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.


Wrapping up 2013

It’s only natural to look back on the year to see what we’ve accomplished.  Sometimes I forget all what I’ve done on my family tree over the course of a year.  So, I think I’d like to sum it up in this post.

Number 1 on the list has to be inputting my backlog of genealogy documents.  After my Dad died in 2010 and I settled into my new home, I took a look at my digital files–and I was aghast.  There were folders upon folders going back to 2006 that I had not sorted through.  The date is important to note.  In February of 2006, my dog had her leg amputated due to cancer.  She passed away from old age in 2009.  In between, my Dad’s health started to affect him.  Then, starting in January 2009, he began a series of ups and downs, multiple hospitalizations, with his battle ending in May of 2010.  Throw in a puppy in July of 2009 and you can see where all my time and energy went.

I worked hard from 2011ish through September 2013 inputting those records.  I did a little each week.  By August of 2013, I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Then, a frustrating period where my computer was doing huge software upgrades all at the same time left my computer nearly useless.  At least, I couldn’t go on the internet unless I wanted to type very slowly and watch my words appear on the screen one by one.  This went on for 3 weeks.  What I could do is input into RootsMagic, and so I did.  I saw that massive 2006-2012 research monstrosity disappear to almost nothing.  I completed my backlog.  Well, sort of.  I dare you to find the researcher who can stop researching while doing clean up work.  I’m certainly not one of them.  So, I still have records to input.  But, it’s only a fraction of what it was.

The whole project was a great, frustrating adventure with duplicate and triplicate documents.  But, I learned quite a lot.  Who knew I found some of these records?  Not me.  LOL

This leads to #2…I learned something about my habits.  I do not not like inputting records from my computer screen.  I do much better from a printed copy, or better yet, my transcribed notes.  It’s easier for me to focus and keep my eyes on the data.  I suspect this comes from my data input background.  So, I’m trying to use Evernote and binder paper to make things easier on myself.  It’s no use trying to conform to what works for others.  You have to do what works for you.

Now on to the real stuff…the genealogy research!

1.  I learned that my 3rd great grandfather, Martin Kelly, was a lot better off than I ever thought.  Working with a couple of other researchers, I learned that Martin did not just own “two” boardinghouses in San Francisco.  I learned that he own two boardinghouses plus multiple pieces of property in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Half Moon Bay.  I found multiple entries in the San Francisco Deed Indexes at  Unfortunately, many of the early records were lost in 1906, so I may never figure out exactly where these properties were.  I shifted over to San Mateo County and I found even more entries.  It was shocking to learn how well off he was.  I had to shift my whole “struggling boardinghouse owner trying to survive” storyline.  Martin Kelly was not struggling!  He was doing pretty darn well for himself it seems.   (Note: I wish to give a shout out to researcher, Melinda Gould, who has provided background information, research, and assistance. She has been very important to keeping me on the right track.)

2.  I have never really delved into property research mainly because I didn’t have ready access to records.  Being disabled, confines me to mail and the internet.  As I was searching for information on ol’ Martin Kelly, I came across the most wonderful database.  It’s the San Francisco Property Information database.  You search for an address, it points it out on the map and then tells you the history (if it’s been recorded).

By using this database, I learned there are a couple of properties that were in the family that survived the 1906 earthquake.  I found those built after 1906 which were owned by my people which still exist today.  It has been a fantastic journey!  I now know what several of my ancestor houses and businesses look like.

This database lead me to two huge finds.  First, my 4th great uncle Patrick Dolan’s home survived the 1906 earthquake.  You know, it’s often a tragedy that leads to finding more information about our relatives.  In this case, it was a newspaper article detailing a gruesome murder suicide that happened in the unit that Patrick Dolan owned.  He lived on one side and his renter on the other.  I documented the discovery in this post.

Second, I found that the Segalas Brothers Liqueur Manufacturing building still exists today.  Using the information in the property map and newspapers.  I was able to find when the building contract was issued, when the building was constructed, who his partners were, and about the time when Charles Segalas took over from his partners.  I wrote about my research in this post.

From all of this research, I created this Google Map to show the properties I have identified that still exist today…

View San Francisco Ancestral Homes in a larger map


3.  I am sure those of you who have been researching for years have come to the same conclusion as me.  It is rare to find another researcher working on your lines who is in as deep as you are.  Early in 2013, my cousin, Bob, put me in contact with a cousin named Jean from Ogeu les bains, France.  Bob found Jean through Geneanet.  Jean has proven to be incredibly valuable!  I’ve never had a source in the countries I am researching and to find a cousin fully engaged but working on things from the other end is incredibly lucky!  Jean has given us many insights on our Mazeres line as well as the ability to compare notes.  He even found the original Mazeres home built in the early 1800s and took photos.  And, recently, he has help me locate information on my grandfather’s brother who was a French soldier and POW in WWI.  (But, that story is for another blog post)    I don’t know if Jean realizes what a gem he is.  I have to give thanks to my cousin, Bob, for finding him.

I am sure that I could write of even more discoveries, but you’re probably about ready for your nap at this point.  I thought it was interesting that my genealogy took me three times into an area I had never delved:  property research.  In all three examples I listed, I ended up looking up deeds, researching buildings in newspapers, and looking over property maps.  This is what keeps us going with this crazy addiction.  There is always something new to explore in genealogy–something new to learn–some new discovery waiting to be uncovered.

Who knows what my research will bring in 2014?



Book of You, Prompt 18: Remembering Coloring Rolls

This week’s Book of You Written By Me Prompt asks us if we remember the first gift that we received, if we still have it, if there were other special gifts we remember.  Try as I might, I cannot recall the first gift.  I was probably a baby at the time which might be the reason ;)

But, this prompt brought back a fond memory of an early Christmas present from my Grandma Shellabarger.  When I was about 4, my Grandma moved from Oakland, CA to Chula Vista to work.  She sent up a package of presents that first Christmas.  I remember to this day what I received.

They still make them, though I don’t think they’re as a big a deal today as they were when I was 4 in 1968.  It was a huge roll of paper.  The paper was probably an inch or more thick.  The whole roll was filled with images to color.  I loved coloring, so it was the perfect gift!  I could color for months on that roll.

I remember receiving them a couple of years in a row.  One had animals, another was the story of Noah’s Ark.  I would start my roll on the kitchen table, box of 64 crayons spread all over the place, and work for hours.  It was awesome!

I wonder if anyone else remembers getting these.  I did a Google search but had no luck finding reference to them.   This coloring roll was about the closest I could find.  However, the ones I got didn’t come in a fancy box.

It was probably one of the cheapest presents I ever received–and one I enjoyed so much!  One of those coloring rolls sustained me long past Winter Break.