Tag Archives: Personal Organization

Getting Organized: The Digital Side

I’ve been going on and on about my binder organization methods for several weeks now. What about my digital organization? There are a couple of aspects that I will cover over a few posts, primarily: files on my computer and scanning/digitizing tips. This week, I’ll address how I organize my digital files so they match my binders (more or less).

I must admit that I did not come up with this idea on my own. We all stand on the shoulders of those who have figured things out before us. Every time you attend a lecture, an institute, a webinar, you learn something new, even if you thought you knew everything there was to know about a topic. At the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy‘s (SLIG) first “Tech Day,” I attended a class by Cyndi Ingle (that famous lady from Cyndi’s List! and who is one of the moderators for the Facebook Group “The Genealogy Squad“) and learned a method that would allow my digital files to mirror what I had already created in my binders.

My binders are in chronological order. I don’t know why I hadn’t come up with a method on my own yet, but I hadn’t. I took Cyndi’s class “Coordinating the Cloud” which was about many technical topics, but the biggest takeaway for me was a file-naming system that I adopted for my digital files. (THANK YOU, CYNDI!) Basically, you can name your digital files in such a way that it will match your binders. Now, this might be a big “duh,” but for me, it was “a-ha!” I just hadn’t realized it yet. There are those moments when something should be so obvious but it isn’t for some reason. This was one of those moments.

So the file naming system goes like this:

YEAR-SURNAME FIRSTNAME – code or description of the document.jpg (or whatever file type it is)

For example:

  • 1850-HIGDON Joseph – census.jpg
  • 1853-HIGDON Joseph & RENFRO Malinda – MR.jpg   (marriage record)

And in my finder it looks like this:

DigitalBinders

Because of the way computers organize files, numbers come before letters. So by putting the year first, those files come before the children, just like my binders. You can choose some style things. I typically like to have the surname in all caps, it is just easier for my eye to land on it, however, in this example, you can see my inconsistency. It happens. Someday when I really want to procrastinate I’ll work on fixing these things.

If you have documents in the same year, you can put a month number (and a day if you wish) after the year and it will sort appropriately: 1851-06-15-HIGDON-Census.jpg. I currently use a, b, c, but may change my mind later if I get a lot of documents in the same year.

If you remember, my binders are organized by each couple and their children except the child I’m descended through. You can see in the image above that the child I’m descended through has a note in the folder name indicating where I will find that child’s information. The rest of the children have their own sub-folder and they are ordered by birth order using the notation “(ch#)” in the file name.

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed some files with “wcit” in the filename. That is a duplicate of the image, usually, that has been copied into a word processing file (in my case I use Mac Pages, but you can use whichever software you desire). To that image, I’ve added a text box with the citation to the page to provide “separation safeguards” which prevent separation of an image from its source (citation) information.1 I want to save both the original and the citation-treated images in my digital folder.

This is a work in progress. I didn’t sit down and fix all of my digital files as soon as I learned this naming convention. (Who has the time?) I fix it as I work on various projects in my family. One of the things about getting organized is that it doesn’t happen overnight or in one session of organizing. Make a commitment to work on it 15 minutes a day, or an hour a week, or whatever timeframe works in your schedule.

But most of all, get started! And keep learning!


1. See standard number 8, “Separation Safeguards” in Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Ancestry.com, 2019).

Getting Organized: More on the Binders

I know last week I said we would talk about the digital side of my organization system, but I got a lot of questions and comments from the last post asking for more specifics about the binders. I thought I’d dig a little bit more into that this time.

I mentioned that each binder in MY system is focused on a couple and their children, EXCEPT that through which I’m descended through.

The binder organization is broken down like this:

Binder Map

Each document is in chronological order, forming a visual timeline of their lives. In the back are divided sections for each of their children, except for the one who is my ancestor. They will have their own binder. Rinse and Repeat.

If you think of your pedigree chart, each couple is their own binder. The binder follows the pedigree chart. In the visualization below, each matching colored box represents one binder:

Binder pedigree

Now, as you move back in time, you may find you have fewer documents. For the couples that I do not have that much on (yet), I might put several generations in one binder until it gets too full and needs to be separated due to space issues. For those that I have done a ton of work on, I will get a 2″ or 3″ binder for their documents. Whatever size, I always make sure to get the kind with the clear slip-in fronts, backs, and spines. Then I clearly label what is in each binder.

If for some reason, I do a lot of research on one of the children for a couple that is NOT my direct ancestor, they may get their own binder. In their parents’ binder, I will still include a divided section for them with a sticky note or piece of paper inserted telling me where their information can be located. I will mirror this information on the binder spine.

When discussing the binders, I often get asked about archival quality binders, paper, what do I do with my original documents, etc. MY system is not a system where I keep any original documents. Most of the time, I am obtaining photocopies of documents whether it be from a repository or downloaded from the internet. I am not preserving documents that cannot be obtained again. I have very few of those in my possession. What I do have, I have in archival boxes. Smaller items are in an archival folder my fire safe (I only have a small one) and larger items are in their archival folders but stored flat in a plastic box that will protect them from water damage. Now, if we have a massive fire or a major flooding event, I’m not delusional. I know that these methods may fail. If the worst does happen, I do have most of my materials digitized (even those that are irreplaceable) and backed-up on the cloud. (Like all good genealogists I know, a few projects are still waiting to be done.)

I hope this helps explain the binders and the system in more detail. Next week we will move on to the digitized aspect of MY system. I promise.

Getting Organized: Choose a System

First and foremost, you need to decide on YOUR system. Figure out what is going to work best for you. Do you think about your ancestors’ documents:

  • chronologically
  • by surname
  • by document type
  • by family group
  • alphabetically
  • by location
  • by event

There are many ways you can organize your papers. All that really matters is that it makes sense to you, that it is organized, that it preserves your documents, and you can find what you need in a reasonable amount of time.

I think of my ancestors in terms of the timeline of their life. I organize my files (both paper and digitally) chronologically by couple. I’m going to address my paper files first, we’ll look at my digital system in a later post. As I’ve expressed before, I’m a very tactile person. I like to read, organize, and think about my research on paper. It just makes more sense to me. So, I organize my research in binders. Each binder contains:

  • a family group sheet for the couple and their children
  • all of the documents for that couple’s life
  • separate section for each of the children (except for the one child I’m descended through), their documents in chronological order
  • a document timeline (like a table of contents that gets updated after I add new documents) – see image below

doctimeline

A question I usually get is: what about the husband or wife, where do their documents go? In my system, they go with their husband/wife, and not with their parents. I put an indicator page where they should go with a note to “see X binder.”

A few logistics: I typically use 1″ binders. However, there are some families I’ve done an absolute ton of work on that I have 2″ or 3″ binders for. There are some families that I have not done that much on yet; several generations of those families might be in one binder. I also use those white binders with plastic covers that allow you to slip paper down into. So, the front of the binder has the family group sheet, and I utilize the binder spine to label the binder for which couple (birth and death dates) and their children. I also note on the spine something like “except William Long, see Binder X” or something like that to tell me at a glance which binder I need.

The next post will have more photos of my actual binders and discuss some other organizational logistics as it relates to paper.

Thanks for reading!

Getting Organized: Paper or Digital?

The first post in this series last week garnered some comments on the post itself or on my Facebook page relating to digitizing your files. Some are completely paper free which is great. Others still like paper. I say there’s no superior system. The only superior system is the one that is working for YOU. So if paper makes more sense to you, then keep your files on paper. If you cannot stand the clutter, then perhaps a digitized system is yours. Personally, I use both.

I grew up in a world before the Internet (it seems so long ago) and I struggle to really connect with my ancestors when “they” (their documents) are entirely digital. My paper system organizes their documents in chronological order so that when I am looking through a person’s binder, I have a visual timeline of their life, at least in terms of the documents they left behind. (We’ll cover this in more detail in a later post.)

Before you can organize paper or digital, you have to decide HOW you’re going to organize. Find a system that makes sense to you. Spend some time thinking about how you think about your ancestors, their documents, accessing their documents, and so on. You’ll want to match your filing in a way that matches how you think about the documents. The possibilities are endless! Here are a few ideas:

  • by surname
  • by location
  • by family line
  • by event (marriages, deaths)
  • alphabetically
  • by document type/repositoryStay Tuned TV
  • chronological order

Or a combination of any of the above.

As I mentioned, I organize my documents in chronological order. It’s more detailed than that, and it is the subject of the next post so stay tuned!

Attempting to be Organized

English: Mount Everest North Face as seen from...Being an “organized genealogist” is like trying to reach enlightenment. It seems like such an unattainable goal, like me climbing Mount Everest. (I’m lucky if I can climb the stairs sometimes!) However, there are many tips and tricks, blogs, books, magazines and people (they call them “professional organizers”) to help you get and stay organized.

A new Facebook community got me thinking about this topic. Susan Peterson started the community “The Organized Genealogist” which allows genealogists the chance to swap ideas, photos, ask/answer questions and get some great tips on organization geared directly at genealogists. People have been sharing their personal systems for organizing everything from their photos, to their files and research to their entire office. You should go and visit. It is a great group to be a part of.

Currently my office is crammed into our guest bedroom. I mean crammed. I have boxes of books stacked in the corner, bins of office supplies stacked up, two bookshelves over-flowing, a card table, a few piles on the floor, two small filing cabinets, a hutch, on top of the hutch… well you can see for yourself:

image-1  imageThere is no way for anyone to use this room! When we have visitors, I have to “clean up” which means put everything into a pile on top of my desk while they are visiting. I’m not saying I mind having visitors, I am saying I mind not having a REAL office.

We have lived in this house for 10 years now, and for the entire time, my dear husband has been “finishing” the basement. Granted, he works a full time job to put food on the table and the roof over our head that houses said basement, however, this summer is the summer of completion! I can count the projects left to complete on one hand: finish the mudding/sanding in one section of the basement (the rest is done), prime that section, paint, carpet, floor/window trim. We did a lot of prep work over the last few weeks to get this ready to finish. We moved a lot of stuff upstaphotoirs (the upstairs is a series of piles right now), we stapled and taped plastic to various sections of the basement where we’d like to keep the dust to a minimum, we bought primer and paint, we have some cash set aside for carpet (I hope it’s enough) and we moved as much out of those two rooms as possible to give clear working space for sanding/painting and carpet.

There are basically two large sections to our basement, one will be family/TV/video-game play area and the other, larger section will be our offices. My husband and I will be getting two of those U-Shaped desks to put together, his and her offices. There will be plenty of room for shelves, I have two large filing cabinets already that were given to me (I love free!) and the basement has really nice large windows that let a surprising amount of light in.

So, this fall look for the “grand opening” of GenealogyPants, LLC home offices! I will keep you updated!