Genealogy Do-Over: Prep Time — 35 Comments

  1. One thing to keep in mind with your digital filekeeping (at least for Windows) is that although long file names are awesome, if you are multiple folders deep in long files names that document you think is being synced to Dropbox and being backed up to an external hard drive every night might not get copied. I’ve run into problems with path names that are too long and those files get skipped.

    • That’s a good thought, Patricia. I know that file names are limited to 255 characters in Windows, but is there a maximum path length for syncing with backup resources? (I use Windows to backup to my external hard drive and Backblaze to back everything up).

      Looking at some of my file folders, I think I can keep the path at less than 260 characters, so I should be okay. Do you agree?

  2. I did start last night with a clean database of myself, my parents and my brothers. Rounding up the related documents, I realized that organizing my documents, both paper and digital, is going to be a big chore. I plan on using this coming week to get them organized so I can keep on going without having to stop so often and look for them.

    • Me too, Alice. I’ve been inputting all of my own information – hunting down my birth certificate, marriage and divorce records, etc. from various closets and files. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t ever really paid much attention to making sure my own information was recorded. Oops!

      • Part of my problem is that I teach a couple of beginning genealogy classes for my local genealogy society each year, and I take things from my files as examples to show what they can find at home. I don’t always get them put back where they belong, so I will have to hunt for some things to get them back where they belong.

  3. Jenny, are you using the terms “file” and “folder” interchangeably in this discussion? I ask because these sentences at the beginning confused me.
    >>Within Dropbox, I have created a “Genealogy Media” file. Inside that file, I will have a file for every surname in my direct line. (Collateral surnames will get their own folder). Inside each surname folder will be folders for each individual. <<

    In order to stay within the limits for windows path lengths, it seems like one would want to have the folder names as short as reasonably possible in order to have the most flexibility in naming files.
    Sorry if I've missed something here.

    Your post is wonderful food for thought for the Do-Over. Love the Document Process Chart. Your file naming system is very similar to what I have been using – start with the date in a format that will sort in chronologic order. But, after the date, I haven't been consistent and that needs to change!! Thanks for the nudge to get going.

    • Yes Dianne, sorry it was a little confusing at the beginning. The “Genealogy Media” is a FOLDER. Then each surname also gets a FOLDER.

      As for the Windows maximum path length – I think that’s something like 30,000 – so I’m pretty sure we’re okay there. I was concerned with whether there were any limits within the backup systems. In any case, I don’t have any paths longer than 120 characters in within my old files (and I didn’t hold back on some of those!), so I’m pretty sure everything will be fine.

  4. The way I get around months not being in alpha order for regular photos–not genealogy photos–and it may help you, is I do YYYY MO (in numerical order, ie Jan = 1, Feb = 2, etc) then in parentheses I put abbreviation for the month (Sep) or (Jun) after the month’s number, then description of event. So for events so far this month I already have these in my files:
    2014 12 (Dec) Carol b’day dinner
    2014 12 (Dec) Carol b’day snow trip
    2014 12 (Dec) Sally visit
    2014 12 (Dec) Xmas stuff
    2014 12 (Dec) Xmas brkfst
    2014 12 (Dec) Xmas opening gifts
    Of course the computer file program would put it in alpha order but they’re still gonna be in chrono order by year/month.
    One could do specific date as well, but I usually don’t. For some of the previous events, pix were taken on more than one day anyway.
    Genealogy pix I file by person’s name this way: {last, first, side A (OR side B if there’s writing on back), approx date, info @ pic (location, event, place, other people in foto)}. If there are multiple ppl in the photo I save it again under each person’s file, using same format above, and in Ancestry for each person, where I keep my tree.

  5. How do you handle photos with an unknown date? I have a few key pics that could have been taken within a range of 3 to 5 years.

    • Mary, I have several photos that don’t have exact dates and I’ve just been using the range (1971-1974) or my best guess at a year. I’ve also been tagging them with “identify” so I can go back later and see if I can find clues that may narrow down the date, especially if there are people I’m not familiar with, etc. I truly suck at dating photos unless they are of me (and sometimes even then I’m pretty terrible at it) and usually need another set of eyes to get me started in the right direction. I just do the best I can with what I have.

    • Just noticed my comment has been truncated. I believe I said something along the lines of, love the Document Research Plan. This will help me heaps as I start the Do-Over and will use Evernote to pull it all together. Thanks.

  6. You said “Folders for females will be titled [First] [Middle] [Last] (yyyy-yyyy), and for the males [First] [Middle] [Last] (wife’s first name) (yyyy-yyyy),” which I like.

    My questions are 1) is last name of wife maiden name and how do you plan to handle multiple spouses for either husband or wife or both?

    Thanks for this great post.

    • Thanks Eileen! Sorry for the confusion … I guess I got in a hurry there. Female folders will be [First] [Middle] [Maiden] (married name) (yyyy-yyyy). In the case of multiple spouses, I will leave the folders with the surname (or first name) of the first spouse and then name the individual files with the serial surnames.

      Does that clear it up?

  7. Interesting discussion – other than about 6 inches of ‘documents’ in folders labeled ‘to be sorted’ (squirrel disease) I might be able to lay my hands on my documents and get them scanned.
    Two questions: 1) are you using Dropbox because it syncs with your other programs or ? Considering doing this but was leaning toward Evernote. I haven’t done a thing with the cloud. Your opinion please
    2) What do you do with those ‘possible/probable, not sure’ things that may or may not be related to a brick wall? I have a 20 year old wall and I just know something in those folders will turn out to be relevant – or do I just toss it in the stove and keep warm this winter? (This did turn out to be a good thing on another problem person and when I did get a link I had lots of goodies I can’t find online anymore due to mergers or whatever)
    Like the labeling system looks doable here too

    • Oh Judy, we don’t talk about those ‘to be sorted’ piles. Besides, with the Do-Over, we’re setting all previous research aside (so they don’t really count)!

      As far as Dropbox goes, I use that because I want to be able to access my files no matter where I am. It also allows me to (theoretically) maintain the links between my media files and both versions of RootsMagic that I use (desktop and laptop).

      I am contemplating using Evernote for my research plans and logs – but the jury’s still out on that. I’m not sure I’m COMPLETELY satisfied with that option, and if I’m not 100%, I simply won’t use it, which completely defeats the purpose.

      Oh, those pesky possible/probables. I’m not sure how I’ll be handling those yet. I have one of those accordion files with alphabet tabs, so maybe I’ll use something like that … but that’s only for people who may or may not be related. If I find documents related to someone already in my tree, I will add them like I would any other. If a conflict arises with another document (e.g., not the same person, incorrect information, etc.), it will need to be dealt with, per the GPS. I may have to determine a different way of labeling these documents though, so I know that they contain faulty information. Perhaps a tag will serve that purpose.

      That part may be one of those cross-that-bridge-when-we-get-to-it things.

    • Dear Scaloot aka Judy,

      I recommend scanning those 6 inches into a folder with just sequential numbers, like Scan 001, Scan 002, etc, and THEN sorting them into folders on your computer. The hardest part of sorting is handling the paper: shuffling and piling and finding a place for another pile. Once you have them scanned, and have a folder and naming convention chosen, you can open them to see how to rename them pretty quickly into the appropriate places. That’s the approach I’ve been using with my pile(s).


    • How about a folder called Brickwall Jackson the that elusive GGGfather Jackson? Then name the files as well as you can with the information that’s in them.

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  9. Jenny I like your document process map. I redid it in Visio 2003 [which I’m guessing that is what you used] and added the drafting revision colors to it. Red means changes
    Green means done; Blue usually means notes & completed; I used orange as a question is raised; Light yellow or beige means working on it.

    Can send a copy if you would like. Will do it in pdf. So your copyright is there.

  10. I love the idea of a flowchart for document processing! I am a very visual learner, so having this in front of me will probably help me not miss any steps. Thanks – I’m off to figure out my own!

  11. Jenny, your post is great and you’ve made me think about other things I need to do. Oh, dear, as if there wasn’t enough. Love your chart and thoughts on file naming.

    • Kathleen, don’t be afraid to add to your to-do list! I’m a firm believer (now) that the time spent in preparing for research will provide an exponential savings in the time spent actually researching (or re-researching, in past cases). I’m expecting to see a significant amount of forward movement in my research now that I have these processes in place. Fingers crossed!

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