Lets be honest. As genealogists the best bit is searching for information on your long lost relatives. Whether it’s passing a dark cold winter evening searching through the limitless supply of online records, or trawling through some dusty files or records in an archive, traipsing through overgrown graveyards or even flicking through the family collection of photographs we are great at collecting information. All these sources are great and provide the meat we need for constructing our family trees but what to do with all the information collected?
In my case, I have 4 main sources of stored data
- A collection of paperwork including, certificates, notes taken from interviewing relations or collected in archives, wills or letters from older family members etc.
- My Electronic files seem to take in all of the above as well as screen shots saved from internet searches, spreadsheets and working documents that I’ve used to construct my trees.
- Photographs. There are actually 2 halves to this collection. Firstly the good old-fashioned printed photographs and secondly the more modern Digital version of it. The digital version also includes copies made of older albums belonging to myself and of any relations collections I’ve been able to get my hands on.
- My family tree which I have chosen to keep on ancestry, though there are many other platforms for doing this.
My collection of paperwork and printed photographs are stored in a series of folders. I’ve been relatively organised with this data, filing it under different family names and groups and usually being able to put my hands on a document when I go to check it. There’s something about a bundle of paper that demands being stored somewhere. It sits in front of you and clutters up the desk until you either bin it or file it. But oh my goodness, electronic data is such a different matter. Until very recently I had everything stored on the laptop under a broad label of family history but there was absolutely no structure or reasoning to how it was done. In 2016 I nearly lost all the data on my hard drive so in 2017 I eventually decided that it was time to tackle this map-less treasure trove of information on my family and make sure it is saved safely.
So here’s how I’ve set up my own system. My main family history folder I have called Jeffers McCully Family Trees (see the photo at the top). Within this folder I have created a sub folder for the main families that I am working on.
Each sub folder then contains a folder for every generation of that family. Below you can see the folder for my McCully family which I have traced back to County Derry in the late 1700s. In it I have dated and named each generation of my direct line of ancestors.
My grandfather, John Hercules McCully (1898-1975) had a total of eight children so within his folder there’s one folder for each of them as well as one for John Hercules himself. With this structure in place, it has now become much easier to sort and save the information. Now I have each person’s birth/marriage/death records, photographs, census records, leases, newspaper articles, family stories etc. all safely stored in one place that I can easily and quickly locate.
I have also found that by putting the date of a document at the start of each file name (eg. 1898 John McCully birth record), it makes it easier to sort and find. By using this method and sorting your files by date, you can see the timeline of your relative at a glance.
Finally, my last bit of advice is to always save, save, and save your work. I learnt this the hard way when my hard drive broke and I discovered that my last back up was almost 18 months old! I never again want to experience that mental trauma. Thanks to a very tech-savvy nephew who retrieved my data, I got it all back but now I store it on my lap-top, with a back-up on an external drive and to be sure to be sure, I also now store it on the iCloud.