How to Organize Your Digitized Genealogy Photos

March 17, 2020

Before we start digging deep into HOW to do all the appropriate genealogy research I first want to set you up for success by creating a good organization system. I’m all about setting up the right systems FIRST and then we can start digging in.

You don’t want to start your research without a plan and then get halfway through to realize you can’t remember how you named something, where you put it, or what it means.

The process for gathering photos and documents from your digital files is the same as accumulating your physical assets.

If you’re like the average person you probably have hundreds of photos labeled something like IMG_57344.JPG on your computer. Well, I’ve got news for you…IMG_57344.JPG is likely to get lost or mishandled because that file name has no meaning to it.

So, how let’s talk about how we should properly handle our digital images and documents:

01 | Create Folders

First, create one folder, or designate a hard drive, and call it something like “Ancestry_Photos”. Within that folder, create a folder for each sub-category you are working on.

Remember that files and file folders on a computer are listed in alpha-numeric order. If you want them to stay in a particular order, put a number in front of the name of the folder.

02 | Copy or drag items into the appropriate folders as you find them

As you look through your digital files, ask yourself where these pictures and files fit. Here are a few examples of where you might want to start (below). You can choose to organize either by theme or date.

  • Family Surname and all families within that surname
  • Paternal Family
  • Maternal Family
  • For your immediate family – stage of life (i.e. infancy, early childhood, etc.)
  • Military
  • Travel
  • Immigration & Emigration
  • Heritage by culture
  • School
  • Medical

Here is an example of a folder organization system that I might create by date:

03 | Label the photos

Adding Metadata and Keywords

Typing information into the metadata of a photograph is the digital equivalent of writing on the back of the photo. Most types of photo organization software have a space accompanying each photo that is usually entitled “title”, “description”, or “caption”. This is where you should add information about this photo. When you copy these photos into their proper folder this information will stay with the photograph. This is important information to keep track of if you want to ensure others know what this photograph entails.

Batch Renaming

It often takes a lot of time to rename photos by hand, so there are a number of software programs that will help you rename your photographs and files including GooglePhotos, Canto, Adobe Lightroom, and Adobe Bridge. Most of these programs have a batch rename feature that will automatically add a strong of numbers/text to your filenames.

04 | Backing Up Your Photos

I never want you to loose your precious memories and hard work. If you’re only saving your photos on your local computer or hard drive you can easily loose them all with one crash. You can avoid this by backing up your photos!

While there are many ways to back up your photos I recommend utilizing a cloud storage software to do this. Here are a few of my most trusty platforms: Dropbox, Google Photos, and Amazon Photos.

That’s it for today! If you follow these 4 tips to set up your digital organization for photos you’ll be in good shape to dig head into research!

Up next I’ll be sharing how to create high quality digital scans of your most precious photos!

Have questions about how to start organizing your photos? Post them in the comments below, I’m happy to help!

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