Power-Up SIG Notes: Organizing Your Files

The Power-Up Special Interest Group met on March 8 to discuss organizing our paper and digital files.  Here are the notes from that meeting:

Why Do You Keep Files?

  • Support your research
  • Show and tell with family?
  • Posterity?
  • As part of backup system
  • One member is creating a Civil War binder with records of the people who served, plus records on their unit histories, special battles, etc. Another member shows up to family reunions with books on the family and offers to make copies for family members, which helps get backup copies out there.

Paper Files

  • What do you need to keep? Does everything have intrinsic value or can a digital copy be enough?
  • Some use mostly digital for long-term storage, and paper for active research projects because it’s easy to scribble notes and spread things out on the desk.
  • Binders? File Folders? (Unfortunately, most of us seem to use the random stacks of paper method, which we don’t recommend.)
  • Most keep both surname files and place files. Some file in a simple number order, and keep an index file or spreadsheet.
  • The biggest hurdle to keeping current with filing? Not have a set of filing rules, so have to think about how to file each piece of paper, which tends to make us stop filing.  Would be better to decide how to file, for example, papers on women (under maiden surname?  Under married name?  Neither is better, but need to pick one and stick with it.)
  • If you have a system or filing rules – write it down, and post somewhere so you and others will know how to find things.
  • Spare a little thought for the person who comes after you – can another researcher find stuff in your system? If you donate your files to a library or archive, how much work will someone have to do to clean things up and get them organized?
  • Mary Hill’s system: http://www.genrootsorganizer.com/
  • FamilySearch ideas: https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Organizing_Your_Files

Digital Files

  • Do you scan everything? Do you keep things after you’ve scanned them?
  • Again, need to decide on a filing system – how will you name the files? How will you set up folders and directories? We had those who name surname-itemtype-date (Jones_BirthCert_1989), those who do itemtype first (BirthCert_Jones_Ed), and those who just number the files and use a spreadsheet to create an index.  And then some of us use surname directories, some use date directories, and some use one big directory.
  • Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcast: http://lisalouisecooke.com/?p=6311

Organizing in General

In the MHGS Library

  • The Organized Family Historian, by Ann Fleming (I 218)
  • Organizing Your Family History Search, by Sharon Carmack (I 219)
  • How to Organize Family Photos, Denise Levenick (I 270)