Another Reason Why You Need To Organize Your Genealogy Files

I started by cleaning up my sources; I left off in the middle of the job. My cousin asked for access to the new web site, quickly asking, “where are the photos?” Uh oh, the new web site didn’t have photos on it yet. So I switched to organizing those.

I decided to retry an organization method similar to what Philip Trauring proposed on his blog, Blood and Frogs. The first time I tried that, my first folder name was too long for Windows, so I gave up quickly.

I tried again anyway, with less information in the folder names. Also, I didn’t necessarily use the furthest back ancestor to start since I knew I wouldn’t have pictures. The trouble came when I got closer to my own family and people were in two different folder structures. I still haven’t really straightened those out yet. Also, as I got to more recent generations, my file names became too long (in addition to all the folder names) and I had to adjust them. So I’m still not thrilled, but for now, I’m leaving it until I come up with something better.

Once I started setting up those folders, I started organizing. I had scanned pictures from relatives going back to 1999 and still hadn’t completely organized them. I did a lot of cropping and renaming files. I figured out who was in all the group pictures and set up text files to match each group photo with all the names. I created a “source” folder, to keep photos scanned from each source together. Then I duplicated the photos. Each person (or each couple) has a folder and every time I saw them in a photo, I put a copy there. Some of my photos have 20 copies on my hard drive now.

The more I did, the more trouble I had with file names that were too long. I had to adjust them, but I didn’t completely wreck my naming scheme, so like I said, I’m leaving it until a better idea comes along.

A cool thing happened while I was doing this. I found duplicates.

I had actually seen this phenomenon before. I was scanning cousin Barbara Sands’s photos which her daughter Debra Rudolph (now Berman) inherited. Barbara was interested in genealogy, though she didn’t get much into the research part of it. However, she had the forethought to label the group photos.

So, in 1999, I scanned this photo from Debra.

Miller Family Photo, Scanned from Debra Rudolph

[left to right, back row] Lila Raifman, Florence Karansky, ??, Marilyn Brick, Louis Miller
[front row] Frank Rosenzweig, Myra, Nettie Brick, Sorka and Zyskind Mularzewicz/Miller, Ruth Brick, Nettie Karansky

Nice big tear in the corner, right? But the important part is that Barbara labeled it — not perfectly, but enough for me to figure out what she meant, leaving only two mystery people. (One person was unlabeled and another could possibly be Frank’s daughter, sitting on his lap, but I don’t know more about that family.) In 2003, visiting Stephen and Sharon Koons, I scanned this one.

Miller Family, Passover 1936ish, Scanned from Stephen Koons

Looks familiar, right? Luckily, I had several photos of Morris Rosenzweig (top left), so he was easily recognizable though missing from Debra’s picture. Also, between the two, not only did I have a picture with a lot of kids identified (they’re the hardest for me to figure out), but I got more information from Stephen’s copy, namely the event and date (Passover, 1936-ish).

I discovered that duplicate years ago, but in this new organization project, I found another one that I hadn’t noticed. In 2006, Bonnie Chait shared a few photos with me, including this photo of the Wolfe family before the youngest two were born.

Wolfe Family, Scanned from Bonnie Chait

[left to right] Sidney, Rose, Nathan, Julius, Moses, Bernard Wolfe

In 2010, visiting Ron Wolfe, I scanned something familiar.

Wolfe Family, 1914, Scanned from Ron Wolfe

Bonnie had given me the names of the kids, but Ron’s had a date. I could have guessed a date by which kids were in the picture, but two of the kids look about the same age, so Bonnie made their identifications easier. But only when I was trying to figure out those two kids from Ron’s scan did I look in their photo folders to see that I already had a better version of the photo. I stopped and emailed the better version to Ron.

The best part is, now that I’ve got the photos organized (I’m finished with scanned-from-relatives photos and almost finished with everything), the next time I visit a relative and scan old photos, I can see what I’ve already got. If I have something better, or labeled, or not labeled, we can compare with what they have while I’m there.

So how is your photo organization going?

5 thoughts on “Another Reason Why You Need To Organize Your Genealogy Files”

  1. Slowly! I am working on my recent photos. I have digital photos from the past 7 years and I am now going back and adding captions and tags. Then I will go and make albums.

    I am also in the process or organizing and scanning my old photos. This is the hardest part. How to organize. I do it by Surname.

    I would like to know how you label your old photos. I do the following: Surname_FirstName, date if known, place/explanation of photo. I add a _ between Surname and First Name, should I be doing this between all words? If so what is the purpose of this.

    Thanks for the post.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tina.

      I started adding tags, but stopped pretty quickly. It just wasn’t working for me. My naming scheme isn’t any more perfect than my folder scheme, but for now it seems to work. The important part is getting it organized. I can deal we re-organizing later if I need to.

      My file naming method still has flaws, but it’s better than it was. For specific events when I have a collection of pictures, the file name is: date – event – number – subject. The number just keeps them chronological (which my OCD requires) and allows for repeated subjects. For instance, I have multiple pictures of just my cousin at her wedding, so they would all be the same file name without a number. The subject is sometimes names of everyone in the picture and sometimes a more general description. From that same wedding, I have one that says “Zonenshein Family”. If that got separated from the collection and someone didn’t know them, that would be a problem to identify them, I know, but for now it’s OK. For larger groups, I have a text file with an identical name that lists everyone.

      For other photos that have no dates or aren’t in a large event collection, I usually list the subject, then date if known, then event if known (wedding, graduation, etc.). A lot of photos have no date, so if I have repeat photos of the same people, I have to start numbering them: “Bob and Rachel Tucker – 1”, “Bob and Rachel Tucker – 2”, etc.

      I got over my aversion to using spaces in file names years ago, but some people still insist on underscores, periods, or hyphens. I lean towards using periods now; that’s how I am renaming the source documents that I was organizing before I stopped to do photos. When I resize the photos to put on my family web site, I will rename them without spaces again since the Web is a bit fickle with file names and spaces (fills them in with +s or other codes). When I upload to the blog, it doesn’t matter to me to change the file names.

      1. Thanks, I was worried when I first started getting my digital files organized that I was doing it wrong. I searched and read all I could about organizing digital files. But now I think you have to do whats best for you and make rules for yourself and follow them so everything is the same. I feel more confident now. Thanks.

  2. Hello Banai,
    I love that you found the missing Morris. That ripped off corner was so sad!

    Although I’m very much an amateur and own only a few actual photos, my sister and various cousins started scanning & sharing about 10 years ago. For a long time I kept the photos in folders named for the person who sent them rather than by who was in them. Finally I realized that copying into different folders would help. Reading that you make multiple copies makes me feel like I’m doing it right, so thank you!

    On an external drive I’m slowly working on one enormous folder with medium size copies of all photos mixed together – all branches of my family, my husband’s family, inlaws, etc., using file names that start with my best guess at the year. Seeing the faces in approximate chronological order has helped me ID a lot more of the people & the photo timeline is not just fun, but seems to add sociology, anthropology & fashion history to the images.

    Annie in Austin

    PS I do enjoy your tweets!

    1. Sounds great Annie. I am also keeping mine in a folder by who I got them from. I might be able to tag each photo, but I’m not happy with the “tags” meta data in Windows and information saved in Photoshop isn’t viewable in other apps.

      So yes, it takes up a lot more space doing this, but it gathers the information just like you are finding.

      And with your comment about fashion history, I’ll just add that in my family, two fraternal twin sisters who look very much alike got married some years apart. They wore the same dress and their mother wore the same dress, so it’s hard to tell one wedding from another. Also, some of my younger cousins had a great laugh looking at the clothes from their parents’ wedding pictures.

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