Lost and Found: Organizing Digital Documents

I sort of took the summer off from genealogy to do more house organizing and family adventures, but here it is November and I think summer is over judging by the scene outside!


I saw my wonderful friend of 60+ years this week (Marianne) and she was preparing to scan her genealogy documents so her sister would have access to them.  She asked my advice on how to best handle the situation.  That reminded me that I haven’t yet shared one of my best genealogy organization tips, so here it is.

When saving documents you find at the library or online or at Grandma’s house, or really anywhere, this is the method I learned while serving as a missionary at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  I was skeptical at first, but I love this method and use it consistently – and CONSISTENCY is the key.

  1. Save the document with the source material included, if possible, or attach the source material to the document by adding a text box at the bottom or at the very least a separate document listing the source.  I use a free software download called Irfanview, which makes it easy to add text to the document (but that’s yet another blog post!).
  2. For male ancestors, save the document by their last, first, and middle names, then their birth date in parenthesis, then the type of document and year.  Make sure the year stays at the end (easier to see at a glance and keeps census records in order).

Smith John Wesley (1841) census 1870

  1. For female ancestors, save the document by their maiden name, first, middle, then married last name in parenthesis, birth date in parenthesis, then the type of document and year of document.

Jones Margaret Ann (Smith) (1845) death cert 1910

  1. If the female has been married more than once, include all married names beginning with the first marriage.

Adams Belinda (Davis) (Green) (1890) news 1928

  1. Using punctuation just complicates matters and messes with the sorting as far as I’m concerned.
  2. Consistency is the key so that when you end up with hundreds of documents, each person’s documents will be listed alphabetically together and in year order.
  3. Abbreviate words like certificate (cert) and newspaper article (news) and picture (pic) if you like, but just be consistent for every document.
  4. You can keep all documents in one big folder or you can separate them into your four family lines.  I don’t separate them any further than that, however, because then I would have to remember which family they are in!  I only divide my documents into the four family lines because I am never working on more than one at a time.  So my documents are all in a folder called ALL FAMILY FILES and are separated into four folders:  Anderson, Hunsaker, Wilcox, and Bronson.
  5. If you are using a flash drive away from home, save everything in the same way and then just transfer all documents to your hard drive.
  6. And, as a last tip, if you copy those genealogy documents to Evernote,  you can access them on all your devices and on public computers with your log in and password.  And it is always in the cloud!

Here is a snapshot of how this looks when I open my genealogy documents folder:

screen shot 1


Notice the long one – I often name pictures with all the people in case I lose the original.

I hope this works for you.  If you have particular questions, please ask!