Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tuesday’s Tips --- Where Is It? Organizing My Laptop Files

Flickr Puzzle 2 By Willi Heidelbach
via Wikimedia Commons

About once a year, I take a serious look at the organization of my genealogy files on my laptop computer.  I’m usually spurred on to this task because I’m looking for something, something I know is there but just can’t find.  That is where I found myself last week.

Looking closely at my laptop, I found genealogy files everywhere.   In Pictures, Downloads, and Word documents.   In Excel spreadsheets, PDF files, My Scans, e-mails, and more.  I needed to have this wide variety of files in one central file. 

Previously I had a Genealogy File in my saved Word Documents and a Genealogy File in my Pictures Library.  That had been enough for several years.  Now that I have been saving more and more genealogy things to my laptop, these files were growing.  In addition, I had also gotten into the habit of saving downloads and imported materials with the name suggested from the original source.  It was time for some changes. 

The Organized Genealogist Group on facebook has an ongoing discussion of tips for digital file organization.  Some of them I had even downloaded.  The ongoing thread of the discussions stresses two simple points:

  • Use consistency in file names
  • Organize in the way that fits with how you think.

Over the weekend, I was able to go from files scattered across my computer to having things organized in one place.  Here are the steps I followed using the Windows 7 structure of my laptop.

Step 1:  Set up a Library titled “Genealogy Laptop”.  This is now my one place to save anything related to genealogy - photos, copies of records, maps, e-mails, anything.

Step 2:  Establish a consistent format for labeling my files.
  • For a file related to a person: 
    • Last name, First name – descriptor (ie, grave marker, photo, 1860 census, WWI Draft Registration Card, etc.  If I have more than one photo, they are numbered photo 1, photo 2, etc.)  .
    • Files which covered multiple family members such as family group photos, copies of a family tree, etc, are labeled with just the family name, ex: Camp Family – photo 1
    • Since some records for married women (such as a pension application) contain only a women’s married name, I labeled these files with her maiden Last name, First name, MARRIED NAME in caps
  • For a file not related to a person: 
    • Type of file – descriptor.  For example: Template – Research Log  or  Book – Title of book
    • Geographical files are labeled by name of the state:  example:  Georgia – Counties, Towns, and History

Step 3:  Label every genealogy related file I came across in looking through the file structure of my computer.   Admittedly it took looking back over the trees in Family Tree Maker to know how to correctly label the files for a number of married women.  After labeling all the files found in one section, I moved them to the Genealogy Laptop Library (GLL).  For e-mails and a few miscellaneous files, I ended up having to make a copy to move the file to the GLL.  Within a few hours I had hundreds of labeled files arranged in one alphabetical list in the GLL.  I was surprised to see the number of files (mainly photos) which were duplicates.  Some deleting trimmed my number of files

Labeled files after move into the Genealogy Laptop Library

Step 4:  Using Family Tree Maker, I generated a Bow Tie Family Tree.  This quickly provided me with the names of my 16 2nd Great Grandparents.  In the GLL I created a folder for each of these 16 families.  I followed this same step to create folders for each of my husband’s 16 2GGs.

Family and Topic folders for my labeled files

Step 5:  Since I had previously labeled all people files last name first, it was a simple task to cut and past all people files into the corresponding family folder.  Once inside the family folder, I could see all files for a specific family member and know immediately if it were a photo, a census record, or other document.

Labeled files in the Camp Family folder

Step 6:  Back-up the Genealogy Laptop Library.  I didn’t want to lose all of my work!

Lessons Learned:  Now that my system is in place, in the future it will be easy to label a file correctly when I save it.  Then I will save it in the appropriate folder.  As a friend says, “easy-peasy”.  It turned out to be a simple project to complete, and definitely worth the time.  Plus, when I do my monthly backup of my family tree software, it is easy to also backup the entire Genealogy Laptop Library.

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