The billions of names stored on microfilm records in the Mormon Church’s Granite Mountain Records Vault in Utah are being reorganized and turned into digital images that can eventually be viewed online on the FamilySearch website. Within 10 years, a large part of the genealogical collection will be within reach; a genealogist’s dream comes true. This Mamothoth company makes organizing our own digital genealogy archive pale in comparison, but our archive is no less important.
How difficult is it to locate a particular file on your computer from all the digital family data you have collected? Did the filename start with a last name, a date or an event? In which folder did you save it? What was the file extension? Organizing the paper files we collect through genealogy research so that we can easily retrieve them later is hard enough, but doing the same for our electronic files can be daunting if you don’t have a plan. Our research hours become almost useless unless our digital documents are easily searchable and discoverable. As more of our resources and documentation are stored in digital files on our computer, it becomes increasingly important to get organized.
For genealogical data management, we want a system that allows us to archive our files in an organized manner so that we can easily backup and quickly retrieve files when needed. So keep these ABCs in mind when you … ARCHIVE | BACKUP | CALL.
Elizabeth S. Mills filled 885 pages in her most recent book, Evidence explained, to show researchers how to properly document family genealogy resources. She went into detail on every conceivable piece of paper you would ever want to document. Consequently, the format for documenting genealogical sources is well established,
The same is not true for your PC. It is entirely up to you how your files are arranged; you are free to create any file system that works for you. Nobody cares about your information as much as you do; this is a challenge. Scanners have made it possible to easily convert paper documents into digital files, opening the floodgates to millions of digital documents ready for download from genealogical websites. As a result, we can suffer from digital overload. Below are some suggestions to think about how to organize these images, censuses, vital data, etc. you have collected for easy retrieval when needed.
The speed at which digital formats and technologies are becoming obsolete is legendary. There are dozens of different personal computers and operating systems and all their different versions. Then you have a myriad of genealogy software programs, which is why it can also take a long book to describe how to set up a PC file system to archive your valuable genealogy files on every different computer, operating system and software program. But let’s keep it simple and talk about generalities that can be applied to any computer, operating system, or genealogy software you use.
Backing up your genealogy database is an important part of managing your records. It should be backed up on your built-in hard drive, on a standalone hard drive or USB drive and at least in a remote location. By storing all the genealogy related files in one location on your computer, it is much easier to locate research quickly and more importantly, it is easier to backup your files.
Once a file system is installed and your genealogy software links to the files, it can be difficult but not impossible to change the file name or move a file. So it is important to think about how to name your folders and files; preferably before you start. In retrospect, it is still possible, although it will be time consuming and tedious. Not only do you want to organize your computer for today, but you also want to think about the future when other researchers may be trying to find a file for years after you’re gone to explain it. The longer you postpone reorganization, the harder it will be to do it later; it doesn’t get any easier.
Most genealogy programs keep a good record of which files are used as sources, but it depends on how carefully that file is documented. If you can’t find a particular file through your genealogy program, you want to be able to search your archive for the last name, year, location, etc. in three or four different ways. Unless you have followed a plan when naming files, you can this search can be very frustrating. The key to naming folders, folders, and files is thinking about how the files will sort when you search.
If you’ve told yourself to organize, you’re not alone. In addition to the Mormon Church’s Granite Mountain Records Vault project, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has also embarked on a multimillion-dollar reorganization project to ensure that electronic files are searchable and accessible not only now, but for the next few years. NARA is working on one central inventory of all their archive assets.
If your files are spread across your hard drive, it’s time to start and reorganize your own genealogy archive. But before making any changes, you should backup all your genealogy data first … this cannot be overstated … backup, backup, backup.