Sunday, December 30, 2007

Organize Your Digital Files

Once you have started your family history you will quickly find that it is hard to stay organized. And this isn't just a mental annoyance -- it becomes very difficult to work when your files are scattered around everywhere. It's hard to remember what to do next and where to find what you have. You may also try to make some meticulous system for organizing everything, and then spend most of your time organizing instead of researching! What to do?

Here is a simple method I use to organize all of my digital files (more on paper files later). In short, I want to organize all my documents by the family they pertain to, and anything I find out about a locality should be collected in one place, too. I also want to keep correspondence and gedcoms from other people stored somewhere.

1) Go wherever on your computer you want to store everything. Create a "Family History" folder. Put your main database file here (If you use Personal Ancestral File, it would be your .paf file, for example).

2) Inside that folder, create three more folders: "People", "Places" and "References". I'll go into each of these in detail.

  • PEOPLE -- This is where you store all the documents you find on your families. Make a folder for each surname you are working on. Inside that folder, store anything you find for that surname (census images, pictures, copies of documents, etc).
  • PLACES -- As you do research, you will learn about the places they lived. Make a folder for each locality you are researching in, and keep documents such as maps, local histories, websites, library catalog entries and pictures of places here.
You will want to name the folders in a Country, State, County, City format, like this:

Norway, Buskerud
Norway, Buskerud, Aadalen
Norway, Hedmark, Ringsaker
Wisconsin, La Crosse
Wisconsin, La Crosse, Holmen

That way, when you arrange the folders alphabetically, they will be automatically sorted for you. Note that I created a folder just for the country or State, another just for the County and additional ones for townships and cities.

  • REFERENCES -- This folder is where you store gedcoms and other random things like blank census forms, etc. You can organize it however you like, but I should mention that it's good to be very descriptive in titling gedcoms and other things. If you receive a file from Joe Banks and just call it "Banks.ged", you'll forget what it's for. If you call it "Eli Whitney family received from Joe Banks on 5 Nov 2007.ged", well that tells you just about everything.
That's about it. Hope this is useful. Please leave feedback about how this works for you, and any adjustments you like to make.

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