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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My genealogy filing system - Part 3 - The decision

The decision is in. I am going to change my filing system.

I hope that this will prove to be a good decision, and not one that just comes from wanting something to do while I wait (im)patiently for some documents I've ordered! I think that it will be good. I have thought it through. As I mentioned in my earlier post, now is a good time to do it because I need to do some routine maintenance anyway.

My new system will work something like this...

Filing system
  • Documents will be filed according to family groups, sorted on the male surnames. This will hopefully minimise the need for duplication of documents.
  • I will file a person's records from birth up to (but not including) when they married/partnered, with their parent's family group. I will have some decisions to make about where to file information on people who eg lived a long and busy life but never partnered up with anyone. A person's records will include both documents I've found and my notes on searches undertaken, analysis and conclusions etc.
  • I will have a separate folder(s) for information on places, maybe occupations, or other information that could relate to many families.
  • I may also set up a separate folder for a few surnames where I have a lot of information on families that may not be related, or only distantly related.
  • I will also keep a folder for organisational information. eg expense tracking, database subscriptions, filing system details... !
Physical setup
  • Original copies - I will leave where they are in archival storage containers. No point moving these around if I don't have to, and I don't have so many original copies of documents that I wouldn't be able to find things.
  • Working copies - I will continue to use lever arch folders, but upgrade to more rigid ones. My pretty metallic purple ones looked lovely on the shelf at first, but quickly sagged under the weight of their contents.
  • Copies to be kept in copy safe sheet protectors.
  • I have found some extra wide tabbed dividers. Each surname will have one. Family groups will be marked out within the surname by an initial coloured sheet protector with summary information - as described below.
Colour coding
Family groups will be colour coded as follows.
  • No blood connection to me - blue
  • Blood connection (either partner) - green
  • Ancestor (either partner) - red
The first page for each family will be a sheet protector with a coloured strip down the side, with a printout of summary information on the family from my database. That printout will not be family group sheets. Instead, I am going to create a simple chart for each family. My genealogy software (Genbox) allows me to pick and choose what types of events to show on the chart, and to colour code names. It can include source citations on the chart output. So, I will be able to see all the same information as included on a family group sheet but in a format that I find easier to take in. I can put up an example of the output, if anyone is interested.

In addition, yellow in the surname folders will be for information that relates to all of that surname - such as information on the surname's origin, unproved connections, or whatever else I haven't thought of.

Hard drive organisation

Will mirror the system above of surnames and sub folders. Files will be named according to the following convention:


  • Date = year followed by month and day, if appropriate. eg today would be 20100518. The folder will then sort by date.
  • Event type = type of event the document primarily relates to. I will borrow GEDCOM tags for this where possible. eg BIRT, MARR, DEAT.
  • Document type = eg letter, image, transcript, register entry, newspaper clipping.... I will have to devise my own list of abbreviations to keep these a bit shorter. If anyone can direct me to such a list that would be appreciated.
  • Detail = citation details if relevant depending on the source. Could be an archive file number, page reference...
  • Description = a few words, if the file name isn't getting too long.
  • SourceID = S followed by the source number allocated by my software. So at least I can search for that if my system doesn't work as planned!! If there are documents that I haven't entered into the database, for whatever reason, I will see that from the file name and will be able to search for that type of file.
  • FamilyID = F followed by the ID number for the family allocated by my software. As a proxy for a name reference supposing that I often won't have enough space for that in details.
This seems to work quite well with the few test documents I've tried out. Mostly the file names are around 50 characters in length. Again, there are dozens of exceptions that I can think of but I will just have to work my way through those as I get to them.

Wow, I feel more organised already, and I've barely begun to set everything up!

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