Lessons in Naming Digital Files

How quickly can you retrieve a genealogy file from your computer? Could you find a specific document in 20 seconds or less? In two minutes? Still looking?

I fluctuate between “20 seconds or less” and “still looking”. Too often the file I seek is named incorrectly or worse yet, not named at all.

Unnamed files make retrieval next to impossible and in this instance made the files nearly useless.

Unnamed files make retrieval next to impossible and in this instance made the files nearly useless.

I’m on a mission to reduce the loose images stored in my digital family tree folder by 25%.

When I opened the folder this morning, scans 19-24 caught my attention right away. Not just because the documents looked interesting, but because the file names were so…useless. Closer inspection revealed the images were pages I had scanned from Tri-City/St. Charles [Illinois] City Directories that included my Swansons.

I know this because on scans 20-24, several Swanson names are highlighted.

What I don’t know are the years the city directories were published.

Not to worry, I have a three-ring binder full of alphabetically and chronologically arranged pages from various city directories. Surely the hard copies of these scanned images would be there.

But as luck would have it, none of the pages in my three-ring binder matched Scans 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 or 24. Hmm.

Next I checked the manila folders in my Tolf files. This seemed a promising place to look because the Lena who appears with Peter Swanson in Scans 22-24 was formerly a Tolf. But as it turned out, not one of the pieces of paper in my Tolf folders matched any of the city directory pages in Scans 19-24.

Arrggh! I took a deep breath and considered my options. The easiest path would be to delete the six images and forget I had ever seen them. After all, the Swansons are a collateral line I may never again pursue…or will I? I found these pages during a genealogy road trip years ago. Who knows if/when I’ll visit that repository again? It would be a shame to have wasted my time and effort.

Decision made. I renamed the images:

  • Scan 19 became TriCity Directory – St Charles City Directory pgs 372-373 Stover-Taube date unknown
  • Scan 20 became TriCity Directory – St Charles City Directory pgs 340-341 Standard-Swantson date unknown
  • Scan 21 became TriCity Directory – St Charles City Directory pgs 320-321 Starr-Swirski date unknown
  • Scan 22 became TriCity Directory – St Charles City Directory pgs 314-315 Swanson-Tucker date unknown
  • Scan 23 became TriCity Directory – St Charles City Directory pgs 262-263 Swaby-Tucker date unknown
  • Scan 24 became TriCity Directory – St Charles City Directory pgs 236-237 Stewart-Tyler date unknown

2016-10-03-naming-genealogy-files-02My new file names were then copied and pasted into the notes section of each of my Swansons.

And the files themselves?

One copy of each is now in Dropbox>Family Tree>People>Tolf>TOLF – 1824 Carl [Lena’s father]>TOLF – 1855 Carolina Fredika.

A second copy is in Dropbox>Family Tree>Places>Illinois

Oh my goodness, I feel so much better! The next group of images should go more quickly because I won’t waste as much time berating myself for not doing this sooner. I’ll just keep reminding myself we all made mistakes as newbies and some of those mistakes take time to clean up.

Have you thought about improving your digital filing system during this Family History Month?

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4 thoughts on “Lessons in Naming Digital Files

  1. This is such an important lesson. I dread to think what I will find. I now try to save all documents with the relevant name and date, e.g., John Smith 1880 US census or Jane Doe and James Roe marriage certificate. Do you think that is sufficient? I also place all files into folders for the relevant family line, sometimes creating subfolders and sub-subfolders. But I still worry about finding it a mess someday. Or losing them all despite saving to every location I can think of.

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