Tuesday’s Tip: Organizing Your Digital Photographs

When I started to revamp my digital files using Barbara Nuehring’s fantastic system, I decided to see if I could adapt it in some way to organize my digital photographs, specifically the photos of ancestors, relatives, and tombstones I’ve either scanned from printed photos or uploaded from my digital camera. I experimented with some photos that my dad recently e-mailed me of his mother taken when she was a young woman. I really liked the system I developed and so have decided to use it for all my genealogy photographs. I’ll demonstrate on my CONCIDINE photo folder–my great-grandmother’s family. Here is the way my CONCIDINE folders currently are named in my Genealogy folder in My Documents:

Click any image for an enlarged view.

You can see that I have not really organized anything in these folders. The first thing I’ll do is rename the photo folder, so that the surname in capital letters really stands out. I right-click on the folder icon and choose Rename:

Then I retype the surname in all caps:

Taking a look inside this folder shows eight photos, one of which is a duplicate. Here’s the Thumbnail view:

The List view currently doesn’t do anything to help me analyze or organize these photos:

The first thing I’m going to do is eliminate one of the photos of my great-grandparents because it’s a duplicate, and also because it’s a scanned image of a color photocopy. It used to be the only copy I had. Then my dad sent me a .jpg file, which is what you see here. This year, I actually got an original print of my own from my grandparents’ estate, and I need to scan the original into a .tif file (writing this on my To Scan list for Scanfest right now).

Right now, that photo is named “Holst, Alfred Henry & Nellie Concidine”. I am going to make a folder in which to put every photo of Nellie that I have. There are two here in CONCIDINE Photos, this one and the Higby Family Reunion photo. I know I have a couple more, but they are not digitized yet (making more notes in my To Scan list). From the toolbar menu, I choose File, then New, then Folder:

A new folder is created, and I right-click on it and chose Rename. Here it is:

To move the photo of Alfred and Nellie, I left-click on it, then hold the mouse button down while I drag the photo to the folder and then lift the button. You can see that the photo is now in the folder:

I open the folder to rename the photo file using a system I came up with adapting Ms. Nuehring’s system for digital files. I have decided to use the date, then the first and last names of each person as they appear in the photo from left to right, using the woman’s maiden name and her current married surname. I debated whether to put surnames in capitals in photo file names, and decided against it. It makes it too difficult to read, especially when there are several people in a photo. I am limiting naming individuals in photo files to about five or six people. If there are more than six people in a photograph, I’ll give it a group name and then identify the individuals in the Properties section of the file, or in a Notepad file of the same name (more on that later):

I know this photo was taken for Alfred and Nellie’s 40th anniversary, and they were married in 1905. I don’t have further information on the date, however, so I’ve added two sets of double zeros. If this photograph’s date could only be identified by a vague date, say “circa 1940,” I would list it as “1940 circa – Alfred Holst, Nellie Concidine Holst”. That way, the files will still line up in date order when I view them in List view. Naming it as “Circa 1940” or “c. 1940” would put this at the end of the list of photos, because Windows Explorer orders numbers first, and then letters. If I had any other photos of Nellie taken after this date, then the photos would be out of date order; so again, I would put the word “circa” after the date.

Now that I’ve relabeled the photo, I’ll add Properties information. This is something that will be used more for my photo files than my document files. In my document files, I only used Properties to identify the date and website in which I viewed and downloaded the document. First I right-click on the photo and choose Properties:

Next, choose the Summary tab (you won’t have a Carbonite tab unless you have this great backup system downloaded to your computer):

If you get this window instead of the one shown above, chose Simple:

Here’s where I fill in the details:

Title: 1945 00 00 – Alfred Holst, Nellie Concidine Holst
I just copy the name I’ve already given this photo.

Subject: HOLST Alfred Henry, CONCIDINE Nellie May, anniversary portrait
I write out their full names, as they appear in the photo from left to right, and add a descriptive phrase.

Author: unknown – possibly Versluis Photography – Michigan, Ottawa, Coopersville
Photographer’s name and location photo was taken come next.

Keywords: formal, anniversary, Alfred, Holst, Nellie, Concidine
I list whether the photo is formal or casual, then repeat any descriptive words I’ve used in the Subject line. I also enter first and last names only of those in the photo. I only do this with photos that don’t have a lot of people in them.

Comments: Original in the possession of Bryan Robbins, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] 2008.
Here’s where I put the contact information for the owner of the photo. I actually put the address in, instead of the “address for private use” phrase.

This photo will get copied into Alfred’s own photo folder in the HOLST Photos folder.

Things are a little different for large group photos. I can’t put that much description in any of the Properties fields, because I’m limited on the amount of text I can use. Here’s what I did for the Higby family reunion photo. I named it “1906 00 00 Higby Brothers Reunion.” Then I put in the following information in the Properties fields:

Title: 1906 00 00 – Higby Brothers Reunion
Subject: HIGBY, family reunion
Author: unknown – probably Michigan, Kent County
Keywords: casual, family reunion, Higby, Holst, Concidine, Hefner, Keeney, Dupree
Comments: See notepad file of the same name for identifying information. Original in the possession of Donna Metcalfe [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] 2005.

Note that I only used surnames in the Keywords field (no first names). Next, I created a Notepad (.txt) file and identified everyone in the photo with information I gleaned from an e-mail sent to me from the owner of the photo:

HIGBY Brothers Family Reunion
Probably taken in Kent County, Michigan

Back row, left to right:
HIGBY Lafayette C
[–?–] Anna Marie HIGBY – 2nd wife of HIGBY Lafayette C
CONCIDINE John – widower of HIGBY Anna M
HIGBY Albert
[–?–] Esther – wife of HIGBY Albert
HOLST Alfred Henry – son-in-law of CONCIDINE John
CONCIDINE Nellie May HOLST – daughter of CONCIDINE John
HEFNER Orpha HIGBY – wife of HIGBY Frank M
DUPREE Mary L HIGBY – 2nd wife of HIGBY Carey Willis
HIGBY Dorothy – daugher of HIGBY Carey Willis
HIGBY Carey Willis

Etc., etc.

Because Nellie’s father and three of her brothers appear in this family reunion photo, I make a folder for each of them and copy the photo and notepad files into each of their folders.

For gravestone photo files, I name them with the date they were photographed, which always places them at the end of the list of photos for that individual. Here are the Properties for a photo taken of the gravestone of Nellie’s father, John Dennis CONCIDINE:

Title: 2005 00 00 – Gravestone of John Dennis Concidine
Subject: CONCIDINE John Dennis, gravestone
Author: Donna Metcalfe – Michigan, Kent, Byron Twp, Winchester Cemetery
Keywords: John, Concidine, gravestone, Winchester Cemetery
Comments: Original in the possession of Donna Metcalfe, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] 2005.

Is this a perfect system? I don’t know, but it is working well for me. Here is what the inside of the CONCIDINE Photos folder now looks like:

And here is Nellie’s photo folder in Thumbnail and List views:

Everything is neat and tidy and easy to find. The keywords allow me to do a search over all my computer files and find the photographs I’m looking for. The file names ensure that I can find all the photographs for that person in one location, listed in date order. The folder names help me find all the photographs for all individuals with that surname in one location, listed in alpha order. Yes, it will take me time to rename and tag all these photos, but I can tell you that it’s making it very easy to know how to name, file, and organize the new photographs that have recently been sent my way.

I hope this inspires you to do something similar with your ancestral photographs!


Update on Tuesday’s Tip: Organizing Your Digital Files

I had a wonderful response to my post on Tuesday, and I’d like to publicly thank all who dropped by, especially those who left comments. Isn’t this system terrific? I only wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t. 🙂 I think what makes Barbara Nuehring’s organization technique so great is that it really is very simple, plus it adapts well to people’s needs and personal styles. That’s what’s great about any good filing plan: if you can’t make it work for you, then it just won’t work at all, no matter how many people rave about it!

In this post, I’d like to address a couple of comments I received, as well as some other clarifications I felt the original post needed. First of all, as with any filing system, you need to determine what it is you will keep and file–or not. For some people, they are only interested in keeping information on their direct ancestral lines. I personally keep information on many collateral lines (siblings, cousins), because I know that in order to break down brick walls, I must research “sideways” in my family tree. I haven’t kept all collateral information, however; on those lines that have been easy to research and lots of documentation has been found, I stick fairly closely to the direct ancestral information. For those brick wall lines I’ve worked hard on, I’ll keep every little tidbit of documentation wherever I can find it, since I never know which clue will break me through my obstacles.

Also, in order to streamline my physical files and folders, I’m trying to become as paperless as possible. My eventual plan is to go through all the physical files, scan what is necessary, toss what isn’t (I have lots of duplicate and irrelevant printed documents and e-mails), and place in my safety deposit box all original or difficult-to-replace papers and photographs. What all this means is that I’m going to have to really get my digital files in order, and I believe this plan will really work well for me. Of course, going digital means having an efficient and dependable backup plan, and that’s where Carbonite is my hero!

Again, the how of your naming system should fit your personal needs and taste. Some people will want punctuation of some sort (dashes, underscores, commas, periods, etc.) within the file name; others will prefer none at all. These named files will be most useful for analyzing if you have them in the List view in Windows Explorer. See the images below:

Click on the image above for a better view.

Apple brought up the very important issue of double cousins. Double cousins are children born as a result of two individuals in one family (siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews) marrying two individuals from another family. The adults who marry can be in the same generation as your ancestors or off by a generation or two (which is the case for the double cousins in both my own and my husband’s family trees). These double cousins are related to you in two family lines. Where do you file the children’s records–with their mother’s family, their father’s family, or both? My answer is to file the children with the father’s family records, because that is the surname they were born with. It’s the same premise as filing a woman’s records under her maiden last name. Again, that is what makes sense and works for me; do what works for you. I also file what records I keep for sons-, daughters-, sisters- and brothers-in-law of ancestors in the folder of the family that they marry into.

All right, now to start writing next week’s tip!

Tuesday’s Tip: Organizing Your Digital Files

Speaker Barbara Nuehring at the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society’s annual October Seminar inspired me, as she did so many others. She amazed her audience with fresh ideas for using timelines and basic principles of design for dressing up our family histories, then moved on to discuss various ways to use technology to enhance our research and organize and preserve our digital files.

I have since adopted her digital filing system, with some slight personal adaptations, and thought I would share it with my readers (hopefully not violating any of her terms of use—gosh! if you ever get a chance to hear her speak, jump at it!). Randy Seaver brought up the discussion of organizing digital information a couple of months ago, but I was unable to add my two cents’ worth until now. However, I consider this Tuesday Tip to be an overdue response to Randy’s query.

First of all, I have Windows XP as my operating system. In My Documents section of My Computer, I have created a Genealogy folder, in which resides many files containing research notes, copies of emails, digital photos, downloaded images of digitized records, uploaded images from microfilmed records, and the like. Originally, for each family surname I was researching, I had a folder for every year that I had research information, with labels such as “Ton Genealogy 2004” or “Hainline Genealogy 2000”. This was an inefficient way to file, as it made it more difficult to find what was needed. Even before I attended the October Seminar, I decided to re-organize my folders by adding a Documents and a Photo folder for each surname and planned to combine e-mails and research notes for each family into a Research folder. Today’s Tuesday Tip will focus on the Documents folders for each surname and how to label the files so that information is easy to find—and even analyze!

Ms. Nuehring suggested that each document be labeled thus (minus the semicolons):

Surname; First Name; Middle Name; Married Surname at that time, if a woman; Date of Document in year, month day order; Type of document; Location Document was Created listed in largest to smallest location

This automatically will place all your documents first in alpha order by individual and secondly in date order as they were created. Let’s look at an example of some documents of major life events of my maternal grandmother:

HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian – 1919 01 16 – Birth Record – Michigan, Kent, East Grand Rapids
HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian – 1920 – Census – Washington, Pierce, Tacoma – daughter
HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian – 1930 – Census – Michigan, Kent, Grand Rapids – daughter
HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian VALK – 1943 09 11 – Marriage Certificate – Kansas, Geary, Junction City
HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian VALK – 1946 04 26 – Divorce Record – Michigan, Kent, Grand Rapids
HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian VALK DeVRIES – 1947 10 03 – Marriage License and Certificate – Michigan, Kent, Wyoming Twp
HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian VALK DeVRIES – 2001 08 25 – Death Certificate – Michigan, Kent, Grand Rapids

By glancing through this list, I can see that everything is in date order. Both times when my grandmother was married, I added her new married surname to her current name, allowing the documents to remain in order. I can immediately see what surname she was going under for the different events in her life. At a glance, I can tell whether or not I am missing any of the records of major life events, and where she was living—or visiting–during those times. For the census records that occurred during her lifetime and are publicly available, I can tell at once that she was not the head of the household, but was a daughter in the households then. If there were some changes of residences or many major events happening during census years, I may wish to use the official Census Day date to label the census documents.

My system differs from Ms. Nuehring’s in the following ways: I use uppercase letters for surnames, I used dashes between sections of information, and I wrote out state names and used commas between location places (Ms. Nuehring uses no punctuation in her file names). I also used more descriptive terms for the documents, rather than Birth or Marriage, because in some cases, I have both birth records (from county libers) and birth certificates, or marriage licenses, certificates, and parental permissions for those getting married underage. If a document has more than one page, you may wish to end the file name with “pg 1 of 8”, etc.

For some family surnames, I have very few documents. For others, I may have hundreds for dozens of individuals. In the latter case, I’ve opted to further divide my surname Documents folder into folders by individual name. This is true for the Hoekstra family, so I have created a folder labeled “HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian” as well as others with my grandmother’s sisters’ and father’s names. Ruth’s mother, Lillian Fern Strong, has her documents and photos filed in the appropriate STRONG Documents and Photos folders. All information is filed by maiden name for the ladies. Cousins with different surnames that connect with me through our common Hoekstra ancestry also have their files stored in the HOEKSTRA folders. Also, records where a document is “shared,” such as the marriage certificates and divorce record for my grandmother are copied and re-labeled in her corresponding husbands’ folders (I’m researching both my Valk biological line and my DeVries step-family line). They would appear in their respective folders as:

VALK William – 1943 09 11 – Marriage Certificate – Kansas, Geary, Junction City
VALK William – 1946 04 26 – Divorce Record – Michigan, Kent, Grand Rapids


DeVRIES Adrian – 1947 10 03 – Marriage License and Certificate – Michigan, Kent, Wyoming Twp

These are the only kind of document files that are copied and refiled. For instance, I don’t have to file copies of every record that occurred when my grandmother was going by her Valk married name. They stay in the HOEKSTRA folder and are only copied to the VALK folder if my grandfather’s name appears on them as well. This will save hard drive room.

One other note: by right-clicking on each file I can access the Properties feature of each file image and list where and when I found the document (Ancestry or other online database; e-mailed from a cousin—listing their mailing address; copied from microfilm at the Family History Center—listing the microfilm and item number; or ordered from a repository, etc.). This then lends itself to being able to know what citation to use (and for more on this, I recommend footnoteMaven’s handy “Working with Citations” post, which I also plan on implementing).

The point of all this is that using this type of system, adapting it to fit your needs, is a very efficient way of labeling your digital files, making them easy to find when doing a Search in Windows Explorer, helping you to see what records you have or which are missing. Another thing I’ve noticed: say a distant cousin contacts you, new to genealogy, and would like copies of any records that you may have of her direct ancestors. It would be very easy to find these and either attach them singularly or place them in a zip folder and e-mail them, or copy them to CD and mail them via the postal service.

Next time, we’ll talk about labeling ancestral photos, using a similar labeling technique, followed by organizing your research notes and e-mails.

UPDATE: I’ve added some clarifications at an updated post here.