Using TMG with DropBox across multiple computers

I have a laptop which acts as a portable desktop, and a new (replacement) mini notebook which is more convenient to carry around. Since copying things between them is a constant source of irritation I have been experimenting with Dropbox, which copies specific files to its servers and from there to any other of your computers, and keeps them in synch.

Right now I am experimenting with DropBox to keep my TMG project/s in sync.

Dick Eastman explained the process not long ago. I want to extract some excerpts here to help me get going:

What I am about to describe is a one-time setup. Starting with The Master Genealogist installed on all three computers, I installed Dropbox on all three. Each Dropbox installation created a folder named “Dropbox” inside the “My Documents” of the installed computer. Next, I used one of my computers to run The Master Genealogist and opened the latest version of my database. Everything looked normal. I then clicked on FILE and then on COPY PROJECT. (In some other genealogy programs, the command will be SAVE AS… .) For the new file location, I specified the new Dropbox folder as follows:

\My Documents\Dropbox\The Master Genealogist v7\Eastman\

NOTE: The best location on your PC might be slightly different.

That completes my setup routine. Since I had specified to store the new database under \My Documents\Dropbox\, all files I placed there were automatically copied to the Dropbox folders on the other computers. Dropbox mirrors, or “replicates,” all files you place in the Dropbox folder. All the files and folders under \Dropbox on all of your computers will be mirror images of each other.

I then went to another computer, opened The Master Genealogist, clicked on FILE and then on OPEN PROJECT. I then specified the software to open the following on the second computer:

\My Documents\Dropbox\The Master Genealogist v7\Eastman\

The latest version of my genealogy database immediately appeared on the second computer. I made a few updates, then saved the data as normal (back to the same location: \My Documents\Dropbox\The Master Genealogist v7\Eastman\ ). All the data was quickly copied to the first and third computers.


There are two scenarios, however, that could cause problems.

First, when traveling, I do not always have an Internet connection available. It is possible to boot the laptop and become operational without receiving the latest version of the database. In such a case, I could be updating an older database. When I do later make a connection, the two versions would both show as “new” versions, and the Dropbox software would not know how to handle that. A pop-up window would appear with an error message and then would ask what to do: overwrite the local database with the remote, overwrite the remote database with the local, or do nothing. In any case, some manual “catch up” work would be required.

I almost always have an Internet connection available, either by wi-fi or with a 3G cellular data wireless connection, so the problem has never happened to me. However, it is a potential problem that can be handled easily if you stop to think about it each time you load your genealogy program.

The second risky scenario is if two people are working on the same data at the same time, using two different computers. For instance, if I am updating my genealogy database at the county courthouse with my laptop computer at the same time that someone else is using my desktop computer at home to update the database, things could become badly scrambled. Most genealogy programs are not designed for multiple simultaneous users. In my case, nobody else ever uses any of my computers, so there is no risk. However, if you share any of your computers with anyone else, you need to make sure the two of you are not updating the same file at the same time. You can both READ files simultaneously, but don’t try to make simultaneous UPDATES.

And some relevant comments that asked, and answered, the questions I had:

  • —> are your exhibits external or internal, and do you have them there as well?

Internal. But if they were external, they would also be backed up so long as they were stored someplace under \My Documents\Dropbox

EVERYTHING under \My Documents\Dropbox gets copied every time there is a change. You can place your genealogy documents there as well as word processing documents, picures, videos, income tax records, anything at all. The contents of all the folders under \My Documents\Dropbox will be copied to the other computer(s).

  • —> What about data security? Putting unencrypted genealogy data (and other personal information) anywhere off site is risky.

All data sent to Dropbox is ALWAYS encrypted first on your computer before being sent across the Internet. That is automatic and there is no need to obtain any additional encryption software. Even the Dropbox employees cannot read your files.

  • This is a great program. I have been using it similar to the way you do. It offers one additional huge plus – you can access the files on their server from any computer (without installing dropbox) by logging into your webspace (password protected). This can be an easy way to access a file on the road when you are using a company laptop on which you cannot install software.

There are a few issues with TMG that are easy to work with, but could cause difficulty if you don’t understand they interfaces. It takes a bit of time for the files to update. When I make changes on laptop on the road to my TMG dataset in dropbox folder the changes do not sync until I shutdown TMG and they take a bit of time. So the key is shutdown TMG and wait before turning off computer for the icon in the tray to show all files are syncronized. Also, you can get a failure when you run maintenance on either computer if you have exhibits because the naming convention and path may not be exactly the same to the exhibits. Solution is simple, let maintenance fix the links by adding the exhibit folder and then shutdown TMG. Same thing may then happen on other computer, but again, simply run maintenance in TMG and let it reset the paths on it. Other than these I have no difficulty. It sure is nice to know I essentially have one master set and can travel worldwide with my netbook and do whatever I want.

So, here I go:

  1. Install Dropbox on both laptop and notebook – DONE
  2. Copy project on laptop to new directory under DropBox folder.
  3. Open new project under Dropbox folder on notebook.
  4. Update file paths on both machines.

That’s it!

When I feel comfortable with how this works I’ll turn the backups off, which will, in theory, be taking up space I don’t need them to. In the meantime I’ll leave it on.

Some questions I have to resolve:

  1. How will I handle my external exhibits? Do I need them on the notebook?
  2. How will I handle client projects? I don’t really need old ones sychronised, but I don’t want to split them.
  3. Will I have to change the layout each time? (this answer is probably obvious to you already, but I want to check for myself because I can’t remember if it goes with the project)
  4. How long does it take? I suspect our internet speeds are slower than Dick’s.

Some initial observations:

  1. TMG opened the file in Repair Mode first time. While I was updating my Preferences it crashed. It’s open again now, and so far looks OK.
  2. TMG asks me about the exhibits every time it opens, so I’ll have to decide soon! [Later] Ah, of course, it’s because I’ve moved from Vista to XP, and the paths are different.
  3. It was slow to copy the project to the notebook, and wouldn’t open initially. Have to remember to give Dropbox a chance to download new files before opening TMG, or anything else.
  4. The question is Do you have a master and backups, which are there for information but you do not expect to make any changes, or do you need to be able to make changes? If I’m at the library or archives I wouldn’t, but if I’m on a research trip to Fiji I might, although I didn’t last time.
  5. Where are the project options kept? If I change the file paths on the notebook will they get synchronised back to the laptop? I really don’t need that! I’d have to create empty files in Dropbox, for backups, etc.

6 thoughts on “Using TMG with DropBox across multiple computers

  1. Since Dick Eastman’s article I also have been using Dropbox for my TMG data, I have a desktop and laptop, so far so good, it seems to work great, taking into account the caution needed to ensure correct syncing as Carole and Dick discuss.

    One thing to consider when using Dropbox with a database type program such as TMG, when you change any data in TMG it will automatically save then Dropbox will send file(s) to the server for syncing, so if you are online while using TMG your internet connection might get a bit busy, but mostly uploading so probably wont cost you.

    I would like to also put my external exhibits on Dropbox as well, but I have too much data for the free service and am considering using the paid option with much more space.

    Here is a link to Dropbox if you want to give it a try.

    • Carole, I do have a second project which I have placed in Dropbox, it does not yet have exhibits and probably wont. The exhibits for my main project are currently on my desktop, as I generally only need my data without exhibits when I am out and about with my laptop.

      I do change data on both machines. Which one I work with depends if there is something good on TV, then I am on the laptop!!! The great thing about using Dropbox is I now have a choice of which machine I use without having to think about it, as I know the data will be good.

      The issue you mention of TMG initially opening in Repair Mode did not happen to me, it worked as normal.

      And another good feature of Dropbox is that if you have a network at home (I do) it will sync files directly between computers over your network and not using the internet, which is much quicker.

      • I have a network at home as well. Surely updates are uploaded to the Dropbox server? Still, a one-way update is better than up to the server and back down to the other computer.

        I suspect the Repair Mode thing was because the file paths were different on the newer XP machine than the older Vista laptop. It didn’t happen the second time I opened it.

        Thanks for responding so quickly and in such detail!

  2. I failed the big test yesterday. A new marriage certificate arrived in the mail as I was leaving the house, so I did the data entry on the train on my mini, expecting the source, citation and changes to the marriage tag to appear on my main laptop when I got home.

    It didn’t work, and now I’ve lost the change altogether.

    Possible reasons:

    1. TMG was still open on my laptop when I got home, and so Dropbox was unable to update some of the files.

    Actually that’s the only good reason I can think of. I hoped that if I closed down TMG on the laptop that the download would occur afterwards and when I opened it again the change would be there. I was wrong. I guess Dropbox didn’t keep trying, and the files on the laptop were copied back to the mini notebook.

    I’m disappointed, as data entry on a train trip is a good use of that time.

    I’ll try it once more, tomorrow.

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