I had an interesting question yesterday from someone in one of the classes I taught, about how I organized my genealogy. It is "interesting" because people assume that there is a "way" to organize and seem to be looking for something better than they presently use. Now, if your idea of organization includes physical file folders or anything with color coding, please stop here and read no more. My method of organization is the antithesis of numbers, color coding or anything remotely resembling cute or decorator.
I can explain my organizational methodology in one word: METADATA. My rule is simple, I don't do any work the computer can do. So you might look at my piles and boxes of documents and decide that my organization is also the antithesis of organization. But the key is the I have, or I am in the process of scanning (digitizing) every single piece of paper I have piled in boxes. Then through naming the files and adding descriptions through metadata, or data attached to the files, I use the computer to sort through and find anything.
I do have to mention that I use Apple computers. They have a very good search function that will find anything on your computer in a matter of seconds. If I were consigned to using Windows based computers, I would not be so enthusiastic about metadata because the Windows search engine is painful to use. It may work, but in my opinion, it is not elegant.
OK, so let's suppose I have a photograph of some ancestor. When I scan the photo, I add a descriptive name that gives the image a first level of organization. This does not mean that I put it in a folder or try to copy a physical file system on my computer, I simply add the data to the image and let the computer find it for me. I put all my genealogy images in one folder on my hard drive called Images for All Programs. Then I use the genealogy programs to attach the images to the individuals they pertain to. This goes for scanned images as well as photographs. Why would I spend my time creating a paper filing system when I have paid good money for good programs that do it all for me. Once the photos or documents are marked with metadata and attached to individuals and events in my programs, it takes very little time to find any particular photo or document.
What do I do with the piles of paper? They remain stored in the boxes they came in to a large extent. Only extremely rarely do I have to try to find a paper document.
So how do I add metadata? Through Google Picasa's tags or directly with Photoshop Elements, Photoshop, Light Room, Adobe Bridge or similar programs.
That's it, that is my organization system.