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.