You’ve Scanned – Now What? More Genealogy Organization Tips

Courtesy of Google

You’ve successfully scanned all of your genealogical research and are quite proud of yourself. Definitely pat yourself on the back because you’ve accomplished a task that is mundane (as you’d rather be researching), frustrating (when the hardware glitches) and at times, confusing (should I keep the paper or should I recycle it?!).

I hate to break it to you but you aren’t done. Here are the next steps to think about:

  1. Where have you stored the scans? If the answer is on your desktop or computer hard drive then you must think of a backup location. If your computer fails your work was all in vain and you’ll really be upset if you’ve thrown away the originals. I have saved it to a Cloud and to a stand-alone hard drive. I intend to copy the files to two other stand-alone hard drives and distribute them to my adult kids. Why? If the internet goes down and I can’t access the Cloud and my hard drive isn’t working, then I can “borrow” the secondary drive from one of my kids. If this sounds paranoid to you, think again. When a tornado, hurricane, or wildfire hits there often isn’t time to take everything important to you. You may be seeking shelter in a location with minimal internet. When the world is tumbling down I sometimes retreat to my genealogy. We aren’t the only ones living in troubled times, your ancestors did also. Having a backup to a backup is sensible and may lessen your stress level. The cost is minimal for peace of mind.
  2. When do you backup? I’m thinking December holidays and Mother’s Day the kids can bring their hard drives back and one of my “gifts” is that they’ll backup their devices to mine. Remember, you’re never finished! You’ll be adding files as you continue researching so you want all your backups to reflect your newly added finds.
  3. Wouldn’t it be easier to save to a stick? Sure, if you don’t have a huge amount that is a good solution. I have stick issues. Seriously. I was cozying up in my favorite armchair with my laptop and the cat jumped up on me. As I tried to adjust the laptop with the cat on it the stick hit the side of the chair and bent. I couldn’t retrieve anything. I took it to a computer repair place and was told they couldn’t get the data, either. I tried another place, nope. So, if you don’t have cats you may be okay with a stick but for me, I only use them when I travel to give a lecture. I also tend to lose small objects. If you don’t have those problems you’re fine with saving to a stick.
  4. Help, how do I find the info I scanned? The key here is how you named your file. There are many different organizational tips so you have to find what works best for you. Many people save by date. For example, it’s a marriage certificate from 1888. With this technique, the file name would be 1888.Marriage Certificate.Samuelson Family. This method allows you to save in a timeline fashion with little need for folders. Personally, this wouldn’t work for me as I have too much stuff! I’d be scrolling down to the year and then zeroing in on the item and then the person. When I’m researching I tend to think first of searching by the individual and unfortunately, we’ve got a zillion family members named George! I made a folder for each individual by last name dot first name middle name. That helps me differentiate my same-named folks. I also use Jr. or Sr. if it’s appropriate and added a birth year and death year in a few cases. All the scans for that particular person are saved in that folder. Example: Harbaugh.George Frederick.Marriage Cert. I don’t need the date because I have timelines for my people. If you use any genealogy software (RootMagic, Legacy, etc.) or an online program (Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com) you’ve got the timeline built-in. To find an item I just need to open the folder with the person’s name and scroll down. Cloud storage often has a search bar so I can type in “marriage” and the files in that folder that contain the name marriage will magically appear.
  5. What do I do with the info that I want to save that isn’t necessarily for one individual? I created a file folder of a few surnames, such as Leininger Family. This is where I keep scans of documents that I’m not sure belong to my line or not. I also included geographic and historic info I discovered about the place where the line resided. My Leiningers emigrated to Ohio and then moved on to Indiana. If I have an article about researching in Celina, Ohio, I would save it to the family surname folder. This is my catch-all for all those hints we discover but aren’t sure if they are meaningful or not. I also have files for lecture syllabuses saved by lecture title.presenter.organization. This way I have additional research ideas to consult readily without having to dig through a mound of paper.

Next week, I’ll discuss Cloud options.

Organizing Your Genealogy Documents

Courtesy of Amazon.com

You’ve heard of Marie Kondo and Swedish Death Cleaning. You probably have participated in Spring Cleaning. If you’re like me, you never gave much thought to cleaning and organizing your genealogical treasures.

I originally set up my genealogical documents in paper file folders, all of the same, manilla flavor by surname, and filed the paperwork in a bottom desk drawer. When I first began accumulating paperwork back in the 1980s I didn’t have many pieces of paper so the system worked if I needed a quick retrieval. Those were early computer days – no cell phone and no home internet.

Life has changed dramatically tech wise since then and spilled over to genealogy. You’d think computers would have made fewer papers but I have not found that to be the case. By the mid-1990s I joined America Online and began connecting with distant kin scattered around the world. The family began snail mailing me copies of their records so my manilla file system became stuffed. I moved to color-coded file folders with everyone with the same surname getting the same color folder individualized by the first name. I moved from housing the collection in a desk drawer to a small file cabinet.

The generation older than mine began to pass and younger family members deemed me the archivist so I began to assume more documents. I’ve blogged about receiving boxes left on my doorstep and photos mailed to me. I outgrew the file cabinet and was concerned about how I was historically preserving the items.

I invested in acid-free sleeves to house the growing hoard and in hindsight, should have monetarily invested in the companies that make archival products as I bought loads of them. I moved from file folders to binders that I placed upright on a shelf in my office closet.

As the internet took off so did my collections. I began printing interesting items I discovered with the intent that one day (ah-hem) I’d look into that rabbit hole more closely. I changed emails and decided to print much genealogical-related mail I had received from family members who had passed. All of this went into the binder system.

I continued to organize by surname and then alphabetically by the first name. Women stayed with their maiden name family. This led me to have to make duplicate marriage records to house with both surnames. Ditto for divorce decrees.

I’ve blogged a great deal this year about my ongoing scanning project; I decided in January it was time to clean a closet where I housed items I obtained from my deceased father. After I scanned each photo and a diary I carefully preserved it, boxed it up and placed it in an interior storage area in my home that is high, meaning secure from floods, temperature-controlled, and as dust-free as possible. We have a humidifier and pest control so the items are as safe as possible. Sure, fire and tornadoes could occur which was why I scanned the items before packing them away.

I’m talking here about three boxes of memorabilia and four photo boxes. When I pass, my kids can pitch it all if they like; I can’t bring myself to do that.

The housed items DO NOT INCLUDE the binders. Sigh. I decided to tackle that this week. I had thought most of the contents had been scanned over the years but upon opening the first binder, discovered that wasn’t the case. My heart sunk. So many binders – so little time!

I made the decision to go through each binder this week and scan the vitals (birth/baptism/Bible entry, marriage, death/obit) for everyone that I’ve accumulated. This allows me to see what I’m missing and need to obtain. So far, it doesn’t look like I’ve missed much. After scanning, these items will then be saved in the acid-free sleeves and returned to a binder. Note: 1 binder. I have a pile of other stuff to go through. Enter Swedish death cleaning and Marie Kondo. . .

My kids will not see any value in my email correspondence from 1999 with their dad’s second cousin who they met once. Her memories are important as she is long dead so I’ll scan and attach them to my personal tree. I’ll attach it to the individual she was memorializing and the scanned email serves as the citation. The paper can be recycled. My kids won’t have to dread going through any of this. I will be able to readily find anything anytime anywhere. Except if I can’t.

I’ve mentioned my projects to my friends and they think I’m nuts, though they haven’t said it verbally. I’ve gotten eye rolls, sideways glances, and one vocal doubter of the value of the project. The doubter has validity – what, she mused, is the point if the apocalypse comes? Yes, the world is a hot mess but I’m not preparing for an apocalypse. If only there were scanners available before the Library of Cairo was sacked! My purpose is for my kids to have an easier time going through my stuff after I die. I’m organizing again so I can find items quickly while I’m on my tech. This will be helpful when I venture out into the world again to do boots-on-the-ground research. I’m also at peace knowing that I have a backup to the item in case a disaster does hit my home. Plus, I’ve got lots more space in my closet!

As several dear readers noted earlier this year – make sure if you are scanning that you save to several locations. Mine is stored in Dropbox which I can access from anywhere and will be saved to three stand-alone hard drives. I will retain one and each of my kids will get one. That way, I’m lessening the chance of the information being lost.

I have very few heirlooms and am not quite ready to turn them over to the next generation yet. I’ve put a label on the bottom of two knickknacks, a lamp, and a carved wooden box that notes who the items originally belonged. I’d like those passed along to the next generation and pairing down to so few items makes that doable.

If you are a senior or you live in a disaster-prone area of the world, take the time now to preserve your years of research. Your effort will not be lost and your future family will much appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Scanned Your Photos? Think Again!

Today’s blog is all about what I wish I had known about preserving my family photos and certificates. Hoping this will help you avoid my mistakes.

The story begins in December 2001. On the day my mom was interred, I met my stepmother to acquire items my father had left to me when he died five years earlier. Step-mother had refused for years to mail me the items even though I offered to compensate her. My emotions were raw from the burial that had to be rushed due to an impending snowstorm. Husband and I, with our two kids, then drove through our old neighborhoods to see our childhood sites. We stopped briefly to visit my beloved kindergarten teacher and then it was on to my stepmother’s home. The visit was what I had expected it to be; I soldiered on with the thought running through the back of my mind, “This will be over soon.” Hubby put the two cardboard boxes of my father’s remaining possessions in our trunk and we drove south towards home. When we had driven far out of town we stopped at a hotel for the night; I looked through the boxes quickly and discovered photograph albums, certificates, a diary, war medals, work pins, and a few toys.

Arriving home on New Year’s Eve, the items went into a closet as I knew I needed time to look through them carefully. My mindset wasn’t ready to do that.

Two years later we moved to a new city and the boxes were placed on the top shelf of a hall closet. Someday I would have time to go through them.

Fast forward to Summer 2008. Hurricanes had hit my area and we had lost a huge oak tree in our backyard. Luckily, it fell away from houses. If it had fallen 180 degrees instead onto my house, the kitchen and closet where these heirlooms were stored would have been devastated. I knew I had to scan and do it quickly.

When faced with a crisis you must prioritize and be on terms with your decision. My priority was my children so I scanned the many scrapbooks I had made for them first. Then I moved on to my maternal side’s two photo albums. Next would be my husband’s family’s photos which were in a large album. The summer was going quickly and I was left with one week before I had to return to my education job. I rushed to scan my father’s photos.

I knew I had a few more items to scan, my mom’s address book, and my dad’s World War 2 diary, but time was up.

I saved the scanned photos to DVDs, Ancestry.com, and to Google Photos. I mailed DVDs to far-flung relatives in the hope that if the originals and my DVDs were destroyed, family in other parts of the U.S. might be able to have a copy I could get back or I could still see them online.

Last Sunday, I got the brilliant idea to buy a cart that was on sale that matched our home office furniture. I intended to clean the office closet by placing stationery items in the new cart. Hubby loved it and thought it would be a good place to move our printer/scanner so we’d have more desk space. Then we decided to move the router. Of course, there were cable issues so my simple organizational strategy turned into much more than I had bargained for.

Once we got back online, the office closet had a lot of space. Hmmm, it was cold and rainy so why not move some of the items from that hall closet into the office as that’s where I keep binders of my family’s records. The hall closet is odd-shaped and tall so I had to have hubby and son get the ladder and hand me down the boxes.

I opened the first of my father’s photo albums and compared the pictures to what I had uploaded years ago to Google Photos. The pages were not there. Neither were the next five pages. I then looked on Ancestry.com and some of the missing Google Photos were on Ancestry but not all of them. I also noticed that none of the photos I had taken with my phone since July 2021 were being saved on Google Photo. What was going on?

At first, I thought maybe I had exceeded space on Google as I blogged last year about their policy change but that wasn’t it; I had plenty of space. I checked with family and friends and they said they had noticed similar gaps. One relative said she had lost a year of her pictures that had been stored on Google Photos. A friend told me she had lost photos when she changed phones and hadn’t checked the settings. I hadn’t gotten a new phone and hadn’t messed with settings; I see that there is now an “upload” button on my Android. I’m thinking this is a result of Google’s policy change in June and they no longer automatically upload. Lesson 1 – check now and upload any phone photos if you use Google Photos. It will only upload a few at a time so be patient.

But what about the missing pages that I had scanned in 2008? I know I didn’t miss scanning all of those pages as some are on Ancestry.com. Lesson 2 – save somewhere where you alone control what’s added. I am now additionally saving to Dropbox.

Last week, I decided to create albums on Google Photos to help me quickly recheck all of my uploaded pictures to the hard copies I have on hand. That took a few days. Meanwhile, my office is now filled with items I have yet to double-check. Lesson 3 – once you scan and upload to where you are going to save, double-check to make sure that the item scanned clearly and was saved where you want it.

This adventure had not been fun; it is boring to have to double-check everything. I can’t stress enough how important it is, though. This time around I’m also scanning the covers of the albums and the inside pages as I have discovered notes my father left there. Lesson 4 – Those written words are as important as the photos contained in the album. It lets me know about his thoughts and feelings.

I decided to save my photos in Dropbox in a different way than Google Photos. Google saves by the date they were uploaded, regardless of the year the photo was taken. In Dropbox, I’m saving by surname.first name.item description. I copy the photos into a Word document so I’m able to include additional information. I’ve typed who the photos belonged to, how I acquired them, the size of the album, its condition, the number of pages, etc. For the few albums that identified the people, I typed under the photo a transcription. Lesson 5 – what’s nice about this is you can use the find (control + F key) to locate an item quickly. That’s how I discovered the picture above. My father had simply written “grandpa” under the photo.

It is not my grandpa; it’s my father’s grandpa meaning it is my great-grandpa, Theobald Leininger. I only had one picture of him, given to me by a distant family member. It was an awful photo – he is on the end of a group picture and mostly cut off but I was happy to have it. Lesson 6 – if I had only rechecked my photo album and thought about the captions from my father’s viewpoint and not my own I would have realized I had this photo for 20 years.

Since the weather outside remains frightful, I’m going to be spending whatever time it takes to get these items all scanned and saved. Trust me, the hardest part is getting started. I have one box completely done. Seeing my progress motivates me to move forward. Perhaps soon, my office will be clean and neat and I can go back to more “fun” genealogy tasks.