Organizing Your Digital Files

Use the analogy of metal file cabinets:

  1. Each file cabinet had typically 4 drawers
  2. Each drawer holds separate labeled hanging file folders
  3. Each labeled hanging file folder holds a variety of separate labeled manila folders
  4. Each labeled manila folder holds the actual documents
Digital computer files are organized very similarly. How do you organize your digital files on your computer? Have you just stuffed your files into any drawer, hanging file folder, or manila folder because you didn't know where to put them? Are they scattered all over your hard drive? By not keeping your files more centralized, and in searchable folders, they will not be easy to find. Probably the most important aspect is that you can not be assured that they are being backed up.

There are many different strategies that can be used. I have included a couple of examples below, one for photos, and one for photographs & documents.

Digital files also have the ability to contain within the file structure. What this means is that you can put searchable tags, names, dates, contents, etc into the metadata fields that are viewed by looking at the file's "Properties" values. I will have further information on this later, but it does give an additional way to search for files across multiple file folders.


Learn to Organize

One Option in Organizing Photos

Because we moved around quite a bit through our married years due to education and Navy pursuits, we chose to label the "file drawers" or folders for each place we lived.

In each "file drawer", we labeled "hanging file folders" with each of the different years we lived in that area.

During the year, there were different types of activities, and so we labeled a "manila folder" for the activity (birthdays, visits, celebrations, etc) and placed the photos into these separate folders.

Notice that each of the "folders" start with a NUMBER. This helps to sort the folders into a proper sorting sequence. For the events or activities, the numbers represent the month in which the activity occurred. You might have several folders that start with 3) along with a different activity label. You might also find that you have two 1983 folders in your system if you moved half way through the year, but that's okay.

You may not have lived anywhere but in Idaho Falls, and so your folders may only reflect the different years.

Again, this is only one way of organizing photos. The general idea is that all your family photos are organized under ONE MAIN FOLDER with different subfolders. This allows you to easily backup all your family photos — because you know they are all located under that MAIN folder and not scattered across your hard drive! :)


Organize Your Family History Documents
One Option

For my family history files, I have both photos and documents mixed together in contrast to having just organized family photographs. In this case I created a folder called SURNAMES (not seen on right) and then in the folder, there are the surnames of my ancestors.
In the examples on the right, I have a screenshot of my Rasmussen ancestors. You will see that I have placed a birth year in front of their names. This is helpful, for example, if you have multiple people with the same names. For example, my great grandfather's name was Charles Meyers, as well as my grandfather and my father. With the birth years noted, I can more quickly find them in the list. You will also notice that there are female names with their married name in parenthesis. If there were multiple marriages, place each in the parenthesis.
Inside the individual's folder, I have my documents and photos combined and sorted by year. This quickly gives me a "time-line" view of all the content events. Several tips:

  1. If I do not know the exact year, but know the event was between 1910 and 1920, I just place a 's' after the year as 1910s.
  2. I may be lucky and know the month of the photo as well, so I may list a photo or document as 1918(11) - "+filename".
  3. If the time period for the event is more broad, say 1930 to 1950, I could simply name the file as 1930-1950 - "+filename".
The important thing to remember is that with numbers at the front, computers will sort by numerical sequence first.
Again, this is only one way of organizing your digital documents, but at least all the folder contents are under one folder.
What can you do with a digital file that pertains to several different people, such as a photo that has three people in it? There are again many different options, but one is to simply duplicate that file into each of the file folders for those individuals. Does this create "duplicate files"? Yes, but hard drive space is SO inexpensive today that it really does not use up a lot of space. Another option is to keep the primary file in one individual's folder, and then create "shortcuts" to that file and place the shortcuts into the other individual's folders. I have found this to create broken shortcuts over time as I move a file around and so I no longer do this.

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