So over on Facebook, there’s a new group called The Organized Genealogist which now has upwards of 1,200 members (apparently there a LOT of disorganized genealogists out there – glad to know I’m not alone!). We trade helpful hints and ideas of how to organize certain aspects of our genealogy lives.
Valerie Craft (Begin With Craft) posted a message to the group showing the system she uses on her Mac for her digital files. I’m proud to say that it’s almost identical to the way I do it with a few minor exceptions — one being that I’m on a Windows PC. In helping one of the other members work through getting her filing system set up, I realized this was something I actually knew a little bit about, and decided it would make a good topic for a blog post.
I am NOT saying there is a right way or a wrong way to store your digital files. This is the way that works best for me. You may find a way that works better for you.
Location, Location, Location
The first thing you need to do is determine where you want to keep all of your digital files. I am partial to Dropbox because I can access it from my PC, my laptop, my iPad, and my smartphone … but you may decide that you want to have a “root” folder in your “My Documents” folder. I’m calling it a “root” folder because that is where everything will start (and it also sounds a little bit genealogy-y doesn’t it?)
It really depends on how many files you plan on storing in there and how much virtual storage those files will take up. I have a total of 41 folders and 58 other documents in my Dropbox folder, which take up around 11 GB of space. Only about half of that is related to genealogy. If your hard drive is large enough to save everything there, then by all means do that if it tickles your fancy. Whatever way is easiest for you.
Regardless of where you store your digital files – one thing will never change. Backup, backup, backup! Thomas MacEntee sends out a reminder on the first day of every month to backup your files. DO IT!
Building your foundation
Once you have determined where you want your “root” file, go ahead and create the folder. I’ll use My Documents as an example (but the same steps will be taken regardless of where you put your folder – as long as you’re in Windows). **screenshots were made using Windows 7, but are very similar for XP and Windows 8 – or so I’m told). Click the “Pearl” in the bottom left corner of your screen (the little Windows button).
Select “Documents” (or “My Documents” if in Windows XP). This opens your Windows Explorer. (I moved my files out of the way for purposes of this tutorial – you will probably have more than this in your folder).
Right click on the RIGHT side of the explorer window. You will get a menu. Down toward the bottom of the menu is an option that says “New.” Hovering over it brings up more options. Click on “Folder.” It should be at the top of the list. (sorry – couldn’t get a screenshot of this). (This can also be accomplished by using Ctrl+Shift+N)
Your newly created folder is called – strangely enough – “New Folder.” The name is highlighted, so start typing. Let’s call this folder “Genealogy Stuff.” Press enter when you’re done typing. You’ve created your root folder.
Breakin’ it Down
Hover over the “My Documents” folder on the LEFT side of your explorer window. You will see a little arrow just left of the folder name. Click on that little arrow to show the folders in your “My Documents” folder. Then single-click on the folder you just created. The RIGHT side of your explorer window should display a message saying “This folder is empty.”
On the RIGHT side of your explorer window, create a new folder using one of your surnames and the process you used above. Repeat this process for each surname you have.
Within the appropriate surname folder, you will make a folder for each individual with that surname. For women, I keep them in the surname folder of their maiden name and add their married name to their file name. For example, my great grandmother’s folder is called “Mary Alice Egan Schneider.” She is filed under the Egan surname folder, but now I can distinguish her from her mother “Mary Alice McDonnall Egan” and her daughter “Mary Alice Schneider Lanctot” (yes, I have three generations of Mary Alices) because I have added their married names as well.
Within the individual folders, you can further segregate your document types if you want by creating additional folders. I don’t. I want to be able to see everything I have for a person in one place.
In Windows 7, you can see your file hierarchy in the address window at the top of your explorer window. This is one of my folders in Dropbox. If I want to go up a level, I can just click on the name of the folder in this little window.
Note: this feature is not available in Windows XP. You will have to use the little green “up” button to go up a directory level.
What about the places they lived?
I do the same thing with information I find on localities. I created a folder in my “Genealogy Stuff” folder called “Localities.” In that folder I have a file hierarchy that goes like this: Country > State (or equivalent) > County > Town/City. This is where I keep maps, county histories that I’ve downloaded, or any other locality-specific information that may help me understand the kind of lives my ancestors led and what was going on during the time they were residents.
Everyone has their own way of naming files. Mine is relatively simple: [First Middle Maiden Married] [year (if applicable)] [type of doc]. That’s it. No magical formula, no special code words. So if I have a census record for my great grandfather, it will look something like this: “Harold John Crowe Sr 1930 US census.” My great grandmother’s census record would be “Mary Alice Schneider Lanctot 1915 SD census.”
Any other information will be contained in the metadata (that’s a whole other tutorial/webinar/degree program, and won’t be discussed here) and/or in my citation information within my database program and/or superimposed on the document itself. (This aspect of my digital filing system is a work in progress).
I hope this helps get you closer to identifying a filing system that is compatible with the way YOUR brain works.
Do we share ancestors? Email me: lostancestors AT gmail DOT com
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