Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Easy Access to Electronic Files

I've been talking a lot this year about getting organized both for my papers and my electronic files. I've been making some great progress but I've got a long way to go.

One of the issues challenging me is easy access to electronic files. I'm not talking here about organizational structure.  It's more specific than that. A large part of the work I do is researching old houses as a house historian. As a result I end up with a lot of copies of deeds.  Typically, depending on the age of the house, I could have 30 - 50 individual pages of deeds per house.

I would like to be able to access these deeds easier than just having them as electronic files. For my cemetery transcription project I have an excel file that contains all the data I collect and then hyperlinks to the individual photos.  That makes it really easy for me to sort by my criteria of choice and still quickly access the photos.

Another idea I have been considering is to set up a personal wiki. Using Wikipedia is just so easy that I was thinking the format would be nice to setup for both work and home items that I want to keep track of. With a personal wiki I would be able to write the history of the house, share photos and easily access the digital copies of the deeds through hyperlinks. I like this idea because I can incorporate all types of media in one location. I'm just not sure how easy it would be to set up and run. I have "technical awareness" but I'm not a technical person. I wasn't able to set up the TNG software on my own so I wonder if I would realistically be able to do this.

The last option I have (that I know of) is to use photo organizing software like Adobe Elements and simply tag the photos. My experience with photo tagging however tells me that it is better to keep the tags at the broad level. Tagging at the project level (for each house) might get overwhelming and prove too unwieldy to maintain.

My next step will be to research personal wikis to see if that is a realistic option for me. Luckily Wikipedia has a great page on personal wikis to get me started.  If the personal wiki option doesn't work out for then I will have to choose between Excel and Adobe Elements.  One final consideration is how easily transferred will my software choice be to conversion to future software.

Let me know if any of you have thought along these lines or found any solutions to this problem. I can't wait to have my deeds easily accessible at the click of a button!


  1. Marian, one of the reasons I went to the dark side (uh, moved to Mac) was to use the Mac only software DevonthinkPro for my archive of family correspondence. It allows you to create an iTunes like library of documents, photos, PDFs.... Anything. And text can be OCR searchable. DTP also offers a kind of artificial intelligence that aids in making connections between items.

    If you ever switch to Mac, I strongly recommend DT thir organizing documents. Good luck with yr project.

  2. Terry JednaszewskiMarch 21, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    Marian, look at FileCenter at It's one of the few Windows programs that I still use after switching to Mac a couple of years ago. There's a free trial download on the site.

  3. What about something like Evernote or OneNote? Everything would be in one place and you could also save it to the cloud, have it on your phone, etc.

    1. Marian & Elyse - I use Evernote for many similar purposes - both at work and for genealogy. It allows for the attachments (such as deeds) as well as the associated narrative all in one place.

  4. I created a personal wiki for my research. It wasn't that hard to set up. Your hosting account does need to create a MySQL database and it uses PHP to run the site., the app that drives Wikipedia, manages the install fairly well. I seem to remember one glitch but it didn't stop me for long.

    I strongly recommend installing an HTML editor, like CK Editor, or you have to learn the wiki-code to format headings, etc if you are not technical.

    It's very flexible because all pages are just organizes by the links you create between pages, usually starting at the home page, and links to files that you upload.

    You will also want to lock down editing and registration so you control who can make changes.


    1. Also, depending on your web host, they may have a "1-click" type install for MediaWiki. This allows you to not have to worry about the install or updating as it's done automatically. I know my host, Dreamhost, has this, but I assume others do, too.

  5. Chuck CourtwrightMarch 21, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    Marian, I'm using Adobe Lightroom3 and Evernote. I like Lightroom better than Adobe Elements. Yes, the 'tagging' gets a little troublesome, but having everything in one place is awesome.

  6. Marian,

    For my Syrjala/Finnish family I use Tiddlywiki which saves all the text in a single file but if you link to photos, they are separate files.

    Lots of info available to get you started. If you have any questions, let me know via my G+ page where I have an email button.

    Cheers, Ray

  7. I like Microsoft's OneNote for its ability to contain different types of data: rich text, links, screen shots, etc. It's a great way to record notes and organize research.

    Adobe's Photoshop Elements (PSE) is an image editor and organizer. I use PSE's tags for general topics, and the Notes field for specific info, e.g. search for a "Deed" tag and for a Note that contains "Nathan Brown" to retrieve all of Nathan's deed images.

    It sort of sounds like you'd like both kinds of applications: a nice wrapper to organize your research, and a way to easily retrieve images.

    1. Adobe Elements is such a poor choice for 'tagging' because they split the options between the Organizer and the Editor. You can add tags and 'notes' in the Organizer but all the rest of it can only be added or viewed one image at a time in the Editor. Huge nuisance.

      You could, however, use it for creating 'collections' - say, one per house. I recently wrote a review of this software and it's not a positive one. I'm just saying.

      For instance, (using other annotation software, Photo Mechanic and GeoSetter) I have all census records tagged using the word 'census'. I also put the address of each census record into the location fields. If I want to look up all census records in a particular county, town or township I can easily do that.

      The more information you can embed directly into your images, the more you're able to find what you want. Between all the available fields I use; caption, keywords, locations, GPS, copyright, source, etc I can narrow down anything I want to find quickly.