Things I Learned Cleaning Up My Digital Files: File Folder Structure

I’ve posted at great length about the massive project I worked on for about two years organizing the genealogy documents on my computer.  While cleaning up this huge mess that I, and I alone created, I learned several things.  I’m passing on what I learned as it might help someone else in the same predicament or prevent it from happening.

Think about file folder structure

I realized that I really didn’t have any set way of filing documents.  I could have these documents under a surname and other documents under the type of documents they were (i.e. census, Ellis Island, etc.)  It’s important to think about how YOU work and how YOU might look for something.

I found that I like to have all the same kinds of documents together while I am working on them.  But, when I look for something it’s almost always because there is a question about a specific person.  I’ve decided on a two way system.

The first is a main folder for all my current research titled with the current year (2014 Genealogy Research).  These are the documents I’m still collecting, still analyzing, still processing.  I haven’t input them yet.  I know if I have a question about something I’ve worked on recently it will be there.

The second is a main folder that mimics the structure of my family genealogy binders.  These are by surname, then by family group with each individual or couple having a folder.  There are some subfolders to make life easier.  For instance, under my Genealogy Documents and Research Main Folder, I have subfolders for Lassalle Mazeres, Jones Jackson, Kelly Dolan, Pacheco de Braga, Pacheco de Braga Associated Families, etc.  I also keep group documents that really can’t be filed in a family folder here like “1900 Honolulu City Directory” pages.  Each group has its own folder.

In the family group folders my structure might look like this…

Pacheco\Antonio Alexandrinha\Maria Iida

Jones\Thomas Margaret\Margaret Jackson\Julie Lien\Joseph Feldt

de Braga\Jozimas Maria\Pacheco Smith\Jose Minnie

You’ve probably noticed that I’m not entirely consistent.  As with genealogy, nothing is black and white.  For instance, in a French or Portuguese family you might have several daughters named Maria.  Or, in the case of Julie (Jackson) Lien, she was married multiple times, I’ve chosen the easiest route–her last surname.  All her husbands and their records will be listed under folder.  What I’ve tried to do is think about how I would really look for this person.  As long as the names follow my binder structure and I can find them in my database, I should be able to locate a document (I hope!)

Things got a little trickier when I got to the associated families.  There is just no easy way to organize folders when multiple family members marry multiple family members in your other associated families and it your main lines.  I’ve taken a “do what sounds best” philosophy.  Nothing is perfect.

Do what works best for you

I’ve given you examples of how I restructured my folders.  This works for me.  It may not work for you.  I suggest working with a small sample, set up some experiments where you try to answer a specific question, then see if you can locate documents.  I think this is the only way to figure out how you do things and what will work best for you.

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