Tuesday’s Tip: Organizing Digital Research Notes, Emails, and Reports

The last two Tuesdays, I wrote tips on how to organize your digital files (i.e. genealogy documents) and digital photos. The next task is to tackle all those miscellaneous files; you know, the copies of emails from distant relatives and other researchers, the notes or logs you’ve kept (either in a digital document or those written notes you’ve scanned), and reports such as ahnentafels or timelines. As you can see in the image below, I have five such folders for my CROTHERS surname which are named “Crothers Genealogy,” “Crothers Genealogy 2004,” etc. It’s definitely not an efficient system:

Click on any image for an enlarged view.

Looking inside one of these folders gives a view of files named just as randomly:


Opening and reading through these files revealed that some of them were no longer (or had never been) pertinent to my research, so I deleted them, leaving only five files in that particular folder:

The file titles give me a small idea of what each is about, but I don’t know which are emails, which are reports, and which are research notes. I also don’t know–if they are emails–who the authors are. And I don’t have a clue when they were written, unless I use the Details view:

The Details view gave me the following perspective, but the dates are out of order:

Clicking on Date Modified brings the dates into chronological order:

Still, these file names are lacking what I need to really analyze them at a glance. I have decided to name emails in the following format: Date; “Email from [first and last name of author]“; and Topic. For the topic, I look inside the email and pinpoint exactly which individual or family group this message is really focused on, and then use it. I also use the “SURNAME first name MAIDEN NAME” format in the topic to be consistent with my Document files. In the list above, you can see that I have a file named “Jane Sweers” and another one named “Jane Sweers & Willard Crothers”. They become:

2003 01 28 – Email from Ruby Foust – CROTHERS Willard marriage to SWEERS Jane FORD

2003 01 29 – Email from Ruby Foust – CROTHERS Willard and SWEERS Jane FORD family information

I noticed when I attempted to rename a couple of files, I got a message asking me if I wanted to change the name of the Read-only file. In some cases, it wouldn’t let me change the name, because it was a Read-only file. So I right-clicked on the file and under the General tab, unchecked the Read-only box.


I used the following formats for research notes, and reports:

2003 08 07 – Research Notes – War of 1812 Muster Rolls – CROTHERS John in New York and Pennsylvania

2005 09 15 – Ahnentafel Report – Ancestors of SWEERS Rhoda YORK

Now that I’ve cleaned up all those files and folders, I made a new folder named CROTHERS Research. Here’s what it now looks like inside:

I can easily see at a glance which Crothers family members I have information on and what type of information it is. I can find my reports and research notes. It’s easy to find all the emails from one researcher. And everything is in date order.

My Genealogy folder is looking a little neater, too. Now there are only three CROTHERS folders: one for documents, one for photos, and one for all other research files:

I hope this gives you some ideas on how you can organize, manage, and analyze those odds and ends of digital genealogy files and folders. This system is very adaptable and easy to personalize. Happy Organizing!

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11 Responses

  1. Fabulous help! I need to do just what you’ve accomplished, so now I have a plan. Thanks so much!

  2. Becky, glad to be of help! Thanks for dropping by, and best of luck to you in getting organized!

  3. Miriam,

    Another awesome article. Thank you for your Tuesday’s Tips. Great series. Thank you.

  4. Thank you for your kind words, Russ, and for taking the time to drop in. Come again!

  5. Miriam, I’m working my way through my files with this system, and am finding that one of my problems in the past has been inconsistency in naming the files..i.e. emails, timelines, etc. So I’m working on identifying a consistent name for each type of file… so easy I’m kind of embarrassed not to have done it before!
    Sue Edminster

  6. These tips are just in time for our “get organized” New Year’s resolutions. E-mails are a particular problem for me.

    Thanks for your help – even your tips are well-organized!

  7. Susan, you’ve hit the nail on the head, so to speak. I think the consistency of naming files makes it easy because you don’t have to stop and think “Now how should I name this?”

    Greta, I didn’t even realize when I decided to write these tips that the timing would be good for all those “Get Organized” resolutions, but I’m glad it worked out that way!

    Thanks for dropping by, ladies, and come again!

  8. Miriam – these are very useful tips. I’m doing something similar although I like the idea of breaking it down even more. Happy New Year!

  9. Great tips for organizing files — something I have been attempting during the holidays.
    Remember to update your source citations if you referenced the filename in your genealogy database!

  10. What simple and useful tips! My computer files are in a state of disaster at the moment, and your clear advice is exactly what I needed to “tidy them up” properly! Thanks, Miriam!
    -Amy

  11. Oh, after all these years, now you showed me how to change the “read only” file to be readable. I had only figured out to copy the file and change the title a bit, then save it and delete the original. Now I know a fast way, Thanks! Donna

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