Tag Archives: computer files

Getting Organized: The Digital Side

I’ve been going on and on about my binder organization methods for several weeks now. What about my digital organization? There are a couple of aspects that I will cover over a few posts, primarily: files on my computer and scanning/digitizing tips. This week, I’ll address how I organize my digital files so they match my binders (more or less).

I must admit that I did not come up with this idea on my own. We all stand on the shoulders of those who have figured things out before us. Every time you attend a lecture, an institute, a webinar, you learn something new, even if you thought you knew everything there was to know about a topic. At the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy‘s (SLIG) first “Tech Day,” I attended a class by Cyndi Ingle (that famous lady from Cyndi’s List! and who is one of the moderators for the Facebook Group “The Genealogy Squad“) and learned a method that would allow my digital files to mirror what I had already created in my binders.

My binders are in chronological order. I don’t know why I hadn’t come up with a method on my own yet, but I hadn’t. I took Cyndi’s class “Coordinating the Cloud” which was about many technical topics, but the biggest takeaway for me was a file-naming system that I adopted for my digital files. (THANK YOU, CYNDI!) Basically, you can name your digital files in such a way that it will match your binders. Now, this might be a big “duh,” but for me, it was “a-ha!” I just hadn’t realized it yet. There are those moments when something should be so obvious but it isn’t for some reason. This was one of those moments.

So the file naming system goes like this:

YEAR-SURNAME FIRSTNAME – code or description of the document.jpg (or whatever file type it is)

For example:

  • 1850-HIGDON Joseph – census.jpg
  • 1853-HIGDON Joseph & RENFRO Malinda – MR.jpg   (marriage record)

And in my finder it looks like this:

DigitalBinders

Because of the way computers organize files, numbers come before letters. So by putting the year first, those files come before the children, just like my binders. You can choose some style things. I typically like to have the surname in all caps, it is just easier for my eye to land on it, however, in this example, you can see my inconsistency. It happens. Someday when I really want to procrastinate I’ll work on fixing these things.

If you have documents in the same year, you can put a month number (and a day if you wish) after the year and it will sort appropriately: 1851-06-15-HIGDON-Census.jpg. I currently use a, b, c, but may change my mind later if I get a lot of documents in the same year.

If you remember, my binders are organized by each couple and their children except the child I’m descended through. You can see in the image above that the child I’m descended through has a note in the folder name indicating where I will find that child’s information. The rest of the children have their own sub-folder and they are ordered by birth order using the notation “(ch#)” in the file name.

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed some files with “wcit” in the filename. That is a duplicate of the image, usually, that has been copied into a word processing file (in my case I use Mac Pages, but you can use whichever software you desire). To that image, I’ve added a text box with the citation to the page to provide “separation safeguards” which prevent separation of an image from its source (citation) information.1 I want to save both the original and the citation-treated images in my digital folder.

This is a work in progress. I didn’t sit down and fix all of my digital files as soon as I learned this naming convention. (Who has the time?) I fix it as I work on various projects in my family. One of the things about getting organized is that it doesn’t happen overnight or in one session of organizing. Make a commitment to work on it 15 minutes a day, or an hour a week, or whatever timeframe works in your schedule.

But most of all, get started! And keep learning!


1. See standard number 8, “Separation Safeguards” in Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Ancestry.com, 2019).