File Naming Convention for Digital Photos, Scans, and Documents

03/07/2014 – After writing this article, I have slightly modified my naming convention for the following reasons. I’ve made some updates to this article and crossed out my old conventions.

  • I didn’t like how long the file names were getting.
  • Often I didn’t know the date of the when the photo was taken. I was putting an estimated year, but I didn’t like doing that because then it’s sort of set in stone. Besides, I’m putting that information in the meta data of the photo so this seemed redundant.
  • I didn’t like trying to come up with a description of the photo. That can go into the meta data. I’m just numbering them sequentially now so I can get on with things.

I often get stuck on the picky details of how I’ll organize things, but once I come up with a system, I love it because I can move forward and put it to work. Until I develop a system, everything seems like chaos and it can feel overwhelming. Okay, so maybe I’m a little OCD.

One area that I’ve struggled with for a long time is coming up with a good file naming convention for the files associated with my genealogy research as well as the several old family photos that I scan. I’ve also struggled with how to organize my files into folders on my hard drive.

My requirements for a good standard are as follows:

  • File names that would work whether all of the files are together in one folder or if they are separated into sub-folders.
  • File names that would work if photos were in the same folder as scanned documents.
  • File names that would work if photos of people were together with photos of places or objects.
  • File names that would indicate something about the image, such as, being the original full resolution scan, a re-sized version for the web, a thumbnail image, a modified image, or a portion of the original (cropped).

After reading some other blogs on this topic, I took some ideas that I liked and formulated a naming convention that I think will work for me and meet the above requirements. Keeping with programmer syntax, I’ll explain my naming convention with square brackets [] to indicate required portions of the file name and curly braces {} to indicate optional portions, along with some examples.

Also, I chose to not have spaces in my file names but instead use underscores. I went back and forth on this one. One reason I chose to not have spaces, is because I didn’t like the URL that DropBox creates when I produce a public URL, such as “…/Knight%20Calvin%20Photo.jpg” instead of “../Knight Calvin Photo.jpg”.

Naming Convention (each portion is divided by an underscore _ character):

  1. {_} Optional underscore prefix if the file is not associated with a person, also “_Uknown” can be used when I don’t yet know the person, place, or thing.
  2. [surname / maiden name / place / object]
  3. {first name}
  4. {middle name}
  5. {bYYYY} The letter “b” and then the year of the person’s birth.
  6. [YYYYMMDD] The date when the photo was taken (not scanned) or the date of the original document. For example, if the photo was taken June 15, 1945, this would be indicated by 19450615. If portions of the date are not known, replace with zeros. Even if the entire date is unknown, put in 8 zeros. This is for sorting purposes. Normally with genealogy the date format is something like “8 Feb 2012″ but that style will not sort properly.
  7. [event / place / description] Whatever best describes this image or document.
  8. [999] A sequence number, even if there is only one, I’ll always use 001. This is NOT a version number. For photos, I’ll use 3 digits. For a specific document, I’ll use 2 digits (see examples below).
  9. {-image type code} These one-character image type codes (see below) will always be preceded by a dash character. The absence of this code would indicate that the image is the unaltered original. I suppose multiple codes could be used, but I don’t anticipate needing to do that. For example “-wc” would be an image that has been re-sized for the web but it is also a cropped portion of the original image.
  10. {version number} Only when needed and I chose not to zero fill the number. For example, “-w1″ indicates that this is the 2nd version of the file that has been re-sized for the web. There would be another file with “-w” which is the first version. Confusing? I guess I went this route because often I won’t have multiple versions, so I didn’t want to force the number 1 until another version is created.

Examples of image type codes (item 9 above):

  • -e = Edited or retouched, changes were made to the original. This is probably still a full resolution image.
  • -c = Cropped image, or a zoomed in portion of a document
  • -w = Web, re-sized for placing on a web page or sending in an email
  • -t = Thumbnail image
  • -n = Notations added, or maybe a circle, a box, an arrow, etc.
  • -r = Reverse side of the document/photo

Example File Names:

  • Hall_Mark_Moroni_b1881_19040512_WeddingPortrait_01.jpg (unaltered original image)
  • Hall_Mark_b1881_Photo_001.jpg (unaltered original image, full resolution as it was scanned)
  • Hall_Mark_b1881_Photo_001-w.jpg (resized for the web)
  • Hall_Mark_b1881_Photo_001-e.jpg (edited)
  • Hall_Mark_b1881_Photo_001-t.jpg (thumbnail)
  • Hall_Mark_b1881_Photo_001-c.jpg (cropped)
  • Hall_Mark_b1881_Photo_001-n.jpg (notations/highlights/boxes/circles/arrows) (if cropped and notated, just choose “n”)
  • Hall_Mark_Moroni_b1881_19040512_WeddingPortrait_02-w.jpg (2nd photo from the wedding re-sized to fit onto a web page)
  • Hall_Mark_b1881_Photo_002-w.jpg (re-sized to fit onto a web page)
  • _USA_Ohio_Harrison_Georgetown_TownHall_1904_01-n.jpg (Photo of the town hall building in Georgetown, Harrison County, Ohio, taken in 1904. I’ve added my own red arrow (n=notation) to this image, pointing to the stained glass window. Yes, I’m making this stuff up.)
  • Hall_Mark_Moroni_b1881_19300000_1930USCensus_01-c.jpg (This is the zoomed in portion of the 1930 US Census page. I don’t know the month or day when the census was taken. Other family members are in this image but I’m listing just the father for the file name. In my genealogy program I’ll add the other family names.)
  • Hall_Mark_b1881_1930USCensus_01-c.jpg (This is the zoomed in portion of the 1930 US Census page. Other family members are in this image but I’m listing just the father for the file name.)

Folders:

There are several ways to organize the folders on your hard drive. Pick a system that works for you. For me, I’m separating photos and documents, and then by surname below those categories. For example:

  • Family History
    • Documents
      • _Other
      • Atwood
      • Knight
      • Massey
    • Photos
      • _Other
      • _USA_Utah_Uintah_Vernal
      • Atwood
      • Knight
      • Massey

I hope these ideas might help you. The key is to find a system that works for you. I would love to hear your ideas. What has worked for you? What has been a challenge? Please feel free to share.

Genealogy Tech Tools – Series 5: Using Evernote for a Research Log

Introduction

Two years ago I showed how to use Google Docs (spreadsheet) for a research log. I stopped using that method and switched to Evernote. I like the flexibility of Evernote. Using a spreadsheet seemed restrictive to me. Sometimes I wanted formatted rows and columns of data, but usually I just wanted to type free-form notes, paste links, etc. With Evernote you can have tables for the formatted stuff but you can also have as free-form text for notes, links, etc. It is also very easy to search on any word in your research logs to find things quickly.

Organization

Evernote doesn’t let you organize your notes by folders, but you can create a “stack” and then create notebooks below a stack, and then notes within a notebook. Essentially, it’s like having folders two-deep. I have a stack called “FamilyHistory-Research”. Below that, I have notebooks (folders) for each surname. Then, within a surname notebook/folder, I have individual notes for a given person or family.

Template

I have a template note that I use when I create a new research log. Right-click the note, choose “copy note”, then rename it. I have 5 sections to my research log:

  • Links to the person/family in online trees
  • Timeline
  • Record search results
  • Goals
  • Free-form notes

Click on the examples below for more explanations.

Sample Evernote Genealogy Research Log

Sample Evernote Genealogy Research Log

With Annotations

With Annotations

Bookmark Managers

XMarks vs. Delicious vs. Diigo vs. Google Chrome

That heading is a bit misleading if you’re looking for an article that compares these 4 methods for synchronizing your browser bookmarks. I didn’t really try Diigo and I barely tried Delicious. I have spent some time recently with my bookmarks and I decided to go with Xmarks. I’ll explain why in my bullet points below, but for the most part, I wanted a way to arrange my bookmarks with a folder structure rather than tags. That style just works better for me even though I do see some advantages to the tagging method.

Google Chrome

  • As much as I love Google Chrome and the way that it syncs my settings between computers, I was not happy with the way it was syncing my bookmarks. Often they were out of sync and sometimes it was deleting my recently added bookmarks. After reading some forum postings, it seems that this is a common problem so I began looking for something better.

Diigo

  • I looked into this one but I didn’t try it. It looks like it would be great for collecting things to read later, etc., but I just wanted something to save and sync my bookmarks.

Delicious

  • I tried this and I liked some aspects. It was very easy to add a bookmark with comments and tags.
  • It has a free mobile app
  • This doesn’t sync with your browser bookmarks. It stores them “in the cloud” and you find them by searching or by clicking on one of your tags.
  • Delicious would be a good choice if you want to share your bookmarks.

Xmarks

  • This stores your bookmarks “in the cloud” and you can get to them by going to http://my.xmarks.com from any computer, but it also syncs to your browser bookmarks by installing a plug-in.
  • This allows you to arrange your bookmarks with your web browser using its built-in folder structure.
  • Downside – the mobile app requires you to upgrade to the premium version ($12/year). Boo. I guess if you were desperate you could browse to my.xmarks.com from your mobile device. Then again, I guess $1/month is reasonable.

I’m sure there are other bookmark managers out there, but for now, Xmarks is working for me. Also, I should mention that after switching to Xmarks, I went to my Google Chrome settings and turned off syncing bookmarks so that Google and Xmarks wouldn’t step on each others’ toes.

Genealogy Tech Tools – Series 3: Create a Blogging Web Site

There are several ways to create a blogging web site, many of which are free. I will not attempt to do an exhaustive review of each. Instead, I will simply mention three choices that I’m familiar with. I will also not go into much detail on their features since there are several other posts out there that you can find for this information. I will just hit some key points.

Google’s Blogger

  • Option 1 - yourblog.blogspot.com
  • Option 2 – point your own domain to your blog site
  • several templates to choose from
  • really geared towards blogging, not as many options if you want to set up both a blog and and a web site with additional pages

WordPress.com

  • Option 1 - yourblog.wordpress.com
  • Option 2 – For a fee, you can point your own domain to your blog site
  • several templates to choose from
  • some plugins/widgets are available but you cannot install additional ones
  • geared towards blogging but you can set up other pages and make this more like a full web site
  • great way to go if you don’t care to get “under the hood”

WordPress.org

  • Only Option - yourblog.com
  • Software is free but you must have your own web site or a hosted web site. Many hosting providers allow an easy installing of WordPress.org which will step you through creating your MySQL database, etc.
  • Requires a MySQL database and PHP
  • even more templates to choose from with the ability to fully customize them
  • install as many plugins/widgets as you would like
  • If you like to get “under the hood” and you already are set up with a web hosting provider, this is the way to go (I’m using WordPress.org which is hosted by LunarPages.com)

Genealogy Tech Tools – Series 2: Evernote, Notes (and other things) in the Cloud

Evernote

Evernote allows you to save just about anything that you’d like to remember for easy retrieval any time and from anywhere. Your notes are in the cloud and can be accessed by a web browser, the client application that synchronizes your notes to your PC, or your mobile device. A note can be text that you type, a picture, an audio file, or the contents of a web page.

Client Application: By installing the client application, you can edit your notes and they will automatically be synchronized to the cloud and with your other PCs that have the client application installed. This is not required. You can still edit your notes with a web browser.

Browser Plugins:

Install the Evernote Web Clipper plugin and while browsing a web site, you can click on the plugin icon to capture the web page or the URL for the page. If you select something on the web page and then click on the plugin icon, you can clip just that selection of the web page.

Check out the Evernote Clearly plugin. This will take a news article or blog post and remove the ads and extras leaving you with a nicely formatted article that is easier to read and/or print.

Summary of Features:

  • Free! (100,000 notes, each note can be a maximum of 25 megabytes or 50mb for Premium users, 250 syncronized notebooks, 10,000 tags, 100 saved searches)
  • Email directly to your custom Evernote address to store them directly into your account
  • Ability to have sub-notebooks. They’re called “stacks”. Just drag a notebook onto another notebook and it is stacked below it, like a sub-folder
  • Find things quickly by doing a search
  • Easily share notes with others. Just right-click the note and choose Share. Then choose to share by Email, Facebook, Twitter, or copy the URL which can added as a link in a blog post or web site.

How I Use It: Anything that I want to remember, I type into various notes under categories of notebooks. I have some notes that I keep updated as a to do list with my action items. If I see a web site that I would like to save, I capture it as a note. That way, if the content changes on that site, I still have an archived copy. I use a shared URL to this note to share with others. My genealogy research notes/logs are often done with Evernote. This way my notes are always accessible.

There are hundreds of clever ways to use Evernote. I’ve only scratched the surface with this article. What are some of the ways that you use Evernote?

Genealogy Tech Tools – Series 1: Dropbox, Having Your Files in the Cloud

This series of articles will focus on some technical tools that I’ve found useful. These are not necessarily product reviews. I’m just sharing information about some tools that have worked for me. These are my own experiences and my own opinions. Take them for what they are worth.

First, some terminology:

The Cloud: This term is being used a lot right now. Don’t worry too much about it. For all practical purposes, just think of it as the Internet. It means more than that, but not so much for us users. For example, if you say your data is in “the cloud”, that just means it’s on the Internet and can be accessed from any computer. Here’s a simple example. Your Microsoft Word document is on your drive. Your Google Document is not, it’s in “the cloud”.

Client Application: This is a program that you install on your computer. It’s not web-based. For example, Microsoft Word is an application that is installed on your computer, hence it is a client application. Google Docs is not installed. You just use your web browser to access the Google Docs application. It’s web-based.

Dropbox

Remember when you copied files to a floppy disk to transfer them to another computer? Then we burned them to CDs. Then we copied them to a thumb drive. Well now you can copy them to “the cloud”. Dropbox offers a free account with 2GB of storage space. Paid accounts offer more space. As of this writing 50GB is $100/year and 100GB is $200/year.

Client Application: One great feature with Dropbox is the client application. This little application allows you to choose a folder on your computer and it will sync your files with your Dropbox account. Simply copy a file to your designated dropbox folder (or sub-folder) on your hard drive and it instantly uploads to your account in the cloud. Switch to a different computer that is also running the client application and that same file is retrieved in the background. No more remembering to copy files between computers. You can customize the sync settings if you want to turn off synchronization for certain folders.

Photos Folder: Another great feature is the Photos folder. This is a special folder. Don’t rename it. Suppose you took some pictures of your family vacation that you would like to share. Simply create a folder below the Photos folder and copy some photos to that folder. Get the Gallery Link for that folder and send it out in an email or link to it in your blog. Dropbox does the rest. It displays thumbnails of your pictures, let’s you scroll through them, pick one at a time, see them if full resolution, or save/download them.

Public Folder: By placing files in the Public folder, you can get a URL (link) to the file that you can share with others by pasting it into an email, blog, or web site.

Summary of Features:

  • access your files from any computer with a web browser
  • automatic synchronization of files between computers (using the client application)
  • by having files in the cloud, they are automatically backed up
  • ability to go back to previous versions of a file
  • easily share files or folders with others
  • a link to a file in the Public folder can be placed in an email, web site, blog, etc.
  • a link to a folder under Photos can be placed in an email or web site and you have an instant photo gallery

How I Use It: I use dropbox to transfer files between my laptop and desktop computers. I use the Public folder and link to my photos and documents from my web site. Some of my photos are copied to my web hosting space but I link to my dropbox files for my full resolution photos. I would rather use up my Dropbox space than my web hosting space. When I want to have a quick and dirty photo gallery, I place them in the Photos folder and share the link with friends and family. I also occasionally use my iPhone to view a file in my Dropbox account.