Saturday, January 17, 2015

Dinosaur, Notes, and File Names - Genealogy Do-Over / Do-Better

I'm a dinosaur, technologically speaking.  I love paper and pencils and pens.  I love notebooks and tablets with spiral bindings, and real books with paper pages and hard covers.  I love the printed word and the smell of books.  (Open that new book, stick your nose in and breathe deeply.  What's not to love?)  I love all things relating to office supplies, especially if they're paper.  I don't believe I could live in a world without paper.

When researching my ancestors I make notes on paper.  Until recently my notes could be found in a notebook, on a research log on my computer, and/or on small pieces of paper about 4" by 6", all stacked neatly near my computer.  All easily forgotten and hard to find, especially three weeks later and at the very moment when I remembered that I needed that piece of information.  I've reformed.  I'm using only a spiral notebook.

My reformation continues.  I downloaded Evernote and am beginning to use it.  If I can use it the way I imagine, it may be the best thing I've ever done for my family history research.  (I say may because I haven't used it enough yet to tell.)  Being able to keep all notes in one place and search by word to find a note will be a great research aid:  help for my aging brain.

Other Genea-bloggers have mentioned Evernote but an article by Thomas Houston at "The Verge at work:  backing up your brain.  How I use Evernote as a memory tool for deep reading, writing, and research", was the one that persuaded me to try Evernote.  It is a detailed, encouraging, and informative post in which Houston explains several ways to use Evernote and how it helps him.

File Names
I think I'm in control of the storage system for my WordPerfect documents but the naming system for my image files is out of control.  About 8 years ago I learned about scanning photos and downloading online images.  The person who showed me how to do these things assumed I knew more about computers that I did.  He recommended one way to name the files but I discovered that it didn't really work for me.  Over time, I've added a variety of naming patterns: 
  • 1870 U.S. Census Pennsylvania Mercer Fairview Doyle William
  • 1870 US Census, Pennsylvania, Mercer, Fairview, DoyleWilliam
  • Doyle William 1870 U.S. Census, Pennsylvania, Mercer, Fairview
  • Doyle-William-1870 U.S. Census, PA, Mercer, Fairview
  • Doyle Lee school photo about 1927
  • Doyle, Lee - school photo - about 1927
  • Doyle-Lee-School-Photo-about-1927
  • Doyle-Lee-SchoolPhotoAbout1927
  • Doyle-Lee-SchoolPhoto-abt1927
  • DoyleLee-school photo-about1927
  • DoyleLeeSchoolPhotoAbt1927

You get the idea.  If there isn't uniformity there isn't a system.  I'm currently researching ways to name files.  I think surname first, given name, document identification, with the date in there somewhere is how I'd like to do it.  I have yet to decide how much information to include in the file name, and whether to use spaces, no spaces, or underlines between words is still up for consideration.  Newspaper articles are a little more difficult.  Two obituaries for the same person without naming the newspaper could be very confusing.  I'll have to think about this a little longer. 

Some recommendations from online searches about naming images:
  • avoid leaving spaces in the name
  • use all lower case (because some systems are case-sensitive) 
  • use only letters, numbers, hyphens, and underlines
  • if using a date record it as YYYYMMDD, using four digits for the year and two for month and day

As I continue to evaluate which system will work best for me I'll begin making changes to my image naming format.  With all the photos I have it could take a while . . . .

These are my Genealogy Do-Better efforts for the week.  I hope the dinosaur in me can return to its rightful place in pre-history and let me make progress in the here and now.

Read what others are doing for the Genealogy Do-Over at Genealogy Do-Over at bagtheweb.


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. My genealogy files are divided into folders by family surname. Some of the families have sub-folders assigned to an individual. Then my images fall into the appropriate folders. I have no trouble locating an image when I want it, but I could do better in naming them.

    1. Hi, Wendy. Mine are divided into surname folders, too. I can't imagine doing it any other way. My image files are by surname, some divided further by family/individual. I don't mix my document files and my image files. They are separate. I think most people use a "My Documents" folder. I have one but for most purposes, it doesn't work for me. I open WordPerfect if I'm writing something; open images if I want a photo. It's the consistency in naming that I'm working toward.

  2. It's important to think through our processes every so often and look for ways we can improve our organization.

    I do organize most photos as Wendy says. When a photo is in the appropriate folder, I then name it year first then month then last name first name.

    I keep my documents in an entirely separate photo and their file names are last name first name and then year if needed. I'll also use and abbreviation such as DC for Death Certificate or MC for marriage certificate. I have stopped downloading Census records and other items that are accessible at I know there is a lot of debate over whether that's good policy. However, I think downloading something that is easily accessible elsewhere wastes my time and computer space. I stick to saving what is essential to my research.

    Also I hope Evernote works out for you. I was excited when I first started using it, but I haven't found it to be as useful as I had envisioned. I'd much rather keep my research organized with a Genealogy Program such as RootsMagic and call it good. There are ToDo Lists and Research Logs and other tools in the program. For me, that makes so much more sense than five different programs for things.

    Best wishes on your reorganization system.

    1. Hi, Devon. It's interesting how individual we are when it comes to what works for us and what doesn't. Like you, I have a separate system for documents and for images. With images, I know I like the surname first and because most of my photos are undated, adding a date would be difficult. But with document images, I do add the date, especially birth, marriage, death, census records, etc.

      When I first began family history, Ancestry was free at the Family History Centers, and FamilySearch's online collection was small. At the time I questioned the need to make digital copies of images I found online. The FHC director said, "Things may change and what's free now may not be free in the future. Make copies." So I have. I'm glad to have them on my computer because then I don't have to search for them again.

      I use RootsMagic, too, but I need to become much more familiar with it and use more of its tools. Evernote is still too new to know how it will work. I just thought it might be better than all the pieces of paper laying around and hoped its search capability might be helpful. The verdict is still out.

      Thanks so much for sharing your methods and systems, Devon. I'm always happy to learn how others do things because I find new and helpful ideas.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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