Sunday, August 28, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Intermission 2: Thoughts about an Ahnentafel folder structure for personal research

Although I am not yet finished with filing all the files in the previous step, I figured that some of you reading were already ready to move to the next step, namely, to structure your personal research folder.

Some of the people I talk to like to organize their personal research using an Ahnentafel numbering system. If you're unfamiliar with that system, let me briefly describe it. In such a system, you take the starting person for the personal research (usually yourself, but it could be a spouse or child if you are working on their ancestors instead) and assign them the number 1. You then number that person's father as number 2, and the first person's mother as number 3.

This continues such that the paternal grandfather is number 4, the paternal grandmother number 5, the maternal grandfather number 6, and the maternal grandmother number 7.

You may now realize that these numbers match the numbers you usually find on a published pedigree chart. However, these numbers would continue as far back as needed, and you can quickly generate the new numbers by doubling someone's number to get the number for their father, and adding one to that to get the number for their mother.

This numbering system can cause a bit of confusion if there is any documented pedigree collapse. In other words, the same people can appear on different lines of the ancestry. In short, at some point, cousins (at any distance) married cousins.  This means that the same people will have multiple Ahnentafel numbers. In this case, you normally use the lowest number available, and leave the others essentially blank.  Personally, I have not encountered this yet, at least not within my own documented ancestry, although this might eventually be a problem for me if I can link back to documented royal lines (where people certainly married their cousins).

So how might you organize your genealogy folders with this system? You could create a folder for each ancestral couple, starting with their pair of Ahnentafel numbers. Your parents would have a folder whose name would begin with 2-3 (followed by their names), your paternal grandparents would have a folder with a name starting 4-5, and so forth.

I also talk about this kind of system in my Organize Your Genealogy book (pages 84-87).  You can even see a photo on page 93 of an example of this kind of system used to organize hanging folders, but putting the Ahnentafel numbers at the end.

This would be a good time for me to mention that, in the book, I talk a bit about adding leading zeros to force the digital folders to sort in alphabetical sequence. At least, this is something you *had* to do prior to Windows XP or Mac OS X. But it was brought to my attention recently (thanks, Mike Scozzari!) that it is no longer necessary to artificially include leading zeros, because modern microcomputer operating systems use an "intuitive" sorting order, such that numbers in a file or folder name are treated as numbers instead of characters. So Ahnentafel number 2-3 will sort automatically before 10-11.  (Although this is probably helpful in most situations, this does upset some folks who want to treat numbers as characters and not numbers.)

Unfortunately, an Ahnentafel system has some drawbacks. For one thing, it is designed to work with ancestral research, not descendant research. It's fine for going from yourself backwards in time through your direct ancestors, but doesn't work nearly as well for collateral lines, and certainly not really at all with a research project that begins with a distant ancestor (say, an immigrant ancestor) and that then attempts to locate all known descendants. Yes, there are other numbering systems that are intended for numbering descendants, but almost all of these cause problems as soon as you identify a previously unknown descendant who isn't the youngest among their siblings. (Suddenly everyone else after them needs to be renumbered.)

The other drawback is that it means that your folders jump around from one side of your family to another, instead of all closely related families being somewhat closely filed.

Who should still use an Ahnentafel folder numbering system? Perhaps those who are just getting started, and working on a beginner's project, such as identifying the 8 great-great-grandparents, or taking a single surname line all the way back in time.  But it's not currently my favorite for more complex ancestral projects or for descendant projects. What would work better? Let's see...

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project: Progress Report 2

Although there is still much to be done in the Genealogy folder, I thought that I would briefly turn my attention to my Desktop. It's easy to let files and folders accumulate on the Desktop, but those should be filed immediately except in the rare case where there is a temporary file or folder that I need to work with for only a brief time.

A few of the files found on my Desktop were episodes of my podcasts that needed to be filed in a more appropriate place, and two marriage documents for one of my maternal lines that needed to be moved to my personal research folder.  Then I had a folder named "Smith genealogy" that contained a variety of documents for my Smith line, so that one was easily moved in its entirety to my personal research folder.

Apart from two remaining unusual folders that I need to deal with (I'll cover one of those in a future posting), I had a "To Be Filed" folder on my Desktop, which contained 78 items.  So I moved all of those into my new "!Inbox" folder, and cleaning that one up will be my next step (before I return to the re-sorting of the Genealogy files).

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project: Progress Report 1

Since my posting a week ago, I have been slowly plowing through a huge mess of genealogy-related files and folders, moving them into my new structure as outlined in that previous posting.  In some cases, I have deleted files, and in others, I have renamed some that I couldn't figure out what they were until I opened them.

I'm now through the files/folders beginning with the letters A thru E.

While most of the filing is going quickly, I'm finding that I'm struggling a bit with deciding whether a document is "Professional development" or "Reference resources".  My intent was that the first category was for items that I would likely read from beginning to end, in order to learn something, while the second category was for items that I might need to refer to, as needed.  But a few documents seem to fall into a gray area.

Perhaps it would make more sense to combine them into a single "Library" folder, being the digital equivalent of a bookcase of reference books, how-to books, and periodicals.  Then, within that folder, they would be stored by general topic (organization, citation, DNA, etc.).

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project: Intermission 1: Why organize to browse?

I am pleased that a number of people have shared my blog posts in this series, and some have even begun an organizing project themselves.  And I especially like the feedback in the comments.

Several individuals have questioned the need to do the organizing that I'm doing, because they suggest that I should be able to find what I need simply by searching.  Unlike a paper-based environment, the digital world does provide the ability to search for folders and files (both by name and by contents).  And I find the ability to search very important.  I use it all the time.  But.

I do talk about this in my Organize Your Genealogy book, why your online organizing scheme needs to support *both* searching *and* browsing.  I won't repeat that entire argument here.  As someone who has an IT background, who has a library science degree, who has taught website design, and who thinks a great deal about the best ways to find and use information, I have given a great deal of thought as to why browsing is still important when it comes to organizing.

But rather than taking my word for it, I strongly recommend that you read this article. It mentions some things that I only touched on in my book, and certainly makes me even more confident that organizing for browsing is necessary.

Now excuse me while I go browse my Google News and my Feedly blog feeds!

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Step 3: Thinking about how to organize all things genealogical

Now that I've set aside a highest-level folder for my genealogy-related stuff, I have to think about how to subdivide that. In this genealogy-specific folder, I won't have to worry about some of things I had to worry about in previous steps, such as special folders used by specific applications, or folders I share with others that might contain things on different topics.

When organizing digital folders, you are dealing with a trade-off.  You can have a small number of folders, so that you don't have to browse through so many, but that means you may have to use extra clicks to get to the file you want.   Or you can reduce the number of clicks by putting more folders at each level, but this means more time spent in browsing to find the right one.  (You web designers out there will immediately recognize this as a problem that web designers face.)

Because I write and present and podcast about genealogy, I will need some folders for those things that most genealogy hobbyists won't need.  I plan to divide my Writing folder by project. My Presentation folder can have one folder for each event that I'm presenting at, and one containing all of my presentations.  I like to title folders for upcoming events by date (for instance, 2017-02-08 RootsTech), so that they sort to the top in chronological order (numbers sort before letters).  Once the event has passed and I've received any due payments, I retitle the folder by event name (RootsTech 2017) so that it moves away from the top of my events folder, and becomes part of an archive.  And each presentation will have its own folder, containing the PowerPoint file and the handout files in Word and in PDF.

Before we get to the heart of the matter (genealogical research), there are some other folders that I think every genealogist should have.  You'll want one for your volunteer activities, with subfolders for each organization you are volunteering for, and within those, subfolders for each committee or project you are serving on.

You'll want another folder for your education or professional development, which may contain instructional videos or handouts. If you are planning to attend a conference or institute, you can create a folder for that event and use the same event structure I described in the previous paragraph.

You may want another folder for your genealogy hardware and software tools, such as for manuals. (If the hardware or software tool is not one that you use exclusively for genealogy, you'll probably want to put its associated files in a folder in your top-level Other or Home or Misc or Personal folder.)

It occurs to me that I'll also need a folder for genealogy reference resources, such as maps, directories, etc.

Finally, as for actual genealogical research, I have decided to use two folders: one for my personal research, and one for pro bono research I may be doing for friends or others.  (I can imagine that professional researchers who take clients would want a high-level folder like this for their client work.)  The non-personal folders would be named for the person whose work I'm doing.

So what does this look like?

!Research - personal (note the exclamation point to push it to the top, since I plan to use this folder most often)
Podcasting
Presentations
Professional development
Reference resources
Research - for others
Technology tools
Volunteer work
Writing

Now for me to start moving files and folders.  I fully expect to discover a few things that might not fit neatly into one of my pre-defined folders.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Step 2: Results of and tweaks to the highest-level structure

It took me an hour or two to move all of the folders from the Dropbox top level to the 4 folders I had created: one for work, one for genealogy, one for everything else, and one for unassigned files (the inbox).

As I moved items, I was able to delete a few of them when I recognized them as outdated or otherwise no longer needed. But there were some remaining folders that appeared that I decided to leave at the top level.

One was a folder I share with George. Because it contains a mix of genealogy-related content and home-related content, I decided to leave it where it was.

Another was the Apps folder, used by a number of software tools to share data between my desktop computer(s) and my mobile devices. For instance, it contains a RootsMagic folder.

There was also a Camera Uploads folder, which was used by Dropbox to move items taken by my mobile devices. Because I couldn't guarantee that my photos would all fit in the category of genealogy or be work-related, I decided to leave it at the top level, with a scheduled project to go through it at a later date and move the photos to appropriate folders.

Because I wanted my main folders to be easy to find without the need to scroll, I put an exclamation point in front of each one, and two in front of the Inbox so that it would remain first.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Step 1: The highest-level structure

When you are looking to re-organize your digital files (or just plain organize them), the best way to start is by looking at your highest level organization on your desktop/laptop device. For me, I want to have everything in Dropbox, so that it will be available to me on my other devices. This means going into Dropbox and setting up new highest-level folders to begin the process.

The number of highest-level folders is going to depend on how I mentally think of my files, minimizing the situation where I can't quite figure out which folder I would put the file into. For instance, my computer usage is divided into essentially 3 things: my full-time job, my genealogical activities, and everything else (mostly home/personal files).

In addition, I need at least one catch-all folder to put things that I haven't yet filed away. This is like the physical inbox on your desk, or your email's inbox system. Because I want that one at the top, I like to name that one using an exclamation point, so that it will automatically sort to the top.

So this gives me 4 highest-level folders:

!Inbox
Genealogy
Work (or the name of the place I work)
Other (or Misc)

And once I have created those, I need to move all of my existing folders and files from the topmost level to one of those folders.