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.


I have conquered my mountain!

You may recall a year or so ago, I wrote a post about organizing the documents on my computer.  This was a monumental effort.  There were over 200 folders with multiple folders within.  I have no clue how many documents there were.  I think it would have scared me if I knew!

I started the project in 2011 with 150 folders.  Then, half way through, I had to reorganize the folders because I was touching the same families twice in multiple places.  This brought me back over 200 folders.  In January 2013, I had 105 folders left to go through.

As of this week all my family folders are completed.  I have finished my project!  Yeah!!!!

How did things get so bad?  I can pinpoint exactly when I became overwhelmed by my genealogy.  It was 2006 and my dog had to have her leg amputated due to cancer.  During this time, I researched but I didn’t do a whole lot of analyzing and digesting.  I was very good at collecting data!

I wasn’t really able to get back to things until after my Dad died in 2010.  Then, I realized I had a mess.  I couldn’t find the information in my database, I couldn’t locate documents on my computer, I had multiple copies of the same thing because I forget I had already found this bit of information.  I hated it.

Oh, sure, I could have stopped researching at this point, but that was never going to happen.  I’ve waited a long time for the genealogy world to catch on the California, Hawaii, and Azorean genealogy.  During this time, several databases became available that I had to research.  I just had to!  And, then France put all their records online…as an genealogy addict I can’t just cut off the supply like that ;)

The whole process has been frustrating, but that frustration demanded action.  And, so I worked on it piece by piece.  Sometimes doing only a couple documents a week.  I was aided in September of this year when Windows decided to take over my computer for almost 3 weeks with a software update.  My computer became very slow and  I couldn’t do anything that involved the internet or extensive typing.  But, RootsMagic worked great.  When my computer got cranky, I input records.  I started to see the folders dwindle and the light appeared at the end of the tunnel.  And, now I am done!

There are still documents to be input, but most of them are research from 2012 onward.  And, most of them are already input.

I learned a lot about my research methods, how I prefer to input information (from notes rather than documents), and generally how to make things easier on myself.  I also learned a lot about how you can really screw yourself up by naming computer files incompletely.  I’ll write about that in another post.

Today is about positives :)  I found some really amazing documents that evidently I found on previous occasions.  I don’t know how I could forget them!  I’ve cleared up many questions and created a few more.

And, thanks to Randy Seaver’s weekly challenges, I have a snapshot of how much work I have done in the last two years.  In 2011, I had 9453 people  and 3458 families. There were 24096 events and 1667 sources with 14579 citations.  Today I have 10481 people and 3835 families.  There are 25235 events and 1948 sources with 21960 citations.  I say I did a heck of a lot of input!

Take a look at this beauty!  Once, not too long ago, the 2013 research resort folder (previously named 2006-2010, 2011, 2012) was filled with so many surname folders that the scroll bar went on and on and on.  Now, it’s just a handful of well organized folders (that I still need to go through, but this is way better than it was before!)

my folders finished

I know that my database will never be perfect.  I never fully recovered from losing all my sources a few years back (it was a software upgrade gone wrong).  But, I know that everything I get from the project forward will be input, it will have sources, and I will be able to find the document on my computer.   And, I will have backups…on a flash drive and in the cloud–and I will update them regularly.

I hope to never be in this position again.  It’s a frustrating, awful, maddening place to be.


SNGF: My Genealogy Fun involves Evernote

Randy has put up his Saturday Night Genealogy Fun for this week.  I’m supposed to write about what genealogy fun I had this week.  I wish I could say I went on some wonderful field trip…but I didn’t.

My genealogy fun involves Evernote.  Last week, I went back to working in the French Civil Records.  I’ve decided to see if my ancestors had relatives who came to America.  So, I’m working on 1840 to whatever the last records are.  I started with the death records since it would be good to know which people were dead so I don’t go looking for them elsewhere.

After working for a day or two, saving records by copying and pasting them to Paint, it dawned on me.  I have Evernote!  I wasn’t sure if it would work with these databases, but I was willing to give it a try.

I went back to the records I had already found.  I clicked on the elephant icon in my toolbar (which represents Evernote) and filled in the information.  I found that I couldn’t save a clipping of only the entry I wanted.  But, I could save the page.

With just a couple of clicks and some notations, I saved the documents to my Lassalle-Mazeres notebook.  I checked on them in Evernote to see what I had.  For some reason, it’s not working well on my Nook Color.  However, it’s beautiful on my PC.  The documents are easy to read and to identify.  What’s more is once I save them, I can open them up in photo gallery, rename them, and save a copy to my computer.

This is so much easier than dealing with Paint.  Plus they are organized in a way that I can refer back to them easily.

So, while this might not be your idea of fun, it is mine.  :D  It saves me time and that makes more time for researching!  I’ve noted a couple of matches, added a few children previously unknown to me, and I’m filling in the blanks in my extended tree.  That sounds like genealogy fun to me!