Digital Folders: Keeping My Ducks In A Row

What's going on with my Electronic Folder---Ahh!

I have officially started working on cleaning the disaster aftermath that is my computer files. I have thought a great deal about how to organize my files and develop a system that will work best for me. For this aspect of the project, I have focused on how I want my file folders to be organized. I want something that is easy to use and doesn't make things too complicated. To do so I have taken some advice from the experts. My main source has been a book I have been referring to often, “How to Archive Family Photos: A Step by Step Guide to Organize and Share Your Photos Digitally” by Denise May Levenick. I highly recommend this book, especially if you are just starting to think about digitizing your photo collection. She discusses photo management software, and digitizing/scanning, which is not where I am at, but it’s a great resource for the beginner. Her book has 3 sections: organize, digitize and create. For my project, the organize section was most helpful.

There are some questions I have been asking myself as I work on this project.

Where are your photos?

Well, this is embarrassing…  all over my computer. There are multiple files in different locations for the same family. It is truly a mess. Just look at my desktop. There are old Grad School files, cover letters for old jobs, an old resume, screen shots of who knows what and a knitting pattern. It shows what a mess I have created. Sometimes I think, how did this get this bad? To explain that, I can truly say it my tendency to look the other way and ignore the mess around me, until it becomes ignorable. This is a bad habit, I should work on. But in I must clean up this mess first. And that is what I intend to do.

What is the Advice on how to organize folders?

“Some researchers keep all personal and genealogical photos together in one Photo Library, while others prefer to maintain two distinct photo collections: personal photos and genealogical images. I like to keep new family snapshots together in folders labeled by event or occasion inside a folder for each year and month, and genealogy files in one big genealogy folder. “ p. 21

I like this thinking. I have leaned towards this method but I need to commit fully, and with my whole heart. No half-hearted attempt at organization, which is my usual tendency. I like being able to keep my photographs separate between my own personal photographs of me and my immediate family. I use those photos very differently.

My old family photos, also known as genealogical photos, I use in my research. I use them to solve mysteries, or putting a name to a face. I will use them mainly to learn more. But my personal photos are more often used to remember times past, or find that picture I took on my phone of the recipe I took from the library book I didn’t want to check out for one recipe I wanted to use. My personal photos are used differently from my genealogical photos. And I will want to use these two types of photos at one time.

What about folder order?

For full disclosure. What I have been doing in the past, inconsistently, is to have a folder with a last name. Then put a folder for each person under that last name and put corresponding items about that person. As an example: I have the 1910 census of William Kauten.

Kauten folder

                        William Kauten subfolder

                                                Inside William Kauten subfolder would be 1910 Census.

But part of the problem with this method is that the census also holds William’s wife and sons. What would I do in this case, I don’t really want to copy the census 4 times and put it in each person’s folder. This is the problem with this method.

I like having my genealogical files organized by family. It seems to work well. Denise says that she would “recommend avoiding complicated multilevel folder schemes that create many places to look for files and photos.,” p. 20

Note to self: watch my tendency to make things over complicated. My mantra this week: Whatever I choose should not be complicated.

Denise explains her technique of having a big genealogy, then have subfolders. This makes sense to me.  She says to “keep research notes and documents inside this folder organized by surname, locality, or other system. Inside this Genealogy Folder create a folder named Genealogy Photos file all of your genealogy related images inside genealogy folder.”

            This is interesting. My instinct, is to put all my photos into the same folders with the documents I have. That way if I am looking for stuff on John Bengfort, I can just go to one folder instead of having one for photos and one for records. It might make sense to have a John Bengfort folder and inside have another folder labeled photos to put photos and keep them apart from the other records. Mmm. I am going to have to think about this. One positive here is that it would make the file less cluttered.

My conclusion:

While, of course how to organize one’s electronic files is a very personal choice, I like the idea of putting my genealogy files based on last name, but I think I will give each person their own file in a larger file with their birth name. The problem with this method is, like I said before, what if I have a record or photo that is associated with more than one person. I don’t think there is an easy answer for this. What I don’t want to have happen is to have 5 copies of the same census because it lists 5 people and each person would have to have their own copy of the census in their folder.  To prevent this I might just have to be aware there are other documents associated in other folders that refer to this person and make it a point to look in spouses or parents folders if I am looking for the documents I have on a specific person. I will have to look into metadata solutions to this problem as well. Depending on the software I use, I might be able to use other methods to differentiate and organize my files too. This is something to look into as well, but that’s for another week. 

Carolin Kauten