Computer Memory 101
All computers have two kinds of memory—system RAM and hard drive storage. Here’s an explanation of each and how it affects your genealogy research.
Most genealogists don’t need a huge hard drive unless they archive thousands of media files. If your computer has been acting sluggish and you’ve cleared your desktop and emptied the trash, check to see that you have plenty of room on your hard drive. To figure out how much hard drive space is available, follow the instructions at www.ehow.com/how_8021213_out-much-disk-space.html. You can delete or move files if you need to free up storage.
1. Purge and rename.
Think of a computer hard drive as a filing cabinet. At one point in time, all your important papers may have fit into a single accordion file. As life became more complicated and generated more paperwork, you may have graduated to the additional storage space of a file cabinet (and the extra folders the cabinet provided). Before you upgraded to a new cabinet, you probably took the time to clear out old files to maximize your space.
2. Fix flabby folders.
Start by using the folders already set up on your hard drive: Documents, Movies, Music, Pictures. Just as you don’t store your DVD collection with your insurance policies, you shouldn’t store your digital media files with important documents. Keep photos, movies and music in separate folders for easier backups and searching.
Let’s focus on how to make nested folders within a Genealogy document folder. Genealogists work with people, places and dates. Each of these categories is a logical point for creating and naming a folder in which to store your files. Two popular methods for organizing your folders are:
- Surname folders: Within my Genealogy folder are individual folders for each surname I’m researching. If I have my computer set to arrange folders and files by name, the surname folders will be arranged alphabetically, making it even faster to find what I’m looking for. I put all files related to a surname in that surname’s folder.
- Record group folders: Another way to organize your files is to create subfolders within your genealogy surname folder for major record groups. With this method, the Surname folder for each family contains subfolders labeled Vital Records, Military, Census, Probate, and so on. This has the advantage of keeping similar record types together, but requires the additional step of filing in the correct subfolder. You also must be consistent with where you place files that belong in a few different categories. For example, you’ll always need to remember whether you file obituaries under Newspapers or Vitals.
3. Clear your desktop.
It might seem handy to keep documents parked on your desktop, especially when you’re in the middle of a large project, but this habit can slow down your computer. Each file on the desktop is loaded into memory when your computer starts. Lots of large files stored on your desktop can cause a slow startup.
4. Create a backup plan.
You may think you have your files backed up because you have multiple copies of them on your computer. But the truth is it doesn’t matter how many copies you have if they’re all stored on the same device. If something happens to that device, all of your copies will be lost.
- External storage devices: This category includes media cards (the same type that go in your digital camera), USB flash drives, external hard drives and recordable DVDs.
- Cloud Storage: Online storage, sometimes referred to as “cloud” storage, has become popular. With this type of backup system, you upload or copy your files to a site where the data is stored on that company’s servers. You then access the data over the internet. Although you still view the information on your computer, it’s stored remotely on a different computer.
- Monthly: Full data backup on the first day of the month to an external hard drive and to online storage.
- Weekly or after a major research session: Back up only your genealogy database to an external hard drive and to online storage. This protects your work between regularly scheduled major backups.
5. Customize your computer.
Be more efficient on your computer by customizing it to meet your needs. Here are few options that can be real timesavers (flip to the next page for more tools that’ll speed up your research):
- Password manager: Nothing is more frustrating than forgetting your username or password for an online account. Though it’s tempting to create a master list on or near your computer, this can be dangerous. If your laptop were lost or your home computer stolen, the person who ends up with your computer will have access to all your accounts.
- Web clipper: Instead of bookmarking, downloading, or cutting information you find on the web and pasting it into a Word document, keep the information online (and off your hard drive) by saving it with browser extensions. I use the Evernote web clipper to copy material to my Evernote account. I add a few quick tags and save it for later. The best part about this service is that all my clippings live in the cloud and are searchable from any internet-connected device.
- Bookmarker: Bookmarks are great, but they live only on your computer. What if you want to use a favorite site while working remotely? You can keep your bookmarks in an online account through Diigo or XMarks. These accounts let you access your bookmark collection on any computer, and easily share them.
Back It Up
|CD/DVD||about 25 cents/4.7 GB DVD||inexpensive, handy, good for photo archive||requires burning software; large transfer may require multiple CDs/DVDs|
|SD media card||about $4.50/8GB SDHC||ultra compact, high speed transfer, portable, fast, solid-state storage||expensive, impractical for lots of data|
|USB 2.0 flash drives||about $4/8GB||inexpensive; good for travel, quick backups, storing personal data||easy to lose, high cost per GB, limited storage capacity|
|External USB hard drives||about $125/2TB||ultra-portable or desktop models, all sizes and prices, USB or FireWire connection||can be dropped and damaged|
|NAS (network attached storage)||about $100/1TB and up||includes entire home network, expandable, can handle large amounts of data||setup requires network know-how|
- What if your external hard drive gets lost? Label its exterior with your name and phone number. Also create an “If Found” text document that reads “If found, please return this drive to [your name and phone number]” and load it onto the device.
- Keep an inventory of your software applications with website URLs and serial numbers so you can reinstall after a crash or when you get a new computer.
- Organize Your Genealogy Life CD
- Virtual Conference Tech Track Collection
- Digitize Your Genealogy Documents
From the February 2012 issue of Family Tree Magazine
More great genealogy resources from Family Tree Magazine: