Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished May 27, 2014
Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.
Download the Show Notes for this Episode
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 33: Organize Your Genealogy Files, Part 2
In our last episode I shared how I went from disorganized procrastinator to proactive organizer after a few hard knocks. I hope you will agree now that organization doesn’t have to come naturally: it can be learned and practiced!
I also introduced you to a system that I developed about a decade ago, and have leaned on ever since to keep my computer’s hard drive organized as I have added hundreds if not thousands of source documents to it as I went about my genealogy research. Even now I can retrieve exactly the document I need quickly and easily…and you will be able to as well!
In this episode I’m going to pick up where we left off, at the GENEALOGY folder on our C: drive. So fire up your computer and rev up that mouse because we have some organizing to do!
Create the File Folders
Today it’s back to our computer’s hard drive. Open Windows Explorer. Now using your mouse you need to navigate your way to your C drive.
This system is going to be based on the surnames in your family tree. I currently have 32 surname folders on my computer. Start by creating about a dozen of the surnames folders that you tend to spend the most time on. Don’t worry about creating a folder for every surname right now. Down the road when you find a record for a surname that you don’t have a folder for you can just create the folder right then and there.
Now click on one of the surname folders that you know you have digital records for – now we’re going to create folders for each of the major categories of records that you may come across.
I’ve made a half dozen surname folders for the surnames I work on the most, and now I’m going to set up folders in the surname folder for all the different kinds of records I have.
And these folders really follow along with so many of the topics we’ve covered here on the podcast. Examples of record folders are Births, Deaths, Census, Marriages, Land, Military, Newspapers, Occupation, Wills & Estates.
So here’s what the folder structure looks like:
C: – GENEALOGY
– BILLS TREE
– LISAS TREE
– WILLS & ESTATES
So now that the initial Burkett folders are set up, and I say initial because again I’ll be adding more as I do my research and find new types of records, I’m now going to set up the same 9 files in the other surname folders I created.
Name Your Genealogy Files
Once you have these initial records folders created within each of your first surname folders it’s time to start filing your records.
File Naming Conventions: “1920 Russell Springfield OH” or “SOURCE 721 1920 Russell Springfield OH”
If you have digital records sitting in a folder or on your C drive or even on your computer’s desk top, now’s the time to file them in their appropriate folders. File them all now and you’ll very quickly get the knack for where things go. If you come across a record type that we haven’t created a folder for yet, go ahead and create it. But just be sure that it doesn’t fall under one of the other categories.
I strongly recommend creating a LOCATIONS folder in your GENEALOGY folder. Inside the LOCATIONS folder you would then create folders for each major location where ancestors with that surname would have lived.
If I had lots of location records for several different counties, I might create county folders. So I file all the maps, postcards, county histories and other information about Ohio in the Ohio folder, and the same goes for Indiana and California. Down the road if it turns out you have a really large number of documents, or you start finding relatives in other counties, you can always create county folders, or more detailed records folder and then file the documents accordingly.
I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years and have found that what works best for me is NOT to include photos in these files. There are genealogical RECORDS files, and records are not the same as photos.
C: – GENEALOGY
– BILLS FAMILY
– LISA FAMILY
– CHARLES AND ALFREDA BURKETT
– CHARLES AND ELLEN BURKETTE
– CONOVER AND VIOLA BURKET
Things can get very confusing very quickly with marriages and maiden names and all that. But this system addresses that in a way that’s easy to remember. It’s based on how the census works. Census records are filed by head of household, and that’s what I do for photographs. I usually include the husband and wife’s name in my folder name because often sons are named after fathers like in the case of my Burketts, and also there can be second marriages and so you’d have a folder for the ancestor and their first spouse and then that same ancestor and their second spouse.
I really like to think in terms of families, because in the end we aren’t researching an individual ancestor all by themselves. Rather we are researching an ancestor within the context of his familial relationships. And filing in this manner keeps that at the forefront of our thinking.
Photos are filed by family under the head of the household. Both male and female ancestors are filed within their parent’s folders prior to marriage, and in their own family folder under the family surname after marriage. You may occasionally have photos with several families in them with different surnames. But often times they are taken at a family’s home. And in that case I file them under the family who’s home they were taken. You can always file a copy under the other families as well if you like. I’m not trying to dictate every single possibility here, but rather give you a process and system that works for the majority of your needs, but that is customizable based on your specific needs.
Now you may also be wondering how this system for photos fits in with geo-tagging photos. I covered geo-tagging in Genealogy Gems Premium episode 25. For more information on how to become a Premium member, click here.
Well, we have covered a lot of ground in this episode, and I hope that will give this hard drive filing system a try!
Here’s our weekly list of new genealogy records online. Do any collections below relate to your family history? Please share with your genealogy buddies or with societies that might be interested!
ITALY CIVIL REGISTRATION. Over a million total indexed Italian civil registrations have been added to FamilySearch for Bario, Caltanissetta, Genova, Mantova, Pesaro e Urbino and Pescara. See and search (for free) all available records here.
MEXICO CHURCH RECORDS. FamilySearch also just updated their Mexican church records by the millions, from Aguascalientes to Zacatecas. The biggest updates are for the Distrito Federal (Mexico City) and Pueblas. Search these here for free.
SOUTH DAKOTA SCHOOL RECORDS. Nearly 3 million indexed names have been added to this free collection at FamilySearch. According to the database description, “School records, including teacher’s term reports, school census and attendance records located at the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre. Records are generally arranged by county, year and school district number.” It looks like this is a work-in-progress and more indexed records will be added.
US ALIEN CASE FILES. Nearly half a million In 1940, immigrants in the U.S. who had not naturalized had to register and be finger printed. Case files resulted! Nearly a half million indexed records from all over the U.S. are part of this new FamilySearch collection. (Residents of Guam; Honolulu, Hawaii; Reno, Nevada; and San Francisco, California are not part of this collection.)
US CENSUS RECORDS. Updates, corrections and additions to their U.S. federal census collections have been posted recently by both FamilySearch (1790 and 1800) and Ancestry (1880 and 1920 as well as the 1850-1885 mortality schedules). No additional detail was provided about specific changes to the collections. We blogged a few months ago about why FamilySearch was re-indexing part of the 1910 census; read it here.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter, and this weekly round-up of major new record collections will be among the “gems” you find in it! With your sign-up, you’ll receive a free e-book on Google search strategies for genealogy. Simply enter your email address in the box in the upper right-hand corner of this page. Thank you for sharing this post with anyone else who will want to know about these records (and this weekly blog post.)
Common surnames can make genealogy research more challenging. But learning more about your last name (including how common it is) can also enrich your family history. Check out 4 free online tools for learning more about your family’s surnames. Then share what you learn the next time your relatives get together!
If you have common surnames on your family tree, you may have become frustrated at times trying to determine whether the “John Williams” or “Elizabeth Smith” you’re looking at in a record belongs to your John or Elizabeth. Would it make a difference if you discovered they lived in an area where there very few folks by those names during that time period? It would. Furthermore, it would probably also be nice to know things like where else in the world–or within England, for example–that surname is found now (or was in the past).
The enormous amount of census, vital records, and family tree data now online is making it easier to answer questions like these. Below, find free online tools for mapping common surnames (and less-common ones, too) across time. They include surname search tools hosted by a couple of our Genealogy Giants, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com. What can you learn from the following sites? Do they agree with one another? Check them out!
Your surname in the 1990 and 2000 U.S. censuses
The US Census Bureau has created databases of last names that appear in recent censuses. You can look at the results a couple of ways:
- Click here to search for your surname among the most common 150,000 surnames from the 1990 and 2000 censuses. These surnames cover about 90% of those who participated in the census.
- Click here to view a list of all surnames that appear 100 or more times in the 2000 census. (Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, Jones, Miller and Davis all top a million occurrences!) According to this webpage, the top 15 surnames have remained fairly steady in the most recent three censuses with one exceptional trend: Spanish-origin surnames are starting to make the lists.
Common surnames of England and Wales
Find out how common your surname is today in England, Wales, and the Isle of Mann. The Surnames of England and Wales – the ONS List has a searchable database of almost 270,000 surnames shared by 54.4 million people (it excludes surnames occurring fewer than 5 times in the total database of nearly 60 million people). The list compiled between 1998-2002 does have some duplication and misspellings: “experience suggests that multiplying the result for your surname by 0.93 will give a good idea of the living population for your surname.”
What’s in a name? Ancestry.com answers
Ancestry.com hosts this fun and free tool for those with roots in the U.S., England, Scotland, and Wales:
Remember, it’s not a precise genealogy research tool. But it can prove interesting. When I ran this search for the married surname of our Genealogy Gems DNA expert, Diahan Southard, I was shown (among other things) this interesting map illustrating how the Southard family was spread across the United States in 1920:
Surname directory at MyHeritage
MyHeritage.com hosts a searchable surname directory taken from data found on its site. To search the surname directory, choose the first letter of the last name from the alphabet shown below the search screen. (If you enter a name in the blue search boxes, you’ll be taken into their record-searching area, which isn’t the same):
You won’t find all names surnames here, though you may find variant spellings of yours. (I never knew McClellan could be spelled in so many different ways!) Here’s a map of how they find my husband’s surname, Morton, scattered across the globe:
Looking for more surname distribution maps? Click here to find a list organized by country.
Next Steps: Try this with your common surnames
If you’ve taken a DNA test…Thousands of people are compiling their same-surname DNA test results into surname projects. Click here to learn more about how to “social network” your yDNA test results in a surname project.
If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium subscriber…you can watch Lisa Louise Cooke’s fabulous video tutorial, Common Surname Google Search Strategies. Use her tips to find even your most commonly-named relatives online! (Not a Premium member? Click here to learn more–for one low price, you’ll get a year’s access to hundreds of Premium videos and podcast episodes!)