Family History Episode 33: Organize Your Genealogy Files, Part 2

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.

https://lisalouisecooke.com/familyhistorypodcast/audio/fh33.mp3

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

– BURKETT

– BIRTHS

– CENSUS

– DEATHS

– LAND

– LOCATIONS

– MARRIAGE

– MILITARY

– NEWSPAPER

– OCCUPATIONS

– WILLS & ESTATES

– NIKOLOWSKI

– SPORAN

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.

Filing Photographs

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.

Filing Structure:

C: – GENEALOGY

– PHOTOS

– BILLS FAMILY

– LISA FAMILY

– BURKETT

– CHARLES AND ALFREDA BURKETT

1940_Alfreda_Louise.jpg

– 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!

Genealogy Edu-tainment! Celebrity Interview, Bestseller for Book Club, DNA Chat and More!

tv_film_icon_400_wht_15178 (1)Are you ready for a hearty dose of genealogy edu-tainment? It’s all there in the newest episode of the free Genealogy Gems podcast: a genealogy television celebrity, a best-seller for our new Genealogy Gems Book Club title and an industry insider peek at Ancestry’s DNA products.

Since it’s the beginning of the year, a lot of television shows are ramping back up (like WDYTYA in March). Genealogy Roadshow on PBS will it be back with new episodes and a new addition to the panel of hosts: professional genealogist Mary Tedesco. She joins Lisa in this episode to talk about her experience on the show and about Italian research, her specialty.

genealogy book clubDid you hear about our new featured book for Genealogy Gems Book Club? It’s the internationally best-selling novel Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline! Tune in to the episodes or click to the show notes to learn more about the book and why I chose it for our virtual book club. And don’t forget the best part of our book club: the author will join us for an exclusive interview! The interviews are fun even if you haven’t read the book, and fantastic if you have. That interview is coming up in May.

DNA Guide Diahan Southard also makes an appearance on the January Genealogy Gems podcast episodes. She offers a frank insider’s opinion of what’s going on with AncestryDNA and Ancestry.com’s DNA Circles feature. Stay up-to-date in this fast-moving and fascinating aspect of genealogy with Your DNA Guide on Genealogy Gems!

Finally, you’ll hear about Lisa’s newest project. Available by popular demand is the revised and updated 2nd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox! 

Genealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

How to Approach a Genealogist about an Error on an Ancestry Family Tree

how to approach a genealogist about a family tree error Ancestry

Is someone else’s Ancestry family tree causing a pain in your own tree trunk? Here’s a way to approach it–nicely!

Scott is a new Genealogy Gems listener and he recently dropped me a line about a problem that just a few–ok, nearly every–genealogist has at some point come face-to-face with: an error on an Ancestry family tree. Scott writes:

“I recently found your podcast and have been listening with great interest. I really appreciate your experienced, informed, yet common sense approach to genealogy. Because of this common sense approach, I felt you would be a great source of advice for a dilemma I am having.”

This Genealogy Gems listener went on to describe coming across a family tree in the Ancestry forest that included his family line. It featured good research that mirrored his own and some additional that gave him hints that lead to even more branch extensions. “The only problem is, there is a critical error in her research: the starting point that she uses for that whole line is incorrect.”

Scott believes he has very good documentation and support for his claim. In fact he notes that she even has a document attached to her tree that supports his case that she has made an error.

“My dilemma: How do I appropriately connect with her to let her know that she has made an error? This individual has made a concerted effort to research and cite, and does it better than almost all the others on that line have done. I want to let her know so she can dedicate and direct those wonderful skills in the right direction, but I want to do it in a considerate way. Everyone makes mistakes of this nature – I sure have!! What is the best way to make an initial contact that exposes an error?”

If you participate in Ancestry’s online family trees then you have probably faced an Ancestry tree error. Let’s be honest: Genealogists can grow quite cynical about the intentions of others when they see so many trees lacking sources, and errors within trees. It’s frustrating to run into. Interestingly, in Scott’s description of his situation he’s already demonstrated the approach I would Genealogy successrecommend. Here’s what I told him:

  • You’ve assumed the best (not the worst) about her approach to the research
  • You want to help
  • You know that everyone makes mistakes

I would weave that into the following approach that I like to take with any situation, genealogical or otherwise, where I need to approach someone about incorrect work:

1. Start with a compliment.
“I’m so impressed by all the work you have clearly accomplished so far….”

2. Address the problem by assuming that they are ultimately interested in accuracy.
“I wanted to make you aware of something I found which I believe changes the conclusions about this particular family line. I think you’ll find this as interesting as I did….” This approach, by the way, doesn’t say ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ but rather it says the facts and data are right and you’re guessing they will be as interested in the facts as you are.

3. End with a sincere compliment or expression of appreciation
“Again, I’m so grateful that you have shared your tree online and I look forward to hearing from you”

And finally, when addressing an error on an Ancestry family tree, as with all things in life, we have to manage our expectations. If you don’t hear back, or get a negative response, just know that the other researcher may be emotionally invested in their findings in a way you’re not aware of, or may no longer be actively working on it, and not have time to revisit it right now. (For all we know, their spouse could have just gone into the hospital.)

Bottom line: An error on an Ancestry family tree is a pain in the tree trunk. Focus on placing your accurate tree online, fully cite your sources, and move on, knowing that you are offering other researchers who come across both trees an alternative.

More Resources for Your Family Tree

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

 

6 Sources that May Name Your Ancestors’ Parents

Have you reached a dead end on one branch of your family tree–you can’t find the parents’ names? Check out these sources for finding ancestors’ parents.

6 sources that may name your ancestors' parents

Recently Genealogy Gems podcast listener Trisha wrote in with this question about finding marriage license applications online. She hoped the original application would name the groom’s parents. Unfortunately, her search for the applications came up dry. So, she asked, “Are there other documents that would have his parents names listed on them?”

Here’s a brainstorm for Trisha and everyone else who is looking for an ancestor’s parents’ names (and aren’t we all!).

6 Record Sources that May Name Your Ancestors’ Parents

1. Civil birth records. I’ll list this first, because civil birth records may exist, depending on the time period and place. But in the U.S. they are sparse before the Civil War and unreliably available until the early 1900s. So before a point, birth records–which will almost always name at least one parent–are not a strong answer. Learn more about civil birth records in my free Family History Made Easy podcast episode #25.

2. Marriage license applications. Trisha’s idea to look for a marriage license application was a good one. They often do mention parents’ names. But they don’t always exist: either a separate application form was never filled out, or it didn’t survive. Learn more about the different kinds of marriage documents that may exist in the Family History Made Easy podcast episode #24.

marriage application

 

3. Obituaries. Obituaries or death notices are more frequently found for ancestors who died in the late 1800s or later. Thanks to digitized newspapers, it’s getting SO much easier to find ancestors’ obituaries in old newspapers. My book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers is packed with practical tips and inspiring stories for discovering your family’s names in newsprint. Millions of newly-indexed obituaries are on FamilySearch (viewable at GenealogyBank). Get inspired with this list of 12 Things You Can Learn from Obituaries!How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

New York genealogy obituary FamilySearch obituaries

4. Social Security Applications (U.S.). In the U.S., millions of residents have applied for Social Security numbers and benefits since the 1930s. These applications request parents’ names. There are still some privacy restrictions on these, and the applications themselves are pricey to order (they start at $27). But recently a fabulous new database came online at Ancestry that includes millions of parents’ names not previously included in public databases. I blogged about it here. Learn more about Social Security applications (and see what one looked like) in the show notes for my free Family History Made Easy podcast episode #4.

U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

5. Baptismal records. Many churches recorded children’s births and/or the baptisms of infants and young children. These generally name one or both parents. Millions of church records have come online in recent years. Learn more about birth and baptism records created by churches in the Family History Made Easy Podcast Episode #26. Click these links to read more about baptismal records in Quebec and Ireland.

baptismal record

6. Siblings’ records. If you know the name of an ancestor’s sibling, look for that sibling’s records. I know of one case in which an ancestor appeared on a census living next door to a possible parent. Younger children were still in the household. A search for one of those younger children’s delayed birth record revealed that the neighbor WAS his older sister: she signed an affidavit stating the facts of the child’s birth.

Thanks for sharing this list with anyone you know who wants to find their ancestors’ parents!

More Genealogy Gems on Finding Your Ancestors in Old Records

Missing Birth Record? Here’s What You Can Do to Track it Down
Try These 2 Powerful Tools for Finding Genealogy Records Online

Finding Ancestors in Courthouse Records: Research Tips
(Premium website membership required)

 

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke is the producer and host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, and an international keynote speaker.

This article was originally posted on November 3, 2015 and updated on April 19, 2019.

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