It’s all about access

wheelerfilefolderTo me, being organized is about having access to your stuff (and information). Often that means accumulating no more stuff than you can easily store. So I spend a lot of my professional life helping clients declutter before creating organizing systems.

When it comes to organizing your genealogy research the same principle applies. It’s really nice to have a neat workspace. But what’s really meaningful is easy access to your information, both physical and electronic. What does this mean?

  • Having a solid file structure for electronic files
  • Having an excellent file naming strategy for electronic files
  • Using metadata for electronic files
  • Creating a habit of adding  metadata and sticking to your file naming strategy
  • Actually filing paper, rather than putting it in piles
  • Carefully considering file folders versus binders for genealogy papers
  • Getting rid of any unneeded duplicates
  • Thinking about how you will access (not just file) information when you set up your organizing system

As I think about this for my own research, I realize I really need to work on my file naming. I’ve done a good job with my electronic file structure, but my names aren’t standardized (as you can see in the photo with this post). By either improving file names or adding metadata (or both) I could more easily use the search function on my MacBook.

For me, having all my research data available on my MacBook is an important goal. I’m still in the process of marrying my electronic and paper files and know when I finish this process, my research will be completely accessible (and portable). That is what I call organized.


The value of a clean computer desktop

My computer desktop

My computer desktop

I’m a professional organizer, but I’m not a neatnik. I’m actually a naturally messy person, though through the years I’ve managed to create habits that have kept me a bit neater. For some years, for example, I’ve managed to clear off the top of my desk at the end of each workday.

My computer desktop was another matter. I use a Mac and its robust search capabilities have meant that I never paid all that much attention to where I stored files. So my computer’s desktop was typically a cluttered mess of items that happened to land there. It didn’t bother me particularly, since I didn’t even see the desktop once I had a program or two open.

But one day last summer, I decided to clear it off. And what a difference that’s made! The process of clearing it off was really helpful. I actually found some genealogy-related files among the clutter in my desktop and I dragged them to the appropriate within my genealogy folder (the one truly organized folder on my computer). By the way, it took me only 30 minutes to go from truly cluttered to clear.

Now that my desktop is clean, it’s become a place where I can temporarily store files so I can easily find them. That’s really helpful for parking photographs that I need to upload to this blog or my Peace of Mind Organizing blog (or to Rubbermaid’s blog, where I’m a regular contributor). It’s also a helpful place to temporarily store a downloaded genealogy document until I can enter into Reunion, my family tree software.

At the end of the day, when I turn off my computer, I either file or delete the few files that landed on my desktop during the day. It’s much like how I tackle my day’s worth of clutter on my physical desktop.

If your computer desktop is cluttered up, I urge you to go through it and delete and file. I hope you find it as helpful as I did!

Organizing genealogy records on my hard drive

I have to admit I’m a little loosey goosey when it comes to organizing my hard drive. I use a Mac, which has marvelous search capabilities, so when I find a file, I typically do a quick search, rather than drilling down through file structures, like I used to do on Windows machines.

But when it comes to my genealogical research, I’ve decided it’s time to reform myself. It started when I started trying to get my head around the notion of saving images of documents (like census documents), rather than printing them and putting them in my paper file. I think for the moment, I’ll probably do both, until I can let go of the thrill I get by holding the papers in my hand. (I blogged about this recently, in a post called To Print or Not to Print?)

I also want to be able to help clients organize their genealogy, both paper and electronic, and I realized I really should practice what I preach. But when it came time to figure out a file structure I started feeling that familiar overwhelm creeping in. Then I noticed a little perfectionism too. What if I set up a less-than-optimal system?

I figure any system is better than no system. But the point became moot because this weekend I came across the marvelous website Genealogy Tools and its accompanying YouTube Channel. I watched a five-part video screencast series from Genealogy Tools guru Ben Sayer on creating a genealogy folder system for the Mac, in which he shared exactly how he does it. (He has Place folders and Surname folders.) In the video he detailed his file naming protocol, which is nice and simple. In my book, simple is good.

That liberated me! His system looks great, so I’m going to adopt it for myself. I haven’t taken the time to revamp my current file names, but today I had the chance to jump right in. I’m away from my paper files and I found an ancestor on the 1850 U.S. census. I made a folder for her and saved the census image in that folder. Time will tell whether I feel the compunction to print it out and put it in her file folder.

In the coming weeks, I intend to clean up my Genealogy folder on my hard drive and get into the practice of saving documents in an organized manner.