Monday, October 22, 2012

My Ancestor Family File Folders and File Naming Convention

One of the challenges of having a lot of ancestors and a lot of digitized documents and photographs is organizing all of this "stuff" in a file system, whether digital or paper.  This post is about my digital collections.

I decided about two years ago to try to put as much of my digital material as possible in a consistent and coherent file folder system.  Since then, I've gradually been:

1)  Adding the digitized document and photograph files to the organized file folder system

2)  Using a consistent file naming convention to enable grouping of records for each person.

Here are images and details about my file folder system:

1)  In My Documents > Genealogy file folder, I have six different file folders:

*  Ancestor Files - documents relating to my ancestral families
*  Books and Reports - correspondence, reports and books pertaining to my research
*  Localities - documents relating to towns, counties, states and countries pertaining to my research
*  Software - my genealogy software program files (each program has a file folder and sub-folders)
*  Surnames - material that I've collected pertaining to specific surnames - I'm gradually copying these into the Ancestor Files file folder.
*  Talks - material for my genealogy presentations and classes

2)  I clicked on the "Ancestor Files" file folder and saw this list:

There are different file folders in the screen above for:

*  Family History - Carringer-Smith-Auble-Kemp -- these files are for my mother's ancestral families
*  Family History - Leland-McKnew -- these files are for my wife's ancestral families
*  Family History - Seaver-Hildreth-Richmond-White  -- these files are for my father's ancestral families
*  Master Lists - these are lists I use to stay organized and informed about my research
*  Tests -- this contains temporary files that I do tests with on websites, software, etc.
*  To be filed -- this contains files that I have saved from repositories and scans, but have not added to my database or used the naming convention system

3)  The Family Surname Collection - here is a screen showing the Carringer-Smith-Auble Kemp families (great-grandparent surnames):

A file folder for any surname in my mother's ancestry can be added to the list above.  I am still adding them!

4)  I clicked on the Carringer surname and the list below shows the file folders:

The screen above shows my 6 ancestral Carringer families (including an "earlier" folder).

I save information by ancestral families, meaning father and mother of my ancestor.  I use the generation number (starting with 01 for the latest generation of that surname) and the first and last names of the couple.  Because I numbered them by generations, they fall in a natural order in the Folder list.  This way I can usually quickly figure out which file folder to choose.

If one or both persons in a couple have another family, I would probably add another folder here with a name that reflect the generation back and the names of the couple.  for example, if Austin Carringer had another marriage, I would have a 02-Austin Carringer+What's Hername file folder.  I haven't had to do this much.

I have other folders on the list above for:

*  Correspondence - scanned letters, saved email, saved Ancestry messages, etc. about this surname.
*  Master Lists - lists for the surname - e.g., SSDI lists
*  Other Carringer Families - information about non-ancestral Carringer families
*  Surname genealogy reports
*  Web pages with information about the surname
*  I sometimes add a file folder here for a specific collection - the example above is the Della (Smith) Carringer scrapbook.

5)  I clicked on the 01-Lyle Carringer+Emily Auble file folder, and saw:

In general, I have these three file folders in the specific family file folder.  They are:

*  Documents -- Digital images of documents
*  Genealogy Reports - Digital reports and charts for the specific family
*  Photographs - Photographs of the specific family.

6)  In the Documents file folder are files for each person in the family unit.  I keep documents of the children of the parents in their parents file folder until the first marry.  If they never marry, their documents are in their parents file.

I use a file folder naming convention consisting of Name (GivenMILast), Date, Record type, Other Info as shown below:

7)  The Genealogy Reports for the specific family looks like this:

Most of the reports and charts in this file were created by my genealogy software programs.  I can up date them any time that I need to, and I know where to find them.

8)  The Photographs file folder has scanned digital images from my photograph collection.  I try to use the file naming convention here also, replacing the . Record Type with a Place indicator:

In the photograph file names, I add names of other persons in the photo, and a subject, in the photo at the end of the file name.

I have some inconsistencies in these file folders, and between file folders, as astute observers will see in the images above.  However, I cannot change the file names or the file folder names because I have many digital files already linked in my genealogy software program.  So I live with the inconsistencies.

This file folder system works pretty well for me.  The benefits are:

*  The file folder structure is consistent - I know that the system for Seaver will be the same as for Carringer.

*  I know where to find the records for a specific surname, specific families of that surname, and a specific person and can navigate to them quickly

*  Flexibility to add surnames, families and persons as needed.

*  All digital files added as Media to my genealogy program are from this system.

The only drawbacks I've found are:

*  Sometimes takes me 10 seconds to get to the digitized record I want in the organized file.

*  I don't have "everything" in the files yet.

*  I need to copy the contents of these files to my laptop computer using a flash drive whenever I change or add digital records to the system.  There are way too many file folders and digital files in this system to use a free cloud storage system.

Note that I also have a second major Genealogy-2 for other genealogy material - including Clients, Correspondence, Education, Forms, Funnies, Societies and Websites.  I separated these out because I couldn't get everything on one 16-gigabyte flash drive!

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver

Updated 8 p.m. to correct minor errors and add several sentences.


Lee Drew said...

Great article Randy. If folks follow your method of naming and filing their lives will be 'so much simpler' as they use and search for their records in the future.

I use a similar system but name records by surname first name middle name so they automatically sort by surname saving me from needing to remember the first name of a person to start the search.

Elyse said...

I love that you added the numbered generations to your file folder names! I've never thought of doing that before.

Anonymous said...

Elyse is right, adding the generation to the beginning if the file folder name, to sort them in order from most recent to farthest back, is really clever.

Jackie Corrigan said...

I have a similar system, only with fewer folders. For example, I have one folder with my father's surname. Within that folder, all documents and pictures relating to his ancestors are named this way "Smith Tom b1880 marriage1907". No matter what I am looking for, the files are sorted with all items relating to that person in one place."

anitab said...

Thank you so much for sharing this information with us! I am a Mac user, and have just recently begun using a genealogy file and folder organization system for Mac, from Genealogy Tools; your post has given me some more ideas that coordinate beautifully with what I've just begun doing!

Lisa S. Gorrell said...

Great post, Randy. My system is very close to yours. However I numbered my generations in the opposite order and then when I found an ancestor further back I had no more numbers to use except 00! I think I will reverse the numbering like you did and then I have room for more generations. I didn't see any census records under Betty Carringer. How do you handle records with multiple people in them?

J. Paul Hawthorne said...

Great post. I agree with lineagekeeper and Elyse. I have a question, what do you do with all the cousins from each generation. Let's say you have documents, headstone pictures, etc. for Henry Carringer & Sarah Feather's other children, and then their children. Do you make a folder "Other children"?

Nancy said...

This was a very helpful post, Randy. Thank you. My system for photos is somewhat similar to yours but yours is more streamlined -- and I think I will adopt it. I think it will make things simpler for me.

Do you file women's photos (and documents) under their married or maiden names? Maiden names before marriage, married names after? Or...?

When you have a family group photo in which there are people with several surnames, how do you save it? Do you have a system for including the names of all the people in the photo?

Thanks again for sharing your system. I'm grateful.

jay at 1familytree said...

I have gone to the simplest possible format.
For all my items they are named
or in some cases

The item tells me both what it is and where it is.
My items are;

The item is also the name of the folder directory under the main folder i call genealogy

so you will find all my obits in

all my familyphotos in

and if you see a file named

you can easily know where to find it and who its for.
I never need to know what branch or side they are from, I could never keep track with over 22,000 relatives!

This way just about anyone can find things without having to know who is part of what family.

Try it, I think you will be surprised.... I have over 40,000 items scanned and linked to my legacy file!

Travis LeMaster said...

Randy, what if there are multiple folks in the same document? Do you save the same image multiple times and rename to show each person?

Marian said...

Thanks for ALL of your postings, Randy -- good stuff. This one is full of helpful ideas and should save a lot of people time and data loss.

I use a similar system, but I hate to change folders frequently, so mostly I use my four grandparents' surnames as my folder names. I save all file types of documents in the appropriate surname folder: PDF, JPG, TIF, TXT, RTF, etc. (My genealogy database files are in a separate folder.) Usually my file name format is something like:
Jones Mary Atkins 1905 mrg.jpg
... for Mary Atkins's marriage to Harold Jones in 1905. When I acquire a newspaper clipping, I include the full date, newspaper name, and page in the file name itself -- at least when I know them. There haven't been too many name collisions, but occasionally I have to add a birth date or spouse's name to form a unique name.

BUT following a strict naming convention isn't terribly important, because I include the document's folder and file name in the citation that I create for it in my genealogy database. That way I can attach the citation to all 15 people in a census household and not worry much about which person's name to use in the document's file name. Yes, that file name ends up in reports that I create for others, but it helps me find those images if they need them, too. It's just as the experts tell us: those citations help me even more than others.

damedenise said...

Hi Randy,

Thanks so much for your blog. I Googled the words, "genealogical record naming conventions", and came upon it. There are some great ideas here from you and your fans! I'll just add that for my family photographs - my treasure trove - I prefix each photograph with an abbreviation for the photo collection it comes from. For example:

Those from my grandfather Hector Eugène Gauthier's photo albums and boxes start with "HEG".
Those from my aunt Beatrice Rattay Corriveau Lefebvre's start with "BRCL".
And so on for the other three collections in my possession.

I then add info using this naming convention:

COLLECTION ABBREVIATION - date YYYY-MM-DD/approx date - details.... - front/reverse
Example: HEG - 1938-12-09 - Nicole's studio baby picture - front
Note that if anything is inscribed on the back of a photograph, I scan that information too.

I keep the photograph collections in their own separate folders. When I wish to "attach" an image to a Family Tree Maker (FTM) record, I save a detail/cropped image in the folder for the individual it will be referenced to. This is important to me because:
1) Scans of my family photo collections do not get mixed up with images of the original family photos (so I can rename the scans of the original photos if I receive new info later and not run into a glitch in FTM);
2) The images used for reference in FTM are just that - a reference, not an original document or scan of one;
3) If my cropped images get copied off a website, the copied version is never a complete copy of the original. I therefore retain ownership and control of the full contents of the original. People take things right and left on the 'Net and forget images do not belong to them.

If I ever create a website with images I will ensure they are not printable or save-able. I plan to leave these photographs to my local archives (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada). I want to protect the copyright as much as possible. <---- That will be the subject of my next Google search!

Cheers and thanks,

Denise Marchand