Family History: Genealogy Made Easy
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished May 20, 2014
Download the Show Notes for this Episode
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 32: Organize Your Genealogy Files, Part 1
Hard drive organization is one of the great challenges that quickly faces new genealogists—and often continues to plague experienced researchers. In today’s episode I’m going to share a system I’ve developed for organizing your computer hard drive files so that you can quickly and easily locate any document. I’ve been using this system for almost a decade and it’s never failed me. So set down your family tree, just for a little while, and put on your apron as we get ready to do some hard drive spring cleaning and organization!
Self-discipline and organization for the genealogist can be our greatest challenge. But it can lead to our greatest research victories!
Think about it. Your amazing research finds become pretty useless if you can’t locate it whenever you need it. And in fact, it has the potential to become a HUGE time and money waster because when you do need it again, you’re going to have to retrace your tracks, find it again at the original source, and pay whatever additional costs that requires.
So each time you’re tempted to toss that record in a pile on your desk or in some non-descript catch all folder on your computer’s hard drive because you’re in a hurry, just remember that in the long run it’s going to slow you WAY down when you want to retrieve it, and ultimately it’s going to dramatically hinder your overall research.
In these next few episodes I’m going to share the hard drive organization system I’ve created for use in Windows. My goal with this system is that I can locate the corresponding electronic file on my computer for any fact in my database in seconds.
At your computer open Windows Explorer. Now on most computers the C drive is the main drive that you store your files on. But if not just double click on the drive where you want to store your computer files.
Select the C drive by clicking on it and go up to the menu and select FILE – NEW FOLDER. In most versions of Windows, you can also just right click on the C drive and select NEW – FOLDER. You’ll see that the label for the folder will be highlighted so that you can name it – so just type GENEALOGY and press ENTER and you will now have a folder on your C drive called Genealogy. Everything’s going to go into this folder.
Overview of Computer Folders:
Setting up folders on your computer is a lot like setting up a filing system in your office. Think of the Genealogy Folder that we just created as a larger drawer in your desk. In that drawer you would put folders for all the major headings of work that you do. And each of these hanging files have a lot of folders in them with sub headings. And within each of these file folders you could even have more folders.
Well, your computer hard drive can be organized much the same way. And you can create all the folders you want.
There are general items having to do with your genealogy research such as:
- Charts and files
- History topics
- Research trip materials
- General timelines
- Genealogy societies or organizations
- and other things that don’t pertain to a particular family in your family tree.
But the folders I want to focus in on are the ones that do apply to your family lines. So we’re going to create a folder inside the Genealogy folder called SURNAMES RESEARCHING. How to Create the SURNAMES RESEARCHING Folder:
- Click on the GENEALOGY folder to select it
- Go to the Menu and click on FILE
- Select NEW
- Select FOLDER
- Name the folder
In next week’s episode I’m going to focus on organizing my family tree which will take us into the heart of this system.
I recently heard from a NEW podcast listener named Judie. As a beginning genealogist she excitedly dove into family history awhile back. However, she soon became overwhelmed by boxes full of uncited, unorganized information having made the biggest mistake beginning genealogists tend to make. Read her story below. Does this sound familiar? Then my answer to her may help you, too, whether you are a beginning genealogist or you need start over with a few things.
A Beginning Genealogist’s Confession:
“Just found The Genealogy Gems Podcast and love it. I started my family tree research several years ago by joining Ancestry.com. My tree grew quickly with all the information there but after a couple of years of making every mistake possible including merging everyone’s tree with mine, I ended up with thousands of names without documentation. Another mistake was visiting a couple of historical societies and libraries where I printed lots of information but failed to note where it came from. Ok, I’m sure you got the picture.
After a couple of years of doing everything wrong, and several “dead ends” I became so overwhelmed with so many names and unorganized papers that I packed everything in boxes that would most likely end up in a dumpster when I’m gone (sad but true). That was a year ago. After discovering your site I am ready to get back into the search but don’t really know where to begin. Do I ignore all that has been done and start over or is it possible salvage some of what I have? Do you have any suggestions – Thanks, Judie
My Fix It Advice for the Beginning Genealogist
Start fresh. Get yourself a good genealogy database on your computer and start with a more methodical process like I talk about in the step-by-step series Family History Podcast (Episode 1 is on databases) as well as the Genealogy Gems Podcast. Not sure which database to use? I blogged about that here.
Organize. Once you have a good set of habits, have made some progress, and feel comfortable with your database and citing your sources, then you can start dipping back into the box and “processing” each piece of paper.
If it were me I would toss all those merged trees. The stuff from the historical societies and libraries may be valuable, but without documentation, will have limitations. I would only keep the most obviously applicable items, and toss the rest or at least file it away for now. If you stay focused on all that paper it will direct you, rather than you directing the research process. It may cause you to get off track and lose valuable time.
As you review the “keeper” items and deem them worthy of adding data to your database, you will need to make note that the source is unknown. Use the info gleaned as clues, but realize you’ll still need primary documented sources to back it up.
Cite your sources from this point forward. Beginning genealogists often feel like citing their sources is boring and tedious, and can find it hard to see the long term benefits. Believe me, benefits abound and this is one of the most important things you can do for the health of your family tree! Benefits include:
- avoiding going after the same record twice
- creating a bread crumb trail that helps you retrace your steps
- A foundation for future generations to confidently build upon your research
- adding authority to your research and helping you defend it when challenged
Get a quick start with Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Quicksheet Citing Online Historical Resources. For a more in depth studying of source citation turn to Mill’s book Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace 2nd Edition.
Bottom line: Put yourself in charge by following a logical research process. Don’t worry about time or paper having been wasted. The point is you jumped in and gave it a shot, and that’s a good thing. I’m just glad you’ve found Genealogy Gems and I’ve got lots of advice and info on the site, podcasts and videos to help you be successful.
Here’s to success!