Friday, July 3, 2009

Organizing My Digital Genealogy Files

When I started on my family tree a year and a half ago, I used Family Tree Maker 2008 (FTM) and was upgraded in the fall to 2009. When Roots Magic 4 (RM4) was released, I picked up a copy and started using it. RM4 is quicker and I have switched entirely to using it. (I'll post my thoughts on the differences another time.)

One of the things that I needed to do when I switched to RM4 was to reattach all the digital media that I had acquired back to my source citations. When I looked in my genealogy media folder, I knew that it was going to be a long process.

I had realized before the software switch that something needed to be done, but I hadn't tackled that huge organizational task yet. When I would try to find files to use in my ancestral blog, I would struggle to find what had happened to it. I knew exactly which census record I wanted, but what was it named? One of the reasons that my media was unorganized was because when using FTM I would use the search feature and allow it to capture the media that I needed. Then it would label it any way that it wanted, usually with some odd number code. I also never developed a good labeling system when I would save files.

So I came up with a way to organize everything. It seems to be working so far, but I still have a long ways to go to complete catching up.

Here is what I have done:
  • I have a "Genealogy" folder in My Documents (yes, I use Windows). This folder contains everything that I have collected for my genealogy from source materials to ancestral photos to resources to forms to material that I have questions to answer before I can include it in my database.
  • In the "Genealogy" folder, I have a "Media" folder for all my digital sources.
I always had these folders, but the media folder just contained every jpeg image and pdf that I had acquired. They all had names but there wasn't a very good pattern to the naming structure.

So this is what I added inside the "media" folder:
  • A folder for each surname
  • Inside each surname folder I made a folder for each family group and numbered them. For example, my BASCOM folder contains these folders: "01 - Dewey Francis BASCOM", "02 - Willard Theodore BASCOM", "03 - Robert Bruce BASCOM", and "04 - Carley H BASCOM" (And as soon as I can get enough evidence of Carley's father, I'll add a 5th folder with his name)
  • I am matching up these folder names to my paper files and organizing my binders by surname and then by family group number.
  • The files I am labeling "SURNAME given name year type". For example a 1935 Florida census for Dewey is labeled "BASCOM Dewey 1935 Florida census."
  • The files for all of the brothers and sisters throughout their lives end up in a folder within their father's folder. So inside the folder "01 - Michael DUNNING", I have folders for his other children (besides my direct ancestor). "Andrew Jackson DUNNING" and "Eleanor DUNNING DRIVER" have their own folders.
Currently I am focusing my research on my direct ancestors and their brothers and sisters. I am not diving deeper into descendants unless I need them to make a connection (which is probably going to happen with most of my lines) to the next generation.

For the few "extra" people that I have, I have placed a separate folder inside my ancestor's folder. When I was trying to find the father of Thomas Russell MATTHEWS recently, I had to follow his daughter Lydia who lived with two cousins in two separate censuses. First she lived with Timothy Smith MATTHEWS and then Anselm Tupper HOLCOMB. I have separate folders for each of these men's families inside my folder for Thomas' father, Phineas MATTHEWS and then inside their parents (Phineas' children's folders).

As I add my "old" media to my database, I am also going to work on my source citations and make them match up to Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I've been good about sourcing everything in my database, but have not always used the best format so that others can also find my sources.

I know that this system will definitely be better than my old system. But as I go through files, I will probably need to refine it, especially as I start going deeper into the family lines.

How are you organizing your digital media? What do you think of my system. Leave me a comment or send me an email to genwishlist [at] gmail [dot] com.


  1. I am organizing my files much the same way you are Tina.I think I need to ad more sub files though to make finding things easier.It just keeps growing!But that's the fun,thanks for sharing!

  2. I love it Tina,now just to find the time to do it. I got a free Roots Magic 4 from the Jamboree but do you really like it better? I am seriously thinking of switching but hesitant. It seems like alot of work and time and time I don't have, don't mind the work! Did you use a gemcom file to export your existing data from FTM to Roots Magic? Great ideas and I think I am going to slowly do the same.

  3. Tina - You might want to listen to Lisa Louise Cook, on her Family History Made Easy Podcast #33 and #34 at

    If you are interested in how you might do in within Family Tree Maker, I have some ideas for you. Please drop me an email at hrworth at gmail dot com.

    Enjoying your blog.

    Thank you,

  4. Gini, I just posted why I made the switch to RM4:

    Let me know what you think. It is a pain to reattach all of the media files. RM4 will only open a gedcom from FTM, not the FTM file. I think that it is worth it to force me to organize my files and fix my source citations.