Start by taking a look at the files you already have on your computer. Are they photos, census records, scanned in birth or death certificates, etc? Consider your current filing system for physical items, like paper certificates and original photos. If you have a good filing system that works for your traditional files, you may want to follow the same type of system in organizing your computer files.
Here are some suggestions for ways to organize your files. Take what ideas work for you, adapt them, combine them, and even comb the web for some more ideas.
- Keep a central log or index of your digital files. This method can be used no matter how you organize (or don't organize) the files on your computer. Use a spreadsheet or even a table in a word processor. For each file on your computer, note the full name and file extension, the location on your computer, the given name and surname of each individual associated with the file, and brief description. If your genealogy software automatically assigns unique IDs for individuals in your file that don't change, you'll want to include this number in your log, as well. If not, you may want to consider also noting the birth year along with first and last name because, chances are, you have at least a few individuals in your file who share a name. While this method may seem a bit cumbersome in the beginning, it will really pay off as your genealogy database grows larger. In addition, you may choose to organize your files into one central location on your computer or CD-roms, but it isn't an absolute necessity with this system.
- Personally, I like to keep my digital files in one central location on my system, along with keeping a log. It just makes it that much quicker for me to find, as well as making my genealogy backups much easier. I use a folder called Genealogy in the My Documents folder on my computer. Under that, I break it out into my grandparents' surnames. For example, I have a Witbeck folder, an Ohm folder, a Taylor folder, and a Binney folder. In each of those, I then have a few more subfolders that divide out the digital files by type, such as Photos or Census Records.
- You can keep the bulk of your digital files on CD if you have limited storage space on your computer. Just give each CD a unique name or number that you can reference in your central log or index so you know what is on each separate disc.
- Some genealogy software programs will allow you to import all of your digital files into a scrapbook feature, as a source, or into the note fields. This method may work well if your genealogy file is small, but if you have a large file with more names, it's likely this system will very quickly turn from useful into futile.
- There are software programs designed for organizing digital files. Clooz bills itself as "an electronic filing cabinet that assists you with search and retrieval of important facts that you have found during the ancestor hunt." This software is only available to Windows users, and the current cost is about $40. However, this may take much of the work out of setting up your file system.
Whatever method you choose to organize your digital files, the important thing is that you have a method that works for you. If you take the time now to set up a filing system, you'll reap the rewards later as your files increase and your genealogy research produces more and more results. And you won't ever again have to spend hours digging through your computer looking for that old photo of great aunt Jeanine.