Thursday, January 26, 2012

I Think I Have it! Maybe...

As I alluded to in this post, for the past week or so I've been working on a digital file naming scheme for my ancestor research.

I realize that some people are advocates for letting the computer find a specific file by searching for a term with the documents or by using tags and other file properties. Using that premise, file names don't really matter.

However, for me, there is another factor involved in naming files. And that is my desire to make it easier for those who come after me to know what it is they are looking at and some way for them to know what is “most” important. Hopefully, someone will care enough about what I've done to even look at this stuff and know how to access it. And I think I'll still be able to find those somewhat elusive files (“I know I've got it, but where is it?”) using the inherent search capability of Windows.

I'd appreciate some feedback on what my readers think about this “system” of storing files. After writing this post, it seems somewhat complicated but I hope it really isn't. The post is a little long - I get somewhat "long-winded" with the descriptions...  As always, double-click on the images to view a larger version.


The basic folder structure is probably similar to what most people use. It includes two “primary” folders – one for the family lines of my Mother and the other one for my Father. Within those primary folders are surname folders for each family line for which some research has been done. This was done because two separate databases are maintained in Legacy – it's just easier for me to keep the various surnames straight. So far it hasn't caused any issues with “crossover” families (same family in both lineages).

That first folder at the top “ADD-to-LEGACY” includes recent data that has not yet been entered into the Legacy database. It primarily includes folders for the families that I did research on while in Salt Lake City last year – families that had not previously been researched: Brinker, Daniel, Dietzler, Ellis, Leatherman, Neel, Rupert, Switzer, Veatch, and Williams.

The folders at the bottom that begin with “z” are research files that, for various reasons, I may want to keep together. Actually, I haven't quite decided what to do with them yet!

For instance, “z-Grandmas-Files” contain photos and information that could be put in with the specific ancestor but I'm thinking that I want to maintain the integrity of that “collection” of data by storing it in all in one place... but I'm just not sure!

The “z-Multiple-Families-Info” folder contains scanned pdf documents of “paper files” such as land records, biographies, death records, marriages, and obituary notices, usually within a specific location (county). As the folder name implies, multiple surnames are contained within each type of document file. Eventually, each of those pdf files will have a corresponding “index document” associated with it and that data will be included in a “master pdf index” file. Index documents have already been created on some of those pdf files, thanks to a project completed several years ago by my niece Tami.

The “z-New-England-Lines” folder includes pdf files on all research done on the lines that connect to the Goodrich and Joslin families, most of which is from published sources. Dealing with those files will be a future project but most of them have been indexed according to the surnames mentioned within.


Back to the surname folders... One of my “requirements” was to create a “system” that would (hopefully) make sense to a non-genealogist family member as well as for me to be able to see everything on each family-line in one place, more or less. So the number “01” folder is the most recent ancestor. In all cases except one that ancestor will be a female (the exception, of course, being the Wiseman surname). So the name of the “01” folder “directs” you to the folder of the person she married, such as the “01-Margaret-see-Benjamin-Foster” folder. The only information or documents that will be in her folder are those that pertain to her prior to her marriage. In the vast majority of cases, that will only be the marriage record. In some cases that folder will be empty and is simply a place-holder that makes the “link” between that family and the one she married into.

The “02” folder will be her parents, and the “03” folder will be her grandparents, etc. with each successive number being the next generation.

In some cases , such as the Hazlett line, there is no information on the siblings. If you look in the Myers folder for “02-John-Margaret” you'll see two folders, which (I think) are self-explanatory. Basically, any information on the ancestors (John and Margaret) is going into the “01-Ancestor-Info” folder. Any information on their children, with the exception of daughter Margaret who married Benjamin Foster, is being put into the “02-Family-Info” folder. Not much research has been conducted on her siblings yet so there isn't a lot of data there. At some point, if more research is done, sub-folders may be created for each of the children of John and Margaret.

In both the Hazlett and Myers family, some research has been done on what may be the next generation. Another folder has been inserted “0Xa-Generation-Below-Not-Proven” to indicate that those possible ancestors have not yet been confirmed. A text document will be included within that folder that provides a summary of the research as well as my reasoning for including that person. This will actually be a modified Legacy report since the data will have been entered in the Legacy database. Hopefully. Someday.


For most of the ancestors, information gathered on both husband and wife are in the same folder, but, of course, there are always exceptions. Because I have so much information on my grandparents, I've separated them into two folders (which seems appropriate since they were married twice and divorced twice).

The naming convention decided upon (for the most part) is:
“Surname-Given Name-Date-Document Type-additional information”
“Phend-Victor-1917-WWI-conscription-record”
This provides a time-line, of sorts, for the ancestor. In most cases the year alone will be used in the date position, but where there are multiple records for the same year I've included the month and day as well.


The files in the “02-Family-Info” folders will be listed in alphabetical sequence by surname then first name, as shown above. If sufficient research has been done on each of the children, separate folders will be created for them.


Because my grandmother was married three times, she posed a bit of a problem. In order to create a “time-line” for her information, I moved the date to the beginning of the file name.

But I'm not sure that I like the idea of having my grandparents in separate folders...


So I renamed a sampling of Grandpa's files with the date first and put them together with some of Grandma's files. This resolves the issue of various names, shared events, and gets them back together again. But the file structure is different...


As another “test” of sorts, I worked with some of the files for Jacob and Catherine (Brinker) Switzer by putting them all in date sequence. The left-hand panel also shows the various folders for the other Switzer families in Columbiana County that were researched to sort out those families. Much of that data, shown above, still needs to be sorted and renamed.


For the older generations I have mostly deed records, tax lists, and estate files as well as some military and pension files. If the estate and pension files are large then they will go into a separate folder (see “02-Eli-Lovina”). Eli's file contains 90 images and Lovina's has nearly 60 images.

This is still in the testing or preliminary phase. It makes sense to me but does it to anyone else?

I severely dislike having to click through multiple levels to get to a document. So, to eliminate another level of sub-folders I am thinking of changing the folders for the “02-Family-Info” where there are folders for the children. In other words, in the Switzer folder for example, rename the “Barbara-Jacob-Manaweck” folder to “02-Family- Barbara-Manaweck” and “02-Rebecca-Peter-Buchecker” to “02-Family- Rebecca-Buchecker”, etc. and move them up one level eliminating the “02-Family-Info” folder. Does that make sense?

If you've read this far, I Thank You, and I hope it hasn't been too confusing. I'm trying to make it simple yet functional. Is it understandable to anyone besides myself? Your thoughts and ideas are most welcome and greatly appreciated...

Published under a Creative Commons License.
Becky Wiseman, "I Think I Have it! Maybe," Kinexxions, posted January 26, 2012 (http://kinexxions.blogspot.com/2012/01/i-think-i-have-it-maybe_26.html : accessed [access date])

12 comments:

  1. Everyone has their own system, and whatever makes sense to you should rule. That said, I could follow this, but it wouldn't be comfortable for me. I do put my files in folders, but the structure is simpler. And I couldn't explain it as well as you have explained yours.

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    1. I agree that everyone has their own system but I'm still interested in how others store their files. I'd be interested in what kind of file structure you are using... simpler is better, I think.

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  2. Haphazard works for me. With luck the next person to come along will be similarly haphazard. But I have far fewer documents.

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    1. Whatever works best for you is the system to use. But I'm trying to think ahead to when I'm no longer here... and making it easier for the next person to take over. Hoping there is a next person. LOL.

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  3. Becky, thank you for taking the time to share your system. I always learn something new from other researchers. In this case, I'm learning that my own system isn't so far-fetched as I feared. It,s even a bit like yours.

    I also use surname-first name_date_locality/item
    With a few differences... I use all lower case, and separate parts of my file name with an underscore and use a hyphen between words within the part (for example, surname-first name). I discovered early on that spaces in file a,es create problems moving from system to system (inserting % ). Also, for items in my Archive, I use a combination letter and number scheme, AK-L107 (Arline Kinsel Archive Letter 107). It was just too hard to scan and name files in a way that synced with the filing system itself. The other difference is that I use bigger folders and let the computer group surnames together. This saves time drilling down through folders.

    Looking forward to hearing more about your system and other comments too.

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    1. Denise, I learned a very long time ago that "special characters" shouldn't be used in file names though I do have a lot of non-genealogy files on my computer that have spaces in the file names. I use the hyphen rather than the underscore but I can see where using the underscore to separate the "parts" of the file name would be useful. I sometimes use two hyphens to do that but am not consistent. Guess I just have "something" against underscores...

      When I was scanning all those files I used a simplified system just to get everything scanned. And it was all dumped into the surname folder by type of document. Much of my time with "renaming" files has been consumed by determining where (which folder) the file should go in and giving the files a more complete description.

      Thanks for your input.

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  4. I can follow your system very easily. I like the folders you have organized in timeline fashion best. I think file organization should be one of the top topics in beginning genealogy classes.

    My problem with file organization is that so many of my records contain multiple surnames. With limited space on my computer I don't want to save a file more than once, so I have a main file for each of my maternal and paternal lines. In each of these files I have folders for record groups, BMD, Census, Land, Letters, Photos, etc. Some of these folders have sub-folders. I wish I could say I had a consistent way of labeling these files. Someday, I'll go through and rename them but that will have to wait until I get them all filed properly to begin with.

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    1. Thanks for your response, Apple. I too decided that I like the "timeline" display so have been moving the date to the beginning of the filename. It resolves the issues with different names for the same ancestor since I like to see how the name was spelled in the document. Also, information for both the husband and wife are displayed in sequence regardless of the name they used at the time (such as when a female ancestor married three times!).

      I too had folders for the different record groups to begin with. Some of my "hard copy" files were scanned to pdf by ancestral surname and document type so they may contain documents (such as obits or death records) for numerous surnames within that family. In those cases I'm using a "miscellaneous" folder or "family data" folder for those combined documents. At the time it was easier to do it that way - just to get the scanning done.

      I "sorted" my documents as I renamed them... putting them into the proper folder after they were renamed. It's a time consuming process no matter how you do it but I'm just glad to have a "system" so I can see what data I already have!!

      However, the "system" is still evolving... I don't think there is a "right" or "wrong" way to file. It is, quite simply, what works best for you!

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    2. Forgot to mention that I'm doing the "timeline" display of documents and info only for the ancestors, not for the other family members. At least, for the time being... Like I said, the system is evolving.

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  5. Becky, Thanks for sharing this as it gives me ideas on how to organize my files. I made it to the end, and your system makes sense to me!

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    1. You're welcome, Travis. If it gives you (or anyone else) some ideas on how to organize files, then it was worth the time and effort it took to create the post! I'm very glad that it actually makes sense too. Good luck on organizing your files.

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  6. Hi Becky,

    Finally, I have time to respond!! In many ways your system is similar to mine. One problem I have run into is with path/file names getting too long and not getting backed up so when you mention eliminating a folder level, I would say that is a good thing.

    I don't use special characters either, only hyphen and underscore. Hyphens go between YYYY-MM-DD and underscore separate everything else. I like the way Denise does hers. Need to put some thought into that as it does make sense.

    Also thought your comments to Apple were helpful. I've been using Surname_FirstName_YYY-MM-DD but spell the name the way it is in the document so I'm not getting the timeline effect that I would like. Swapping those two fields like you say would solve that.

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