Cleaning up files

“Review and clean paper & digital files for at least 2 direct ancestors and their siblings.” One of my 2021 genealogy goals. What do I mean by “review and clean”? In this post, I tell you what I am doing, step by step.

Overall, I hope to have a consistent paper trail for each family/person. The paper trail also has a digital component which I describe later in this post.  In my very first blog post (April 2017), I listed paper forms for each person’s file.   I bought colored file folders – blue for Dad, teal for Mom, green for Father-in-law and red for Mother-in-law.

PAPER FILES. STEP 1: REVIEW

 Does the file have these forms? Is each form filled in as completely as possible?  Is each form dated? Taken together, these pages represent a concise summary of what I know at this time.  The forms that I use are:  

5- generation pedigree.  Created from home person (father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in law) for each tree from RootsMagic.  Placed as first page in each file with specific generation circled in red. Reason:  rapid identification of where this family fits

NOTE: There are multiple versions of these forms. These are the ones that I chose:

  1. Family Group Sheet: National Archives & Records Administration (NARA).  2- page (or front and back) form with space for 15 children.  Limitation:  No designated space to add compiler & date compiled.  I add this information at the bottom of the sheet.
  2. Individual worksheet. Midwest Genealogy Center, Mid-Continent Public Library System, Missouri.  Fillable PDF. Add compiler name & date.   
  3. Research checklist.    Midwest Genealogy Center,Mid-Continent Public Library System, Missouri . Fillable PDF. Add compiler name and date. 
  4. Biographical outline:  Excerpted from The Unpuzzling Your Past Workbook, copyright 1996 by Emily Anne Croom, Betterway Books, a division of F&W publications, Cincinnati, Ohio.  HINT: Check your local library for a copy of this book. Add compiler name & date.
  5. Research Log (as available):  Thomas MacAntee’s format. Fill in as I clean-up digital files; handwritten research notes on yellow paper.

Additional pages in a paper file may include but are not limited to census records, copies of certificates, copy of newspaper obituary, correspondence with other researchers, etc.

PAPER FILES. STEP 2: CLEAN UP.

  • Place documents in chronological order.
  • Remove duplicate copies. Shred or recycle excess paper.
  • Place original documents and photos in archival quality sleeves then in appropriate notebook. Scan document or photo to computer or Cloud as digital items.
  • Make a list of gaps and BSO (bright shiny object) items for later follow-up. 

For me, digital file review and cleanup began after choosing a genealogy software program and entering information to that program. However, you may already have digital files such as pictures and documents on your computer. In this post, I only address media type digital files. File structure for all of your digital  genealogy files is beyond the scope of today’s post.

DIGITAL / MEDIA FILES. STEP 1. REVIEW.

  • Compare paper and digital files. Do you have the same information in both files? Example: 1940 census record for grandfather. Copy of index record in paper file; image copy of original record in digital file.
  • Look at labels attached to media. You may have multiple media labelled as “1940 United States Federal Census(5).”
  • Locate all media files for a specific person or family group.

DIGITAL / MEDIA FILES. STEP 2. CLEAN-UP

Using standardized citations to acknowledge  sources is one part of digital file clean-up.  Another part standardizes naming conventions for media files. 

  1. Pick location for media files associated with a specific person or family group. As you rename media files, move the renamed files to this location.  (Hint: you may need to relink media files in your genealogy software program).
  2. Determine naming convention for media. Use the same format consistently. In general, I use these models: 
    •  Census records: Year_ type_place_state_family or person names
    • Individual records (BMD, burial, military, etc.): surname_given name_birthyear_deathyear_event_eventdate. 
  3. Adopt source citation model commonly used by genealogists. Consult these sources:
  4. Rename source citations and media as needed.
  5. Delete duplicate entries for the same fact or event.
  6. Back up digital files at end of each work session.

  Here’s some examples from my family trees:

As I encounter new information, I add to both paper and digital files. My genealogy program workflow looks like this:

  • Enter event information to RootsMagic. Note if inconsistent or unproven and reason why. Add discovery date.
  • Create source citation using templates.
  • Name source and media using standardized naming convention.
  • Make digital copy of original documents or rename digital media. Attach digital media to event and citation.
  • Transcribe information from source.
  • Create digital research log using format of choice. Print one copy for paper files.
  • Back up digital file at end of each work session.

Seem like lots of work? Well, yes, right now. But, I will leave both paper and digital files in formats that will, I hope, seem logical to my descendants. Writing this blog keeps me focused.   I remind myself – one record, one person, one family at a time! 

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots blog, 2021

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