WikiTree for Genealogy Research Storage

[Editor’s Note: Lianne Lavoie of WikiTree shows how she uses WikiTree as the primary storage database for her genealogy research.]

A couple of weeks ago, Wikitree team member Elyse Doerflinger wrote about organizing your digital genealogy files. Like many genealogists, I’ve often made New Years resolutions in order to be more organized. But with all the tools out there, and all the different ways you can structure your filing system, I could never put something in place that really made sense to me, and that I could easily maintain. That is, until I joined WikiTree.

WikiTree for Research Storage and Tracking

WikiTree is what I use to store and track most of my genealogical research. As I research, discoveries are entered directly into my WikiTree profiles. Since WikiTree is accessible from any computer with an Internet connection, I can work just as easily on a library computer without worrying about syncing any files. The Changes page of each profile and my Activity Feed mean that I can easily see when I made a change; if I make a mistake, I can fix it without having to look through backup files or other materials.

What about Documents, Photographs, and Other Media?

Documents and photographs are also easy to organize using WikiTree. Rather than having to keep duplicate copies in folders for different families, I can just upload a photograph or PDF document to WikiTree and link it to all the people that are in the photograph or mentioned in the document.

That pretty much covers the basics, like photographs, documents, and the basic information in your family tree. But what about research logs, to do lists, and all the other tools of the truly organized genealogist?

Research Logs, To Do Lists, and More

Every WikiTree profile has a “free text” area. By default, it contains sections for a Biography and Sources, but you can put anything in there.

On some of my profiles, especially those pesky brick wall ancestors, I’ve started adding Research Progress sections. I outline the goals of my research, what records I’ve already found, what records I’ve searched without success, and where I still need to look. That way, I don’t waste time checking the same sources over and over again, and if someone else comes along and wants to help, they can easily see where their efforts would be most appreciated.

A Research Progress section on a WikiTree profile

For research that applies to a surname or place, rather than an individual, you can create Free-Space Profiles. These are great for family mystery pages, transcriptions of censuses or cemeteries, historical pages about cities, schools, etc., and pretty much anything else you can think of.

WikiTree and Data Backups

As for backing up my data, it’s as simple as occasionally exporting my GEDCOM. Everything other than images is contained in that single file. So all I have to worry about organizing on my computer are my scanned photos and other images, and my GEDCOM. My non-digital genealogy system consists of my original photos and documents, and a few books, so there are no overflowing filing cabinets or stacks of papers.

WikiTree: One Stop Genealogy

Using WikiTree to organize all of my genealogical data keeps everything in one place, easy to find, and easy to back up. Plus, all I have to do to share everything I have on one of my ancestors with a fellow researcher is give them the link to that person’s profile.



[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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