5 Ways to Organize Digital Genealogy Files

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Organizing any digital files can be a tedious and daunting task.

Digital genealogy files pose an even bigger task because there is so much information you want to preserve.

But do not get discouraged because this guide is here to help.

There are a few different ways to organize digital genealogy files, and it depends greatly on personal preference.

The following are the four best ways to organize digital genealogy files:

  • Alphabetical order
  • By geographic location
  • By subject
  • Chronological order

We will discuss each of the four file organization techniques listed above in detail and give you specific examples of each filing method along the way.

How Do You Organize Digital Files?

The best way to organize your digital files is by having a consistent system that is easy to use.

Choose one of the four filling systems, and then within those electronic folders, use another (or the same) filing technique until all of your files are organized.

In addition to creating a thoughtful organization system, here are some tips for organizing your digital genealogy files:

  • Back up to the Cloud and other locations, like a flash drive, regularly
  • Clear out junk files often
  • Start an organization system and stick to it
  • Use folders within folders
  • Use specific file names for clarity

With that being said, let us break down each of the four methods in a bit more detail.

1. Filing Genealogy Files Using Alphabetical Order

Using alphabetical order to file digital genealogy files is best for organizing your files by surname.

Many families will have quite a few surnames making it easy to lose track.

The following three steps give you an example of how to file your digital genealogy files alphabetically:

  • Create your main folders. You can start by creating folders for each of the surnames in your family.
  • Create subfolders. Inside of each of the surname folders, you can have a folder named for each person.
  • Decide on the file name. For filing alphabetically, you will start your file names with the person in the photo or document. An example file name could look like Doe-John-Day Month Year-Location-Simple Description.png

Remember that if your digital genealogy files are not too name-based, this method may not be best for you, making it difficult to identify the people in the photos.

Keep reading to see if another filing method will be better suited for your filing and organization needs.

2. Filing Genealogy Files Using Geographic Location

Another great way to organize your digital genealogy files is by location. This filing system might be best for you if you relate to any of the following points:

  • Your family is spread out across multiple states, cities, countries
  • You know some of the specific locations where your family lived and worked
  • You have a strong connection family because of places and locations

The simplest way to use this organization method is to include the location where the photo or document was taken as the first part of the file name.

For this filing technique, you can use the following steps:

  • Create a folder for each state. Based on the vastness of your family tree, you could start with country and then move to the state, county, city, and so on.
  • Create subfolders. Within each state, there are counties and then cities. You can be as specific as you like with your subfolders. You can always use fewer folders within folders, but it helps create more folders for the sake of being able to use abbreviations in your file names.
  • Name your files consistently. You want to choose a method that will be consistent and a template that is easy to remember. An example file name could look like: State-County-City-Day Month Year-Surname-First Name-Short Description.png

Remember that file names can only be so long, so as you decide on the folders and subfolders that fit your needs, consider abbreviating parts of your file’s name.

So, it may be helpful with this filing technique to come up with a list of all the abbreviations you use.

That way, if someone else is trying to locate a photo from a specific state or county, the corresponding abbreviation would be easily identifiable. The following is a list of potential file naming devices that could be abbreviated:

  • Use country abbreviations – Use US or USA instead of the United States; use CAN for Canada
  • Use just the county name – Instead of writing Cook County, use only Cook
  • Use the common two-letter state abbreviation – Type out MN instead of Minnesota

Maybe alphabetical order or geographic location is important but not the most important thing to your family’s genealogy. There are three more options for organizational methods you can use for your digital genealogy files.

3. Filing Genealogy Files By Subject Matter

One other option you can choose for organizing your digital genealogy files is to file them by subject matter. And this could mean a few different things.

The following is a list of subjects or categories you could use to file your digital genealogy files:

  • Documents
  • Family reunions
  • Funerals
  • Photographs
  • Weddings

This filing system is best if you have a lot of events-based digital files. This way, you can start with all the different events and create subfolders based on them.

For example, maybe your family had a lot of family reunions, and those were well documented.

You could choose to start with a file named Events. Within that folder, you could have a Family Reunions folder.

Then, within the Family Reunions folder, you can title all of your documents with the following example file name: Family Reunion-Day Month Year-Location-Simple Description.png. 

With this filing system, you start very specifically, so it might be worthwhile to break out more categories. Your file path could be more like:

  • Events folder > Family Reunions folder > Reunion Jan 14, 2011, folder > Photographs, Documents, Miscellaneous folders.

If these three filing methods do not resonate with you, then you can try to organize your digital genealogy files in chronological order.

4. Filing Genealogy Files Using Chronological Order

Many people use chronological order because it can be an easy method to locate and identify files on a digital platform.

However, this method is saved for last in our list of four digital filing methods because it draws on the other filing methods’ basics.

The main difference between this method and the previous three is that the dates are listed first. All of the filing methods above use dates because this is your main form of tracking in genealogy.

You can start all of your digital genealogy files with the date and include all of the other information discussed previously. An example digital file label could be:  Year Month Day- Doe-John-Location-Simple Description.png. 

5. Using A Combination Of Methods For Genealogy Files

Now that we have covered the four main ways to file digital genealogy files, it is important to mention how using a combination of these methods might work best for you!

For example, you could want all of your information organized chronologically, but then subfolders are organized by location.

Or, you could start by filing under specific subject matters and then use subfolders with dates on them to organize your files further.

In Summary: Your Guide To Digital Genealogy Filing

Your genealogy files require an immense amount of organization. It is especially important to create a filing system that is easy for both yourself and others to understand.

Whether you use dates, names, locations, or categories to file your genealogy files, you need a strict and easy-to-follow system that works for the way your brain works.

You can use one of the four filing techniques or a combination of the four to best organize your digital genealogy files.

But the major takeaway is that creating a system and sticking to it is the most important part of a successful organization method.

About GYAdmin

Hi, I’m Emma. I fell in love with genealogy the second I found out my ancestor fell off the Mayflower. I started GenealogyYou to help others on this fascinating journey (and to put my History degree to some use).