[Editor’s Note: Elyse Doerflinger of WikiTree explains how to get your digital files in order and also how to start using the cloud for your genealogy research files.]

Nearly every genealogist has organization on their New Year’s Resolution list and most people are focused on getting their paper files organized.  Digital files, while not as obviously messy as paper files, also need to be organized properly in order to improve your research efficiency and effectiveness.

Many people approach the project of organization with the idea that it is a one time event: put everything away once and you are somehow magically organized forever.  The reality, however, is that organization is a process that requires a commitment to find and follow a system of giving everything a home.  If you don’t commit to following the system you put into place (and to re-evaluating that system to be sure it is fitting your needs), then it won’t be long before you are back to being disorganized and unable to find the file you need.

Organized File Folders

The first step to organizing your digital files is to create a “Genealogy” folder on your C-drive, desktop, or within a cloud service (like DropBox or Google Drive).  The goal is that the “Genealogy” folder is easy to find so you can easily save files in their proper place.  If you also do research for other people (like your spouse), then create a genealogy folder for that person’s research as well.  Next, add folders for each of your family surnames to your genealogy folders.  Within each surname folder, add folders for each couple with that surname.  All of these folders will now serve as your organization system for your digital files.

But how should you name your files?  When naming your files, give each file a name descriptive enough to identify the contents of the file but concise enough that you can still read it.  Information to include in your file name may include name, date, record type, or location.  Try to find a consistent file naming pattern that works for you.

What happens when a file applies to more than one person or could qualify for more than one folder?  Since hard drive space is inexpensive, you could save a copy of the file to every folder it applies to.  This will make it easier to find the file, no matter which folder you think to look in.

But where do you put photos?  Create folders for photos based on family or event to help you easily sort photos.  Give each photo a descriptive file name and save it to a relevant folder.  Then use a photo program like Picasa to view, edit, and organize all of your photos.  With Picasa, you can add tags for people, places, and other keywords.  Using the tags feature, you can organize your photos in multiple categories and easily find them.

Are you looking to find a way to organize all of your notes, research plans, to-do lists, and other charts in one place?  Using a notetaking program like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote can help organize all of it together and make it synced across all of your internet connected devices.  Both of these programs allow you to save text, pictures, videos, screenshots, PDFs, and other types of files in one place.

Protecting your files from disasters like hard drive crashes or electrical surges, create and implement a backup plan.  There are lots of different options to choose from.  For extra protection, use multiple types of backup methods to cover yourself if one method fails.  Backup options include DVDs, flash-drives, external hard drives, and cloud programs like Google Drive and DropBox.  Do your research to find the back up method that fits your needs.

Now that your digital files are all organized, spend more time researching and less time searching for files.

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  2 Responses to “Organizing Your Digital Files”

  1. I would offer the suggestion that instead of saving multiple copies of an editable file (Word, Excel, etc) in multiple folders, save a single file and put shortcuts in the other relevant folders. This way you prevent the danger of making an edit to one file and not updating the other scattered copies.

  2. Because I use RootsMagic and my documents and images are all saved outside of the database program, I have a folder in Dropbox where I keep everything. When it comes to documents and images for couples/families when each item can be used for more than one person, I like to put a shortcut to the folder or document instead of making a copy – that way, if you ever change the document or image (i.e., cropping, editing, etc.), you only have to change it once (and RM only finds one instance if I ever have to re-link my media for any reason). Time saver and space saver.

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