Do you have a specific way to deal with the genealogy documents that you scan or download from a website? Have you set up digital file folders for your documents? How do you attach a citation to a document so it doesn’t become separated from it’s source? These are all questions we grapple with until we decide on a protocol that works for us. There is no one size fits all, when it comes to files and documents, but lets looks at some basic principles. Then you can create your own protocol for dealing with documents.
To Download or Not to Download
If you’re attaching images of source documents to your online tree at Ancestry or FamilySearch, do you really need to download a copy for your files? I would argue yes for the following reasons.
-If your documents are attached to an online tree, what do you do if your subscription lapses or the company changes hands and you can no longer access your tree. This is a worst case scenario, and not likely to happen with the big companies where we are storing our information, but we always want to be sure we are in control of our research.
-While researching, it is very handy to have quick access to a document that is stored on your hard drive. Opening a website, scrolling to the appropriate person, then waiting for the document image to open can become time consuming if you just wanted a quick look at that 1900 census again.
-Downloaded images of source documents can be added to Evernote and tagged with surname, locality, record type, etc. See my article, “Using Evernote for Genealogy Research,” for further ideas.
-Storage backup systems such as an external hard drive or online backups, ensure that even in the case of a computer death, you’ll still have your files.
Always take into account copyright issues when working with documents. Most large genealogy websites like FamilySearch and Ancestry are fine with you downloading images for personal use. There may be some that are more stringent. If you’ll be uploading a document image to another website, be sure to check the terms and conditions regarding the use of that image.
What to Name a Document
When you click the “Download” or “Save to your Computer” button, the document will generally have a file name like: ITT623_1849-0768.jpg shown in the screenshot below. This cryptic file name doesn’t help identify that this is the 1900 census for my great-grandparents, W.H. and Dora Shults.
In the principle of touching the record once, the best time to rename a document is before saving it to a folder. I’ve settled on a naming protocol that looks like this: Date of the record (year only) > Type of record (census, deed, etc.), > Name of individual(s) > Location (County, State abbreviation).
Before saving the image, I changed the File name to 1900 Census W.H. Shults Chickasaw Nat. Ind. Terr. as shown in the screenshot below.
If you’d like to use dashes and/or underscores to separate the information, the name could look like this: 1900-Census_W.H.-Shults_Chickasaw-Nat.-Ind.-Terr. Decide what works best for you, then stick with it.
Did you notice how the documents in my “SHULTS, William Huston” folder line up nice and neat in chronological order? You may also notice, that I have a few documents that don’t follow my naming protocol exactly. These are documents I named before settling on my specific protocol. I can now go through and rename those just by right clicking on them and selecting “rename.”
Setting Up Folders
Before you start downloading or scanning documents, you’ll need to set up a digital file folder structure. Mine is fairly simple. I don’t want to click on too many folders to get to the folder of choice. In my desktop Google Drive folder (which syncs to my online Google Drive), my folders nest like this: Genealogy Research > SURNAME > Individual. That’s it. From my main Google Drive folder, I only have three clicks to get to the folder of interest.
Notice in the screenshot below that I’ve put surnames for individuals in capital letters. I follow that protocol as a way to set them apart from other surname folders such as scanned letters and family group sheets.
Directing the Download
Did you know that you can adjust Google Chrome settings so that when you download a file, it will ask you where to put the file? I used to have everything go to my “Downloads” folder, then I’d have to rename the document and move it into the correct folder. By changing the setting, now it lets me choose the file folder and rename the file before I click “Save.” When I downloaded the 1900 census for W.H. Shults, I simply navigated to his individual folder, changed the file name, and hit the save button.
If you use Google Chrome, this article will give you the steps to change download locations: Download a file. If you’re using another internet browser, do a search for how to use this same feature.
Attaching a Citation to a Document
The last step that you might like to do is to attach a source citation to each source document. This will tell you where that document originated and if you upload it to another website or send it to a cousin there is no separation. There are a variety of ways to do this. Experiment until you find one that fits your needs. Here are some ideas:
-Insert the image into a Word Document or Google Doc, then copy and paste the source citation from your research log below the image. Save as a PDF.
-Use photo editing software such as Photoshop Elements to add the source citation to the image, then save as an image file.
-Upload the image file to Canva.com, then copy and paste the source citation from your research below the image. Save as a an image file or PDF.
I used the free version of Canva to quickly create the image below. Here are the steps I followed:
First I selected “Poster” under “Create a design.
Next I selected “Uploads” from the left toolbar.
Then I selected the 1900 census from my W. H. Shults folder.
Next I copied the source citation from my research log and pasted it under the image, adjusting the font size.
I also added a yellow rectangle covering the entry for W. H. Shults and adjusted the transparency so it highlighted the selection.
Last I downloaded the image as a high quality .PNG image file. I also had the option to download as a small file size .JPG or a PDF in either small file size or high quality, multi-page document. Look for the download symbol in the top right of the screen, then open the menu to select a download option.
I have several letters that are multi-page. Uploading the scanned images to Canva, attaching the source citation, then saving as a PDF would keep them together. If I emailed the document to a cousin or uploaded it to an online tree, the source citation would show the origin of the letter and where it is held.
To learn more about using Canva to add source citations to documents, read Alice’s article here: Using Canva to Add Source Citations to Document Images
Putting some thought into how you’ll deal with your genealogical documents is worth the effort in the long run. You’ll be able to find your documents quickly to analyze or share. Maybe even more importantly, you’ll be able to pass on your years of genealogy finds in an organized fashion.
Best of luck in all your genealogical endeavors!
Thanks for the tips…I do things a little differently, but love to read how others do it and make small adjustments to my own routine. I hadn’t thought of using Canva! I tend to use Paint for doing it quickly, but that means my citation isn’t editable, but Powerpoint can be fussy…
Thanks for your thoughts! I’m really liking Canva – fast, easy, and I like the options for download.
I’d like to add a bit to the point of downloading the images. As noted, subscriptions lapse and that often makes the source inaccessible. So; in addition to the image itself, I usually take a screenshot of the webpage containing the image with its “trail-of-breadcrumbs” path, suggested citation, and image number data. Of course, not all sites display all three items. Then, I download images of key pages like title pages and indices. Also, some images are based on folio numbers, so downloading the page before and/or after can make a big difference in sorting things out later offline.
In short; drive space is cheap and the extra images are certainly an inexpensive form of insurance.
I should also note that having a few extra images from just before and just after the key image is a handy thing to have when transcribing/translating. It gives one more samples to which to compare in order to correctly determine words. The Drouin Collection is one place where this approach really shines.
Great ideas! Thanks for sharing, Gary.
One primary plus of the RLP team is their outpouring of potent posts! The advantage of this is that there will almost always be one tailored to your current need. Thus this preso on organization comes at a time when i need to redouble my focus on my flailings!
I just read your ideas on using Canva, so as a diligent student of your I signed up for a free subscription.
I have been asking everyone I know for a year or more how to keep better track of source citations with the images. I have several hundred already downloaded in my folder files. Recently, I was adding a comment box and putting the citation in it. I think Canva will be another step, but important. It seems I’m always playing catch-up or redo. But as we do, we learn. Thanks again for your great help and insight.
You’ll enjoy working on Canva – it’s very easy and a great way to attach a citation to an image.