Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The big, scary genealogy file drawer

I'm halfway through the 3 months I have chosen to devote to my physical organizing project (the credenza to the immediate left of my computer desk). Recently I've tinkered a bit with the items on the top of the credenza itself, moving a single pen from the desk drawer to a pencil holder, because I realized how often I need it. And because I'm using the whiteboard above the credenza to highlight the most important tasks of the day, I needed to put a whiteboard eraser just below it.

The desk drawer on the right side of the credenza (the side nearest my computer desk) now provides easy access to a USB flash drive, rechargeable batteries and the recharging unit, sticky notes, and scissors and a pocket knife for opening envelopes and packages. Underneath the drawer organizer is a charging cord for my new Logitech MX Master wireless mouse.

But what remains next is the big file drawer on that same side of the credenza. At the moment it is jammed with file folders, most of which are labeled but empty, as I had set this system up when I expected to file genealogical papers this way:

Because I'm moving toward a paperless system, I have to reconsider how I want to use this drawer. No matter how I use it, its location dictates that it should be for papers or other items that I need immediate and frequent access to. What, then, should go into it, at least for now?

How about a stack of papers that require organizing? I have many of these currently in plastic tubs in another part of the office.  But if I want to work through one of those stacks, having it right next to where I work would help speed the process. Eventually, once I've gotten everything scanned, I can re-purpose this space for something else.

So in a later post, I'll go into the process of going through the papers.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The closest drawer, and the death of USB flash drives

It didn't take me long to go through the small number of books that I have remaining on the shelf under the credenza, as I had already entered almost all of them into LibraryThing a few years ago. The only ones missing were my father's high school yearbook and some books that had been published in the past few years.  I have no doubt that I'll have a major LibraryThing project once I turn my attention to my bookcase. But that project is for next year.

Back to the credenza. It has two top drawers, and two file drawers under those. The closest top drawer is the one that needs my immediate attention. It (and the file drawer under it) can be easily reached while I work at my computer, so I need to have in it only those things that I might need immediate access to.

Throughout our homes we are all likely to have junk drawers, so named because they tend to accumulate everything that doesn't seem to fit neatly into a single category. But you don't want drawers like that right next to where you work every day, because that means you're endlessly rummaging through it to find what you need.

My closest drawer has a sliding organizer on top. I use it to store a single pen (the one I talk about in Organize Your Genealogy); a letter opener, a pair of scissors, and a pen knife for opening envelopes and packages; and rechargeable batteries for my keyboard and mouse. As I cleared it out, I discovered a lens wipe buried under other things, so I moved it to a more visible location. The drawer has a lot of other things too, but when I look at them, I realize that I almost never use them.

It also has 10 USB flash drives. Many of these were giveaways by Ancestry, FamilySearch, or various state society conferences. I have no idea at the moment what's on them, if anything, but ideally, I should go through all of them, transfer any important files to my computer (so that they are backed up), delete everything on them, and toss the oldest ones, especially those that have relatively low storage capabilities.

It has been estimated that flash drives may last no longer than 5 years (10 at best), and so they should never be depended on for long-term data storage (and do not use them as backup devices). They really serve only one valid purpose: temporary storage for transferring data from one device to another. You'll always want a few with you on a research trip (more than one in case one suddenly fails), so that you can transfer files from scanners or other researchers to your laptop or desktop computer.

It occurs to me that if you obtain a new one, you should put a small label on it indicating the year it was first used, so that you'll know when it has reached the end of its reasonable lifespan. I also always label mine with at least my first name and last initial, so that it can be identified if I leave it behind somewhere.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The home office credenza on the left - first pass

In my previous posting, I provided a photo of a credenza that sits immediately to my left as I work on my computer desk. There were obviously too many things taking up space on top, a set of books on the shelf underneath that probably included some items that I would rarely if ever consult, and a shelf beneath that one with mostly large map books.

Here is how the space looks now:

The upright file has been cleared of its store coupons (thanks to long-time podcast listener Mike Scozzari for his suggestion about putting those into large plastic storage bags and moving them to the cars, where they are actually needed). It is now ready for the occasional paper, magazine, or book that is needed for an ongoing project.

The inbox (which was really just a stacking place) has been moved to another part of the office, and those papers will become part of the ones that will need to be gone through in a later project.

The map books, with rare exception, weren't of any historical value and were seriously outdated, so the outdated ones went into the trash. The lowest shelf instead now holds the podcasting equipment that George and I use every 2 weeks.

I reviewed the books, moving a number of them to bookshelves much further away (outside my office), and keeping only the ones that pertained directly to my current research or that were useful for reference purposes.

So what is left to do?

First, I want to go through the books that I have kept on the shelf and enter them into my LibraryThing catalog. Some of them may already be there, but I'm certain that not all of them are.

Second, I'll need to address what is in the drawers.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

My next 3-month genealogy organizing project(s): 1 physical, 1 digital

Now that I've reached the end of my first 3-month organizing project, it's time to turn my attention to other things that need organizing.  So between now and, let's say, RootsTech 2017, what can I work on?

I'd like to work on at least one physical organizing project, so that I can make some progress in my home office.  But I figure I can have two different projects going on at the same time, especially if one is physical and the other digital, so that I won't get bored.

My home computer desk is about as organized as it's going to get, so I don't need to worry with it:

So next I'll turn my attention to my nearest work surface, the credenza to my left:

From the piles of papers on top, to the books underneath, to whatever is lurking in the drawers, there is obviously a lot of work to be done in this space!

My digital project is going to revolve around my genealogy presentations. Right now it takes me too long to find the ones I need when I'm preparing for an upcoming speaking event.  So I'll tackle that set of files next.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Step 6: Naming the files

Three months ago I announced a 3-month project to organize the digital genealogy files already on my computer, so that I could then begin adding new files to an organized structure.  So here we are at the end of those 3 months, and at the last major step: (re)naming the individual files.

Once we have folders for each individual, it's time to name the files that will go into those folders.  Because files may be copied and sent to others, the file names themselves will still have to identify who the file is about. I like to then add a year to the name, so that multiple files will sort automatically in chronological order, giving me a timeline of events for that person.  This helps in identifying gaps in the documents. Finally, I want to know what type of event the document is for, as well as the type of document, such as a birth documented by a birth certificate, a death documented by the SSDI, and so forth.

I have a few documents for each person that don't fit neatly into the timeline (for instance, my request to the Social Security Administration for my father's SS-5 record), so these can go into a !Misc folder at the beginning of my father's folder. There might also be a !Photos folder for photos for which I haven't yet identified the year in which they were taken.  It would also be acceptable if I have found a digital document for someone but haven't yet had the time to name it appropriately.  I could put this into a !To be filed folder.  At the very least, these documents would still be associated with the individual that they are about.

In previous postings, I've discussed the idea of creating multiple copies of documents that refer to more than one person of interest (both individuals on a marriage record, all household members on a census record, etc.).  Might there be a case where you would make multiple copies of the same document just for the same person? This depends on how much you want to represent your ancestor's timeline as a series of documents. What if your only document identifying the year of birth is from a much later document (census, marriage, military, SS-5, death, and so forth)?  After all, a birth certificate may simply not exist, or may elude discovery for quite a few years.

What will the resulting list of file names look like?  Let's use my mother for the example:

I've duplicated the 1940 census record since it provides residence information for both 1935 and 1940. I can quickly review this list and see that I still need something for my mother's marriage (I have a scanned newspaper article that I haven't filed yet) and more death-related information (such as the obituary).

Now I'm ready to download or scan new documents, and add them to my collection.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Step 5: Folders for individuals

So far, I've worked my way down from the !Genealogy folder, to the !!Research - personal folder, to the Paternal grandfather folder, to the Smith folder.  Now it's time to create folders for the individuals.

The individual folders will normally have files that pertain to a particular person (even if they also refer to others). I want an alphabetical list of these individuals that looks a lot like the list of individuals in my genealogy software. So my folder list might look like:


Notice that there will be at least a first name, but sometimes there will also be a middle initial or even a middle name. A first name alone is fine if it's unique, but I add the middle initial when I know that I have more than one person with the same first name. And if the middle initial isn't sufficient to identify a unique individual, I provide the entire middle name.

In some cases, when I have more than one individual with the same last and first name (and perhaps no middle name at all), or the same middle name, I'll have to add something additional to uniquely identify them. Typically, this is going to need to be something like a birth date (for instance, b1917) or a location (such as a state abbreviation).

I see nothing wrong with starting with a particular form of the name, and then adding more identifying information (changing the folder name) if I discover that I've got more than one person with a similar name. For instance, I'm sure that I'll have more than one Catherine Smith, but I'll worry with changing the folder name when I reach that point.

The Smith folder may also include other documents that pertain to that surname but that aren't about a specific individual.  So I may include a !Misc folder that sorts to the beginning of the Smith folder in which to put those random Smith files.  But I can leave it out until I need it.

In previous posts I've mentioned issues with changes in spellings of surnames, and that would apply here as well. My Bodie/Boddie folder is going to include some individuals whose surname is spelled Bodie and others whose surname is spelled Boddie.

A question might arise as to how to handle individuals whose surnames are spelled differently depending on the record. To keep it simple, I would choose to use the most common spelling, or if the most common spellings are equally common, to use the earlier spelling.

At the individual level we also deal with individuals who use different forms of their first and/or middle names, as well as nicknames. Again, it would make most sense to use whatever is found most often in the records, or to use the earlier form of the first/middle names if there is no clear winner. I would normally avoid using a nickname, unless the nickname is useful in distinguishing two individuals who otherwise would have the same first/middle names.

In the next posting, I'll be dealing with the last (and in some ways, most complex) step, the naming of the files themselves.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Intermission 5: Records with more than one person in them

Let's face it: Most genealogical records we deal with make reference to more than one person of interest. The typical birth record may name both the individual being born and their parents. The typical marriage record will name both spouses. The typical census record will name all the people living in the same household. While there are certainly records that refer to only one person (a photo of a single individual, many military records, possibly the tombstone, just to name a few), we are normally going to be dealing with a digital image of a document that pertains to more than one person.

And this means that we have an issue when it comes to naming that digital file and filing it in one of our folders.

At least, it's an issue if we have only one digital copy of the document. But in the modern world of cheap computer storage, why would we want to limit ourselves to a single copy? I can't think of a good reason, but I'd be interested in hearing from you if you can come up with one.

So let's go forward with this idea of having multiple copies of such documents. Two copies for a married couple (let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that we're not interested in researching the witnesses or the person who conducted the ceremony).  Three copies for a birth (child plus parents, ignoring for now those records that also identify grandparents or godparents).  And possibly many copies for a census record that identifies a large number of related people.

This means that each copy can have its own name, using the name of one of the people of interest, and that each copy can be filed in the appropriate surname folder (if you are organizing by surname folder, as I am now doing).  And it means that an individual's folder can contain documents dated after their death, such as those where the individual is mentioned as a parent in a child's later death record, or where a father dies prior to the birth of their last child.