Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Digital Documentation" - CVGS Program Summary

Shirley Becker presented "Digital Documentation" to the Chula Vista Genealogical Society today. We had 25 in attendance for this excellent description of a problem almost all of us have - how to organize our computer files so that we can find what we want when we want it. The talk description and Shirley's CV are here.

Shirley's talk concentrated on the digital computer files - the ones that we have an image of, whether they are vital records, book pages, census pages, photographs or scanned pages. She did not address the paper files that most of us have in bookcases, file drawers, notebooks, folders or loose papers, except to say that if we want to reduce the paper stacks we should scan the important pages that provide accurate source material and put them in the digital documentation system.

The digital documentation system that Shirley has adopted is Leland Meitzler's system that he described in his talk "Genealogical Organization in the 21st Century" at the 2008 SCGS Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank last June. She spoke to him at the Escondido Family History Fair in March and he advised "...people don't have to cross every T in order to use this method. Do what is best for you and the way you do things."

The major topics that Shirley covered included:

* Buying a large external hard drive to store the genealogy digital documents

* Use or buy a flat-bed scanner to scan your paper records

* Use Adobe Photoshop Elements software (or a similar program) to enhance and edit your images

* Take the time to scan the paper documents you want into the digital file system.

* Have a backup plan and adhere to it - use online, offsite, and local backup of that external drive.

* Create a document organization system for each Surname and Locality.

She discussed the last item during most of her talk. Shirley's Surname file folders look like this:

* GenDocs > Wright > Wright, Alpheus & Maria Graves WAMG
* GenDocs > Wright > Wright, James & Lydia Jones WJLJ
* GenDocs > Wright > Wright, Thomas & Mary Smith WTMS
* etc.

The four letter code refers to the married couple for the specific family file folder. In that file folder are all of the digital documents that pertain to the family, including all records for the children of the couple until the children get married. She puts an Index file in each Couple folder which lists all of the digital documents available in the folder:

* WAMG001 - picture of Wright gravestone
* WAMG002 - 1860 US census record
* WAMG003 - Alpheus Wright Civil War military record
* etc.

Then each digital document is named according to the index list.

For Locality folders, this is also done by Surname. The folders might be named:

* GenDocs > Wright 1 > USA > New York > Otsego
* GenDocs > Wright 1 > England > Wiltshire > Trowbridge
* etc.

The number after the surname ensures that the computer sorts these Locality folders at the top of the Surname Folder list.

Shirley uses commonly used file types for everything she puts into this system, such as Rich Text Format (RTF) for text files, Portable Document Format (PDF) for scanned or downloaded printed material, and TIFF (for images).

She's been using this file system for almost one year now, and has made great strides in adding information to her digital documentation system and is able to find information quickly. From what I can see, she has followed Leland's system to the letter and it is working for her.

This was an interesting talk in that it provided specific examples of how to organize your digital documents. It will be especially useful to researchers just starting out with few digital documents - they can create the system and fill it up knowing that they will be able to find their important digital documents quickly. For researchers with many linear feet of paper documents in their genealogy space, this system will work, but getting all of the paper sorted, scanned and filed will be a major time challenge. For researchers who have many document images obtained by scanning or downloading from the Internet, this system can be made to work by following the folder and file name conventions.


Randall Stross said...

I like that filing system a lot. Thanks.

Cousin Russ said...

Randy - Thank you. Three questions:

1 - How were Photo's named? Especially photo's of Individuals.

2 - In the Name format, I found it interesting that the Wife name format was First Name / Last Name.

3 - Census Records are in the Surname folder? I can see it both there or the Location folder. Wondered if there was some logic to one or the other?

I spent a bit of time looking at this, and I might work for me.

Thank you -- Russ