My on-the-job organization skills help a lot with my genealogy research.
How did you begin this all-consuming hobby called genealogy? You may have started your simple family tree for a school project, or your kid's school project.
At some point, we each decided to get more serious about genealogy. We started looking for documents on genealogy websites. We tried to find our parents or grandparents on a census sheet, and we downloaded the images to attach to our family tree. Then we branched out. We found our grandparents' brothers and sisters living with their spouses and kids. Then we looked for ship manifests with the names of our immigrant ancestors.
It becomes addictive before you know it. Time passes, and we have a decent collection of facts and images.
|Follow 3 simple rules and you'll always know where to find any digital genealogy file.|
But what do we do with all those census and ship manifest images?
I started downloading census images in 2002 when I got my Ancestry.com subscription. Seventeen years later, I have 732 census sheet images in one folder. I have 414 ship manifest images in another folder.
You may have a lot more than that. My census collection is small compared to the size of my family tree. That's because I don't have a single blood relative who was in a census-taking country before 1900.
It wasn't long before I realized I had a problem. I had to figure out how to organize the census sheets, ship manifests, and everything else I was finding. I wanted the alphabetical organization of files in folders to make it easy to find any one image.
I had to name and organize the files in a way that would always make sense to me.
These are my 3 basic rules for taming my collection of genealogy document images.
- Have one main FamilyTree folder. Mine backs up to a cloud automatically.
|There are a limited number of genealogy document types. Filing by type makes great sense.|
- Have a sub-folder for each type of document:
- census forms
- certificates (birth, marriage, and death documents)
- city directories
- draft cards (registration cards for World War I and II)
- immigration (ship manifests)
- military records (different than draft registration cards, these detail a person's military service)
- naturalization (declaration of intent, petition for citizenship, and actual citizenship)
- passports (applications)
- photos (including grave marker photos)
|There's no doubt what's where and which file is which. All it takes is a simple naming pattern.|
- Name each file for the main person, last name first, and include the year. For example, in my immigration folder I have:
- IamarinoPasquale1902.jpg. That's my great grandfather who came to America once and stayed.
- IamarinoPietro1920-p1.jpg and IamarinoPietro1920-p2.jpg. That's my grandfather who came to America at a time when ship manifests covered two pages.
- IamarinoPietro1958.jpg. That's Grandpa when he was a widower and went to visit his mother in Italy for the first and only time.
- IamarinoPeterLucy1930.jpg. That's Grandpa and Grandma Lucy.
- IamarinoPeterMarie1930.jpg. That's Grandpa's cousin and his wife Marie.
- ZeollaPasqualeBirth1821.jpg. The 1821 birth record of Pasquale Zeolla.
- MarinoFrancescoDeath1844.jpg. The 1844 death record of Francesco Marino.
- IamarinoAngeloAntonioPozzutoAnnaelenaMarriage1817. Marriage records get the groom's name and the bride's name for clarity. Thank goodness for long file names. This is the 1817 marriage record of Angelo Antonio Iamarino and Annaelena Pozzuto
I've seen countless debates about family tree file storage. They all look too complicated to me, and not helpful at all. Some people suggest keeping the document images in folders separated by family.
If I had a separate folder for each family or each last name, I'd have an insane amount of folders. And where would I put my great grandmother before she married my great grandfather? In the Caruso folder or the Iamarino folder?
My file names would have to be much longer, too. How would I know the CarusoGiuseppe1900.jpg was a ship manifest and not a census form?
Say I need to look at my great grandmother's brother Giuseppe's 1905 New York State Census record. I know exactly where to find it. It's in the census forms folder, and it's named CarusoGiuseppe1905.jpg.
After 17 years, I haven't had a split-second of regret about my file-naming and filing system. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
Is your filing method driving you crazy? Are you wasting time trying to find the right image? Are you ready for a genealogy file do-over?
A word of warning. I use Family Tree Maker, and I let it copy all images into a single media folder. That way, anything I do to my images' names or locations has no effect on my family tree.
Your setup may be different. Don't dive into a big file naming project before testing what it will do to your genealogy program. Let's get organized!