Genealogy Filing: Taking Inventory, Part 1

by JL Beeken on 1-22-2011

As I read through other genealogy blogs, I often come across talk of disorganization, ideas and plans for organization and wishes for family members who will care about it after we’re gone.

Some people are organized by nature and everything’s put together like an Army cot; you could bounce a dime off it. Some people are somewhat organized and given a week they could pull it together pretty well. And others are living in the land of wishful thinking and plan-to-do-someday and it will never get done. For most of us, this is not a religious requirement; it’s a hobby, so it doesn’t matter either way except that we tend to take it very seriously. It is, after all, the way we spend our time and love.

I have very much less to deal with than is apparent in photos I’ve seen on other genealogy blogs of entire rooms or closets full of boxes and bins. Nevertheless, as I’ve considered what’s involved in passing on what I do have to other family members, I’ve tried to look at it from the inheritor’s point of view.

Organization doesn’t mean anything if you’re the only person who knows what that means.

Step One is to take inventory. Stop collecting for a minute and take stock of where you are. And Step Two is to explain that to someone else in writing. Or even a digital recording if you think that would work better. Writing is easier to update. Knowing that you’ve told someone else about it will take a weight off your mind.

Aside from inherited houses, cars, furniture, jewelry and what-nots, the division is generally your digital files, paper files and database.

My Digital Files

I know I’ve explained this somewhat before but I thought I’d go over it in more depth. It will also help me to see where I most need to tidy up. Everything I have, digitally-speaking, is divided into two folders, ANCESTORS and DESCENDANTS.

DESCENDANTS is all the photos of myself and siblings from 1950 to the present. Although I and my sisters were already moved on, married and so on by 1976, there was still a ‘family home’ until then with people still gathering so the folders are numbered by year, 1950-1976. By 1977 the family was well and truly split apart and each of us has our own folder from then on.

ANCESTORS is everything else. I’ve tried to set this up for a minimum of confusion and duplication. Files and photos are linked to Legacy from here as well as free to be used in other projects. It’s divided into:

  • BAKER HISTORY
  • BEEKEN HISTORY
  • Legacy Backups
  • Portraits
  • SOURCES
  • Tools
  • Wiki-OFH
  • READ ME-WhatIsThis.rtf

BAKER HISTORY is divided into:

  • Baker Email
  • Baker For Filing
  • Baker MRIN
  • Baker Photographs
  • Baker Places

BEEKEN HISTORY is divided into:

  • Beeken Email
  • Beeken For Filing
  • Beeken MRIN
  • Beeken Places

EMAIL is all genealogy-related correspondence. As it comes in, it’s collected in EverNote 2 and periodically printed out as PDFs and stitched together with older correspondence from the same person, if applicable. Any email that’s used specifically for source citation is extracted and added to the SOURCES.

for FILING is a dumping ground for documents and photographs not yet filed. Thankfully, there’s not much there because I try to keep up to speed.

BAKER Photographs is divided into:

  • 1940-pre
  • 1940′s
  • 1950′s
  • 1960′s
  • 1970′s
  • 1980′s
  • 1990′s
  • 2000-

These pictures are primarily the same people over and over for decades and they sort most obviously by date. The rest are sorted by MRIN under Baker MRIN.

The Beeken photos are primarily single-person portraits or clear family groups so they are, after much fiddling around, organized in folders numbered by MRIN under Beeken MRIN. These folders also include other file-types that have not been used for SOURCES. If it’s a mixed group photo the rule of thumb is to put it in the folder of the oldest person present if nothing else makes sense.

Because all photos are annotated with captions, keywords, sources, copyrights, locations and GPS it’s not necessary to add any of this to the file names.

Beeken Places and Baker Places are linked to Legacy; schools, cemeteries, churches, even ships. Anything more personal is with the MRINs.

Legacy Backups is self-explanatory.

Portraits are the individual photos attached to Legacy because it feels lonely in there without people pictures. These were all re-sized to something consistent and small so they don’t take long to load. They’re named as surname, first name_initial so they’re easy to link up using the Picture Center in Legacy.

SOURCES – This is where all my source documents get filed, according to the MRIN Filing System and linked to Legacy. I have duplicate files here in the case of gravestones. I keep the original and larger photos under MRINs and make smaller copies (640×480) to use as source citation photos.

TOOLS – This is a catch-all for how-to documents and other ideas that I find interesting and might use someday.

Wiki-OFH – This is my family history wiki, as explained in JLiki. The family history told in a user-friendly way because sharing history seems to be a huge issue for a lot of folks. I have not linked any source documents here. But I could. In which case, they would be duplicates of what’s in SOURCES. I probably won’t because it’s beyond the reach of non-genealogists, i.e. my family. Is/should be updated on a regular basis.

MRIN List.pdf. As I add more information to Legacy, I create a refreshed copy of the MRIN List as all digital and paper files reference these numbers. I haven’t printed a paper copy yet but I could, as far as the MRINs have related documents, to go at the beginning of the first 3-ring binder of paper files.

READ ME-WhatIsThis.rtf – This is one of the most important documents in this folder and you might consider creating one of your own. It could be renamed To Whom It May Concern.rtf. Or No Matter What Else You’re Doing Right Now Stop and Read This.rtf. This is the road map.

My Paper Files

For paper files, I have:

  • 4 large 3-ring binders with paper filed one sheet per page protector. OK, in some cases, two.
  • A large accordion envelope for legal size paper
  • A few other envelopes of paper and photos
  • 3 large boxes of notebooks, slides, photos and personal errata.

All of the photos and most of the paper has been scanned. ALL of the paper has been filed by MRIN or Master Source File ID. I regret that I returned photos that were on permanent loan to me instead of filing them myself. Most of them were in poor condition when I got them and obviously not cared for. The usual dump-it-all-into-a-plastic-bag routine. What made me think the original owners would decide to take care of them after I returned them? My understanding is that most of them were destroyed once they had digital copies from me.

My Database

When I got to thinking about someone inheriting my work, the first thing that crossed my mind is that anyone not already familiar would not have a clue what to do with the kingpin, my Legacy database.

First, they’d have to purchase and install Legacy. Then they’d have to overwrite it with my backup, making sure it’s set to link up to Portraits and Places and SOURCES on their computer. This won’t happen automatically.

So, what I did was write instructions for the exact process, putting myself in the shoes of the uninitiated. Then I explained the contents of all the other folders, similar to above, and how everything’s connected.

If you’re ready to share your database NOW, you can put it along with the Legacy installation file on a disc and add any linked documents at the same time. See Share Legacy Family Tree and Your Family File on a CD. I did this several years ago (it’s really simple) but had no-one I wanted to give it to at that time. If you’re getting on in age and/or your eyeballs are chronically strained, you might want to give it some thought. The total size of my database with linked documents is 2.6 GB. Easy enough to burn to a DVD or send via Dropbox.

The thought of relinquishing total control before I’m dead makes me a bit squeamish. I’m still mulling this one over.

Everything doesn’t have to be D-O-N-E because it never will be, but it is possible to take inventory and try to see it from another person’s point of view.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Abby (desperategenie) 1-23-2011 at 9:00 PM

You are really onto something. I have never considered what would happen to all my research and in-the-works projects if put in the hands of someone else. It’s like I have been solving a puzzle by creating a whole new puzzle! I am inspired by your post, an inventory needs to be done.

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Free Genealogy Guide 1-27-2011 at 6:13 PM

I think that being the family historian is like being a teacher. It’s not enough to know and understand your material; you have to be able to get it across to others as well. Your inventory and instructions will be a lifesaver someday to the descendant who inherits your files and historian’s role.

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