The billions of names preserved on microfilmed records at the Mormon Church’s Granite Mountain Records Vault in Utah are being reorganized and converted to digital images that can eventually be viewed online at FamilySearch website. In as little as 10 years, much of its genealogical collection may be at our fingertips; a genealogist’s dream come true. This mammoth undertaking makes organizing our own digital genealogy archive pale in comparison, but our archive is no less important.
How hard is it to locate a particular file on your computer out of all the digital family records you have collected? Did the file-name begin with a surname, a date or an event? Which folder did you save it in? What was the file extension? Organizing the paper files we collect doing genealogy research so that we can readily find them later is hard enough, but doing the same for our electronic files can be daunting if you don’t have a plan. Our research hours become next to useless unless our digital records are readily search-able and retrievable. As more of our sources and documentation are stored in digital files on our computer, getting organized becomes more and more important.
For managing genealogy records we want a system that allows us to archive our files in an organized fashion so as to be able to backup easily and call-up files quickly when needed. So keep in mind these ABCs as you organize… ARCHIVE | BACKUP | CALL-UP.
Elizabeth S. Mills filled 885 pages in her most recent book, Evidence Explained, to show researchers how to properly document sources for their family genealogy. She went into exacting detail on every conceivable piece of paper you may ever want to document. Consequently, the format for documenting genealogy sources is well established,
The same is not true for your personal computer. It’s entirely up to you how your files are arranged; you’re free to create any filing system that works for you. Nobody cares as much about your information as you do; this is a challenge. Scanners have made it possible to easily convert paper documents to digital files, thus opening the floodgates to millions of digital documents ready to be downloaded from genealogy websites. Consequently, we can suffer from digital overload. Following are some suggestions for you to begin thinking about how you want to organize these images, census records, vital records, etc. that you have collected in order to easily retrieve them when needed.
The swiftness with which digital formats and technologies become obsolete is legend. There are dozens of different personal computers and operating systems and all their different versions. Then you have a myriad of genealogy software programs, consequently, it also could take a lengthy book to outline how to setup a personal computer filing system for archiving your valuable genealogy files on each and every different computer, operating system and software program. But let’s keep it simple and talk in generalities that can be applied to whatever computer, operating system or genealogy software you are using.
Backing up your genealogy database is a major part of managing your archives. It should be backed-up to your built-in hard-drive, to a stand-alone hard-drive or USB drive and to a location off-site at the very least. By storing all genealogy related files in one location on your computer, it will be much easier to locate research quickly, and more importantly it will be easier to backup your files.
Once a file system is in place and your genealogy software is linking to the files, it can be difficult although not impossible to change the file-name or move a file. So it’s important to give some thought to how you name your folders and files; preferably before you get started. After the fact, it is still possible although it will be time consuming and tedious. You not only want to organize your computer for today, but also think about the future when other researchers may be trying to find a file many years after you are no longer around to explain. The longer you put off reorganizing, the harder it will be to do it later; it will not get easier.
Most genealogy programs do a good job of keeping track of files used as sources, but it will depend on how carefully that file is documented. When you can’t find a particular file through your genealogy program, you want to be able to search three or four different ways in your archive for the surname, the year, location, etc. Unless you’ve been following a plan in naming files, this search can be very frustrating. The key to naming directories, folders and files is to think about how the files will sort when you search.
If you have been telling yourself that you need to get organized, you are not alone. In addition to the Mormon Church’s Granite Mountain Records Vault project, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has also begun a multi-million dollars reorganization project to ensure that electronic records are search-able and accessible, not just now but for years to come. NARA is working to create one central inventory of all of their archival holdings.
If your files are scattered all over your hard-drive, it’s time to start your own genealogy archive and begin to reorganize. But first before you make any changes, you must BACK-UP all your genealogy data… this can’t be overstated… BACK-UP, BACK-UP, BACK-UP.