Make an outline of your ideal digital file system.

It doesn’t matter if you use a word processor or a scrap of paper. If you already have a system, would you change anything? If you don’t have a system, think about how your brain processes information best and come up with a system that would work best for you.

Some people organize their files by record type: Birth records, Marriage records, Probate records, etc. Some people organize by locations. Some people keep all of their genealogy records in 1 folder and they rely on their file names to find what they are looking for. I think one of the fastest ways to see a variety of organization systems is to Google “Genealogy Folder Organization” and then look at the images. You can get a pretty good idea of the system by looking at the images. If you see something interesting, visit the site.

Here’s my folder system:

My folders are based on my 5-Gen chart. I know that my computer is going to alphabetize my folders, so for this “top” layer of folders, I add numbers so that the folders are listed in the same order as my 5-Gen chart when I read the great-grandparents column from top to bottom. I include the mother’s maiden name as well:





If I were to write an outline for one of my surname folders, it would look like this:

  • 1 – Smith-Ellis Research
    • Excel – any Excel databases I’ve created
    • Group Sheets – fewer clicks to keep here than with each person
    • Notes – fewer clicks to keep here
    • People
      • 1 – Herman Smith (1912 – 1985) – all would follow this format
        • Children
          • 1 – Don
          • 2 – Barbara
          • 3 – Jack
          • 4 – Phyllis
          • 5 – Betty
      • 2 – Oliver Smith (1872 – 1950)
      • 3 – Elias Smith (1845 – 1885)
      • 4 – George Smith (1805 – 1890)
      • 5 – John M. Smith (1775 – 1835)
      • 6 – Peter Ellis (1765 – 1837)
      • 7 – Edmond Ellis (xxxx – xxxx)
      • Andrew Meadows (1791 – 1873) – This is a FAN, therefore not numbered
      • Elias Smith (1810 – 1853) – This is a collateral line
    • Places* – Anything related to history or research aids and files not connected to a specific person
      • Barren County KY
        • Court Records
        • Deeds and Land Records
        • Tax Records
        • Vital Records
          • Birth Records
          • Marriage Records
          • Death Records
      • Mercer County KY
        • Court Records
        • Deeds and Land Records
        • Tax Records
        • Vital Records
          • Birth Records
          • Marriage Records
          • Death Records
      • Additional Counties would follow the same pattern

*Places – I tend to collect a lot of records “in bulk”. For example, when I am just beginning to research in a specific place, I like to collect everything I can that contains the same surname. This was especially true when I was ordering microfilm and only had access to it for a limited time. And even now, I always download whenever I can because you just don’t know that a record set will be available forever. I feel like as long as I’m taking the time to find these records, I’d rather collect everything at the same time as opposed to realizing later that I was looking at a sibling’s records and I didn’t know it. So I will have a folder of all the tax records I’ve downloaded, all the marriage records I’ve downloaded, all the deeds I’ve downloaded, etc. But if a record is for a specific ancestor, then it goes into their “People” folder. I also use the “Places” folder for potential connections. For example, I believe that my Smith line came through Mercer County, Kentucky, but so far I have not found the proof that I need to confirm that. Those files go in the Places folder.

Making an outline and actually organizing your files are two very different things, I know. But often, the hardest step is the first step. Make a plan and let your brain mull it over for a few days. As you create or modify different documents for your research, it is very helpful to be able to include a clickable link to take you directly to the document being reference. If you move the document after that, the link will be broken.

So here we are at the end of January. I’d like to include an updated list of Snacks at the end of each month so that they are easy to find.

Snack #1 – Make a plan for Christmas Gifts 2018
Snack #2 – Download or Create a Research Plan
Snack #3 – Make an outline of your ideal Digital File system