    Ancestry's "vision" is now "the Cloud". Family Tree Maker was first "retired" and
    not for sale" but has now been effectively sold off. Ancestry do not want to be responsible for it.
    But "the Cloud" comes with reliability faults like this one and availability faults. Right now, my main tree is unavailable because "we are undergoing maintenance" and FTM cannot Sync saying "We are experiencing heavier than normal volume of traffic".
    I have no confidence in Ancestry's product management nor its Cloud vision. All my data is on my own puters backed up to my own archiving. I have many years of work in my genealogy and Ancestry will not be trusted with more than a copy.
    Many thanks to Ancestry Insider for the news and the data recovery suggestions.

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  7. I recently discovered that the database search tool for the Obituary Daily Times (http://obits.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/obit.cgi) is not getting its indexes updated anymore since Feb 23, which means that none of the changes that I am uploading are available to the public. I contacted Rootsweb support and they suspect it is connected with problems they have with indexing in other parts of the site but they do not have any idea when they might be able to fix this, because they have no control over the resources available to them.

    Yesterday, I discovered that the mail archive search tool does not work either (http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/index/GEN-OBIT?m=r&s=Redisplay). I have submitted a report to Rootsweb, but I suspect I will receive a similar sort of answer. I have called Ancestry support, but they are not able to do much more than let me submit a member feedback report. I tried calling Ancestry corporate, but no one answered. I have written them a letter.

    I've noticed that Ancestry's search page of the Obituary Daily Times database (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=70050) is not searching the database entries from the last year, so that is also not working.

    Ancestry owns Rootsweb and relies on the data on Rootsweb, in this case the databases of the Obituary Daily Times. Shouldn't they make sure that Rootsweb has the resources to resolve these problems?

    Any idea how I can contact someone at Ancestry to get help with these issues?

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