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.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Intermission 4: Thoughts about surnames

In the modern Western world we may experience some people hyphenating their names upon marriage. But apart from some celebrities adopting entirely new surnames as they enter the public sphere, our most common experience is that males have the same surname from birth to death, and females may change their surname only upon marriage.

History is messier.

Anyone who has been doing genealogical research for any significant length of time has discovered that surnames are complicated things. A person may be born with one surname and in later life adopt a new one, or at the very least a new spelling. Or they may have no consistent spelling of whatever surname they use (sometimes to blame on their illiteracy and sometimes to blame on the recorder's unfamiliarity with the surname). And, of course, there are surnames altered by immigrants as an attempt to fit in with their adopted country and to improve their chances of employment in a country that may otherwise treat non-natives from some areas of the world as being less desirable for hiring and doing business with. There are also stories of individuals adopting surname changes in order to avoid legal problems or to disassociate themselves from relatives who they are at odds with.

And we must deal with all of this as we label our digital files and folders, as part of our genealogical research. What spelling do we consistently adopt for a surname that may have spelling variations in the records? What name do we file documents under for an individual who may have changed their surname over time? (I don't have time in this posting to address the first name issue. That will have to wait for another posting.) The spelling variation that occurs only in a small percentage of records, in my opinion, can be essentially ignored, at least for purposes of creating the surname folder.

Three of my grandparents' surnames are extremely common, and as a result, are not as likely to result in spelling errors or variations: Smith, Martin, and King. While I may find different spellings for those surnames hundreds of years ago, I'm not there yet. But my 4th grandparent (Weinglass), and the remaining great-grandparents (Bannon, Bodie, Foshee, and Grodovitz) present interesting problems.

The Bodie family of South Carolina is descended from the Boddie family of North Carolina and Virginia, and even some of the South Carolina family use the Boddie spelling. The branch that left for Louisiana also spells it Boddie, and some of my direct ancestors can be found using both spellings. Because both spellings are very common, I plan to use Bodie/Boddie (while the order isn't all that important, my more immediate ancestors use the Bodie spelling) to identify that family.

Bannon is similar to Bodie in some ways, in that more recent records seem to have standardized on Bannon, while earlier records frequently have Bonnon. I plan to start by using Bannon, but I may switch to Bannon/Bonnon if I discover a large number of records with the other spelling.

Weinglass appears in a variety of spellings in the records (Weinglas, Wineglass, etc.), but all of my most recent relatives have standardized the spelling as Weinglass, so I expect to use that one for the surname folder.

Foshee is trickier. Lots of different spellings for people who are probably related to each other. Because my most recent relatives seem to have standardized on Foshee, I'll stay with that one, to keep it simple.

I have very few records for Grodovitz so far, so I will probably adopt one spelling for now, with the idea that I may need to change it if I find that another spelling is more common in the records.

My major point in this posting is that there is no hard-and-fast rule as to how to create surname folders for surnames that may appear different ways in the records, and you'll have to consider a number of factors before deciding which spelling to use and whether or not to use multiple forms of the surname. Whenever possible, keep it simple, but don't get hung up on doing it "right" the first time. It's ok to change your mind later.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Step 4: Surname folders

So a few weeks ago I posted about using surname folders. It's time to go into a bit more detail about that.

Because I'm not a beginner, I don't have the luxury of creating a folder here or there as I need it.  I have already accumulated a great number of files that pertain to a variety of individuals, and even if I am starting over with my documented research, I still want to file away the things I already have.

At the same time, I don't want to create a folder for every surname in my current family tree, in part because I know that I won't have files for some of those, and in part because I'm more interested at this point in working strictly with my direct ancestral lines.

So at this point I'm going to create just enough folders to get started, giving me enough variety to organize the content that I already have (and to better document my immediate direct ancestors), but not so many that I'll have a lot of empty folders for a long time to come. A nice starter number is 8, corresponding to the surnames of my 8 great-grandparents. For my mother, her 4 grandparents were Martin, King, Bodie, and Foshee. For my father, his 4 grandparents were Smith, Weinglass, Bannon, and Grodowitz.

This structure will encourage me to move more slowly through the generations, finding all of the necessary documents for my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

My step after that will involve creating sub-folders for each individual, and naming the individual files appropriately. But that deserves its own blog post.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

A quick and easy way to show your support of my genealogy work

If you enjoy the things that I produce (books, podcasts, this blog, my face-to-face presentations, and my webinars), one way to express your support is by voting in this poll:


And thanks in advance for your support!


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Intermission 3: Thoughts about a hierarchical folder structure for personal research

In my previous posting, I described a folder structure based upon Ahnentafel numbers, and pointed out how it would be difficult to work with once it become complex, or if it involved a descendants project instead of an ancestral project.

In this posting I'll describe the structure of a hierarchical folder/file system. As I mention in the book, I know that some folks use color-coding for the 4 lines of their grandparents, but one drawback to this is that there may be interrelationships among some grandparent lines, especially when they are in the same geographic area.

For my own needs, I have my set of maternal grandparents from a several county area of upstate South Carolina, my paternal grandfather from a Newark, NJ line that goes back (eventually) to Ireland (with some ancestors taking a generation stop in England), and my paternal grandmother's family from Manhattan, and before that back to Poland.  This means that I can divide my ancestry into essentially 3 major geographic areas, which means that I'll be dealing with 3 sets of records.

So what would this look like in practice as a set of folders?

First, I'll use surname folders (much the same way that many genealogists have traditionally used surname binders for their print records), and group them into 3 overarching folders:

Paternal grandfather
Paternal grandmother

In this way, I'll encourage myself to focus on one part of my tree at a time, whenever I open one of those folders.

Is there anything that I can think of in regards to my personal research that doesn't fit neatly into one of these 3 folders?  Yes.  My personal DNA test results.  So I will include a 4th folder to hold any documents relating to that.

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)
Professional development
Reference resources
Research - for others
Technology tools
Volunteer work

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:

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.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A digital genealogy organizing project (a 3-month goal)

Now that my Organize Your Genealogy book has been published, I've been thinking more of ways to help people apply its principles to their own situations. Genealogists seem especially overwhelmed with the amount of paper and digital images that they have accumulated.

Personally, I want to eliminate as much paper from my home office space as possible, and that means scanning whatever is important and discarding the paper copies once I have the digital versions. (Yes, I won't discard those unique papers and photos, even after scanning, although I'll want to move them into appropriate storage elsewhere.)

Yet before creating even more digital documents to add to the enormous number I already have on my various systems, I need to go through and organize the ones I already have. Interestingly enough, I was listening to a favorite productivity podcast this week, The Productivity Show by Asian Efficiency, as the host interviewed Paul Akers about "Lean Thinking". Akers discussed the history of lean management, with origins in the Toyota Production System and the concept of kaizen (continuous improvement).

But what struck me was Akers' focus on a "3-S" system for improving workflow (picture a factory floor): Sweep, Sort, and Standardize. Isn't this what we need to do with dealing with our overwhelming piles of documents and hard drives full of digital files?  We need to "sweep" out the stuff that we don't need, to "sort" the stuff that remains into more appropriate piles, and then to "standardize" the binders/folders and file names so that we can find what we need when we need it.

In the next 3 months, I plan to do this with my home computer system (I'll do something in parallel at work). And you can hold me accountable as I implement this.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Saturday, July 02, 2016

The Upcoming Research Trip and Viewing Hometown Newspapers

Not very long from now, I'll be going on a trip that will include some time for genealogical research. To make the most of it, I have to think about where I am going, what repositories will be available, and what I might need from those repositories that I don't already have.

One of the things that I can't access from home is my hometown newspaper for years starting in 1923.   (Earlier years are available online via Chronicling America.) Although some issues are actually scanned and online via the Google News Newspaper archive, there are gaps. For example, the issue containing my parents' wedding announcement is not online. So my best bet will be to visit the local public library in my hometown, which has the microfilm.

To save some time, I'm going to use my genealogy database's feature of displaying all events in a given location during a certain time period. This will give me a chronological list of dates that I can use to process the newspapers in an efficient way.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Time to Organize Your Genealogy

I think a lot about organizing stuff, especially information. Books, magazines, papers, digital files. The stuff that piles up in tubs and boxes in my home office and my work office. The stuff that piles up in folders on my desktop computers and the many apps on my tablet and smartphone.

And it's not just the information that needs organizing. It's also my schedule, my to-do list, my goals and projects and tasks.  Sometimes I amaze myself that I was able to write a book last year, which just became available on Kindle today. No doubt if I had been even better organized and less stressed, the book could have been produced even sooner.  (And what about future books?)

But if you're reading this, you're probably more interested in your own organizational and productivity issues. I do like to talk about technology and methodology as they apply to genealogical research, but a big part of that now has to do with using technology to organize, and creating methods to organize.

I don't believe in New Year's Day resolutions, mainly for two reasons: You have to wait each year until January 1 to start them, and the idea is that you're going to do something for an entire year. I don't want to wait. And I can only work on small things at a time. 3 months, maybe?

So how will I be spending my time during the next 3 months? There's a research trip somewhere in there, which means getting ready for that. There's a bunch of new podcasts to prepare (The Genealogy Guys Podcast continues, and in between, new episodes of Genealogy Connection).  There's a new Patreon site to finish and promote. There's ongoing book promotion.

But I would really like to get back to my researching my own family (not just with the research trip). And I want to make better use of my DNA matches.

Let me leave you with an idea to help your own information overload, a clever little experiment I participated in during the past 5 days, and which I found fun and productive: Infomagical.  You can sign up at pretty much any time, and it begins the Monday after you sign up. Here's the link:


Go do it, and a week from now, tell me what you thought about it.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

How Time Flies: Reflections on 9 Years as Local Society President

This morning I was honored to turn over the reins of the Florida Genealogical Society of Tampa to its new president, Tammy Patascher. I made sure to give her the "official" presidential gavel, and the box in which to store it until the next turnover. (I don't recall my even using it during the time I was president.)

Can it really have been 9 years since I first became president of my local society? The time seems to have flown by, but I am very proud to say that during those 9 years the society accomplished some major projects:

  • the copying of 8 printed volumes of cemetery surveys into Find A Grave
  • the scanning of all Hillsborough County marriage records in the holdings of the USF Tampa Library Special Collections
  • the establishment of the Hillsborough County Century Families program
  • and a long list of nationally known speakers for our annual Fall Seminar, all of whom I count as friends: Amy Johnson Crow, Paula Stuart-Warren, Elizabeth Shown Mills, Curt Witcher, John Philip Colletta, D. Joshua Taylor, J. Mark Lowe, Thomas W. Jones, and Cyndi Ingle (and 2 more lined up for 2016 and 2017: Judy G. Russell and David Rencher)

I could not have led the society without the support of a wonderful Board, and I am exceedingly confident that they shall go on to do amazing things in the coming years.

Thank you, FGS Tampa, for electing me and for allowing me to serve you.

And now I challenge all of you reading this to take the appropriate next step:

  1. If you have never attended a meeting of your local genealogy society, attend.
  2. If you have attended a meeting of your local genealogy but are not yet a member, join.
  3. If you are already a member of your local genealogy society, volunteer.
  4. If you have been a volunteer for your local genealogy society, run for office.
  5. And if you have served as an officer of your local genealogy society, repeat the entire process for your state genealogy society and again for a national genealogy society.