Computer Tricks 3 – Naming Electronic Files

Like most genealogists, I love details. They work for me; meaning, I put them to work! I find, rearrange, and analyze details to help solve some of the most challenging research problems. I also use this affinity for details to get my computer to work for me. I enjoy finding new ways to teach my computer tricks; to make it streamline my genealogy work. I like to work quickly, effectively and efficiently.

One of the goals I had when I began electronically filing my research findings and images was to create a sound and consistent way to name genealogy files so that:

  • I can easily find them again
  • their names automatically sort the files in a meaningful way
  • it doesn’t matter how many times the females in my ancestry married or remarried, the file names remained the same.

I did it!

After a few incarnations, this is what I settled on. This is how I name my electronic files:

[surname (or) maiden surname][first name][middle name][birthyear][date of event or date document created][event or document name]

Example: I have scanned the death certificate of Jane (Mintus)(Jones) Handel born 1876 and died 1941 and I want to save it with all the criteria above.

  • Mintus Jane b1876 1941 Death.jpg

Example: I need to name a scanned marriage certificate for Jane (Mintus) Jones born 1876 married 1896.

  • Mintus Jane b1876 1896 Marriage.jpg

Example: Autobiography dated 1932 of Jane (Mintus)(Jones) Handel born 1876 and died 1941.

  • Mintus Jane b1876 1932 Biography.jpg

Example: Samuel Jones’s marriage in 1915. He was born 1875.

  • Jones Samuel b1875 1915 Marriage.jpg

In the three electronic files, above, they will end up automatically sorted by the operating system alphabetically by name and then chronologically by date of birth and then chronologically again by date of event. The sorted list will be filed in your computer like this:

  • Jones Samuel b1875 1915 Marriage.jpg
  • Mintus Jane b1876 1896 Marriage.jpg
  • Mintus Jane b1876 1932 Biography.doc
  • Mintus Jane b1876 1941 Death.jpg

Isn’t this cool? The filing work for all the electronic files is all done instantly by your computer … and it is just based on what you name your electronic files! With a consistent naming system (even if you re-invent some variation of this) you’ll be able to find your electronic files quickly and easily.

Start organizing! :)

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Reader Comments

I’ve bookmarked and returned to this page several times, as I struggle with this same problem. This is among the closest I’ve found to a useful idea for me as I rethink it all. For more than a decade I’ve tried many naming conventions and variations for what have become thousands of images and files. A scanned image often lands in a half-dozen places besides my family history file, in several croppings, resolutions, and states of digital improvement. Over time the same image can have many filenames, and I have wasted cumulative hours, if not days, trying to locate and identify the best version of perhaps slightly different images shot at the same time. Often I create yet another version from an original. My family images are associated with a text file with full description, provenance and identifications. Documents also get a transcription and a pdf. I’ve tried to work with metadata to differentiate versions, but entering and maintaining it is cumbersome and uncompressed formats don’t carry it. A clear file name is required to associate and reference all these related data. THAT SAID – your scheme has promise, particularly for documents and some photos – group photos might be a challenge. I like the rationale of your system, beginning with surname and including birth year – followed by date and subject. I’m looking for ways to adapt this for my needs, but I suspect you came up on a Mac without the old Intel filename restrictions. I would find more than a 30-character filename cumbersome, requiring side-scrolling in lists, and perhaps error-prone. A numbering scheme, preferred by more impersonal researchers, is much clearer and shorter but not user-friendly. So, now I’m moving toward conventionalizing on a filename with: a 4- or 5-character consistent surname abbreviation with unique initials – birthdate (if known) – document date (if known) – document nature abbreviation – version abbreviation (including resolution). And I’ll try to get it all under 20 or so characters. Now I just have to figure out how (or whether) to migrate to it.
Thanks for sharing your methods.

Thanks for the post Natalie, just what I was looking for. I’ve been researching my family history for the past four years using The Master Genealogist, but the media capabilities of TMG are awful, so I’ve never spent time in this area. I’ve just purchased FTM 2012 with the awesome TreeSync feature, and now I’d really like to nail the naming and storage of my images. Your post really makes sense to me, and I know it’s two years old, but how do you go about naming group images?


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