A newsletter reader wrote me asking, “I’d love to see an article on ways to organize all the family genealogy folders on my computer. I have e-mails, digital books, photographs, vital records and more. I’m looking for a common system to apply to all families I research. Do you have any suggestions?”
Yes, I do.
If you have my book Finding Your Ancestors Online you’ll see that after experiencing the frustration of not being able to find a family file, I began filing everything on my computer by surname or locale.
One of the easiest ways I know to begin your computer organization is to create directories (or folders) for each surname you research, and within that directory, create sub-directories for items like vital records, images, census, and correspondence. (See the resources below for how to create files and folders on Windows.) The number of sub-directories probably will increase as you collect more and more data.
Once you’ve made surname directories, create directories for the major counties or states you research. For instance, if your family lived in several different Pennsylvania counties, you’d create a main directory for Pennsylvania and sub-directories for each county. Then, within each sub-directory you could file correspondence (e-mail and snail mail), county histories and images.
Don’t forget, too, to add a way to track allied families (families that aren’t related to you, but since they knew your family, you research them for genealogical clues). Make a sub-directory for an allied family inside the major directory of the surname with whom they’re associated. For example, my Hendrickson family traveled with and married Moores, Hattons, Shirleys and Birds. So I’d create a sub-directory for each of those surnames within the major Hendrickson directory.
No matter which way you decide to organize, you’ll ease your future research if you’re consistent and use the same directory structure with all of your surnames and locales.
Follow the links below to learn more about how other people organize their data. And if you have a foolproof method, please write and let me know.