The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
A newsletter reader wrote this week and asked if there is an optimum method of organizing files and folders on a hard drive, especially as they relate to genealogy research and note-taking. She wrote, "I am new to working on my family history and trying to figure out how to keep track of everything. I use Windows file folders, Evernote, Dropbox, etc. But I am overwhelmed by folder names, hierarchy, and methods of organizing. Your recent blog post on your year-end 2013 summary was very motivating. Is there an article or suggestions on how you organize your notes on Evernote or your documents elsewhere? And what about articles and ebooks about the times and places of my ancestors? Like I said, it's overwhelming."
I agree that it can be overwhelming. Indeed, the "problem" becomes even bigger as you store more and more information. However, one thought keeps popping to my mind as I ponder this "problem."
First, a little background. Most of us who are in our thirties or beyond learned about filing and organizing long before computers became available in the household. We learned a lot about organizing printed things in a logical manner so that we could easily find and retrieve filed information when needed. When we later moved into the computer age and saw things organized in digital documents that are then saved in something called folders, our minds naturally reverted to what we already had learned about printed documents and paper file folders. I will suggest, however, that sometimes reverting to old habits can be a good thing, and at other times it might be a bad thing.
In the past, we have been taught to file everything in a logical sequence. Depending upon the documents in question, we might file alphabetically or sequentially. This works well for simple documents that are easily categorized as either alphabetical or sequential. However, that simplistic filing systems tends to fall short when filing and retrieving more complex documents that serve multiple purposes.
For instance, how about a Social Security claim? How did the Social Security Administration file those claims back in the days before computers? Did they file alphabetically by the claimant's name, sequentially by the claimant's date of claim, sequentially by the date the claimant originally obtained a Social Security card, or sequentially by Social Security Number? Admittedly, I do not know. However, I suspect they filed everything by Social Security Number.
The question then arises, how did the Social Security Administration later find required files when the Social Security Number was unknown?
I suspect the Social Security Administration did not rely SOLELY on the Social Security Numbers.
Again, I do not know, but I bet they also created additional indexes, perhaps one list of documents arranged by name and another list of documents listed by date and perhaps even a third or fourth list, arranged by other criteria. Creation of multiple indexes is labor-intensive, but it has always been necessary in complex, paper-based filing systems in small and large organizations alike. Now we have computers that can instantly create digital equivalents for us with little or no manual effort at all.
Of course, when storing our own genealogy documents at home, we will encounter similar problems. For example, how do you file a copy of a marriage certificate? By the groom's name? By the bride's name? Do you make two entries and file it under both the groom's name AND the bride's name? How about the names of the best man and the maids of honor? If it is a marriage announcement from a newspaper, you often can read the names of the parents, the ushers, and perhaps even the name of the clergyman. All are significant when trying to identify individuals in your family history. Trying to file that information in some manner that allows you to find all the names in the future can be both complex and tedious.
Let's move into the twenty-first century. I think it is time to clear our minds and start with fresh ideas.
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