An easy way to get started with digital organization

If you want to save your digital files, photos, and documents in one convenient place, Family Tree Maker 2012 is the perfect place to start.  With FTM 2012, your ancestral data, photos, documents, sources, and notes can all be uploaded to one location and linked to the relevant person for ease of use. If you tend to be someone who can’t remember where you store things, this is a perfect solution. If you are a person who forgets to back up files (or never does), syncing your tree to Ancestry might be a great solution to the possible loss of all of your valuable data. FTM 2012 allows syncing of your tree to Ancestry with the click of a button. And you can still leave your tree set as “private and searchable” or “private and not searchable”.

Because files tend to get misplaced and digital files can be corrupted or lost, it’s important to develop a naming convention, stick to it, and make multiple backups. There are many experts who will try to convince you that you need color coding, multiple files and subfiles, or an elaborate system to keep track of documents, but I think sometimes that system is overwhelming. If you feel overwhelmed, most people will default back to not organizing at all.

You might have originals stored on your computer in a multitude of places. Sometimes you have picture folders by name or date, documents in “My Documents”, and so on. I don’t think you need to revamp your entire world and move all sorts of things. Just make a copy of what you are attaching to FTM and file it like this…

So here is an easy tip for your ancestry information… organize photos, documents, pdfs, and other scraps of digital information into two folders. One folder is “Attached to Family Tree Maker”. The other folder is “Waiting to Attach to Family Tree Maker”.  In my folder “Attached to Family Tree Maker”, I have a copy of all of the scraps related to individuals and families. In my other folder, “Waiting to Attach to Family Tree Maker”, I have the following:

  • all of the things that I have found that are most likely part of my family, but I haven’t proven it yet AND
  • documents that apply to many people in my tree, but they need further study AND
  • photos with no names or just a surname AND
  • items that need attached, but I didn’t have time to attach them yet.

I use a very simple naming convention for all of the digital files that I have.

year_full name_identifier_location.file type

for example:

1958_john wesley reed_graduation from high school_greenville darke ohio.jpg

1940_april adeline todd_birth certificate.pdf

mary ann calderwood reed_headstone_greenville cemetery.tiff

I use all lower cases. I try to include full names with maiden names. It makes the search easier if I cannot find one. And to have ONE folder with a running list of names, it is so much easier to locate information rather than remembering a complex filing system.