Jan 18, 2021

(+) Why We All Need to Ignore Our Old Ideas about Filing Systems

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.

Note: This article contains personal opinions.

I am fortunate that I get to travel a lot and I talk with genealogists most everywhere I go. One question I am often asked is, “How should I organize my genealogy notes in the computer?” My usual answer is: “Who cares?”

Of course, many of the genealogists who asked the question look shocked when I give that reply. Yes, I am serious. I find that many genealogists do not understand the power and ease of use available in modern computerized filing systems. This article is an attempt to clear some of the mysteries.

Most of us are old enough that we were trained to organize paper files in folders and filing cabinet drawers in some hierarchical manner. For filing papers about people, we were taught to perhaps file first by surname, and then by first and middle names. For locations, we were taught to file first by country, then by state or province, then perhaps by county, then by city or town, and lastly perhaps by street address. And so on and so on. Those systems have always worked well with paper-based files and many of us tend to use the same thought process when creating computer files. However, hierarchical filing methods often are not the best method possible with today’s technology. For instance, if you have a filing cabinet for genealogy materials and you file a note about a particular person under the surname of “Axelrod,” where do you file information about the family’s homestead in Nebraska in such a manner as you can find it again when searching for all your Nebraska ancestors? How about finding ladies in your family tree with a maiden name of “Axelrod” who then married men with other surnames? Do you file these records under the maiden name or married name? Or both? (Yes, some people create duplicate files.)

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