Lesson 3 – Naming, Saving, and Storing

Once you have your scanner, and your starting to scan away the day, remember the scanner doesn’t do all the work. You have to at least choose what file format to use, name the file, and tell the computer where to save the file.

Since we’ve already created folders containing your ancestors’ names, simply save each record you collect in the corresponding ancestor’s folder.

Naming the files may take a little bit more extra work, but if you follow the steps below, it will be worth it.

Ever looked at a family history picture and wondered who the people in the photo are? Name the picture with the names of the people in the photograph. You’ll be amazed at how long your file names can be before you reach the limit. It’s also helpful if you know the date. I like to use underscores, because it’s helpful if the pictures ever get posted on the web.

  • Photograph Portrait: Doe_John_circa_1908.jpg

  • Photograph Multiple People: Doe_John_Jane_Joey_circa_1915.jpg

  • Scan of a Record: Doe_John_birth_certificate_1890.jpg

  • Written History about John Doe: Doe_John_History_by_Joey_Doe_1945.pdf

You get the idea. Put lots of info into the file name, then you don’t have to open up each file when you’re searching for something, and for pictures, people will know who is featured in the picture.

Saving Files for Family History

Wait a minute! We haven’t discussed what format to use when saving your files. You might think it’s a no brainer, “just save it as a Microsoft Word document.” Au contraire, mon frère. Will people be using Microsoft Word documents 50 years from now? If you’re familiar with word processing, just think Word Perfect. Why not save your documents in formats that are a little more open (meaning, they probably aren’t going to require that someone find a 50 year old copy of a software program that won’t work on new computers).

Save text documents in the following formats:

PDF – Portable Document Format

One of the best choices because this format (a “PDF”) will preserve pictures, formatting and the text. You don’t have to buy software to open this type of document, and it is accepted by the community as a standard for preserving documents. Click here to read more about how to create PDF documents.

Rich Text Format

The “RTF” format is a good alternative to the PDF. It can be opened by almost all word processors and is compatible across platforms. This format will preserve pictures and text. You can easily go back and edit text in this format, whereas a PDF is generally more used for final editions.


A simple “TXT” file can be used to store basic information and will be around for a very long time due to its simplicity. You won’t be able to store pictures in this type of document, but it does make for a very small and easy format to store references.

My document of choice is the PDF. But since you generally “convert” a Rich Text Document or a Word document to a PDF, I usually will save the same document in both formats.

Save text pictures in the following formats:

You can save pictures in a variety of formats. A great format that doesn’t take up a lot of space on your computer is JPG. Larger image formats are BMP and TIF. I most often use the JPG format.

Storing & Backing-up Family History Information

Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, pleeeeeeease do everyone (including the person that normally helps you with computer problems) a favor and create a backup of your data. Wouldn’t it be a shame if you collected mountains of information over the years, and then your computer crashed destroying all your data, or a fire happens, or your records are lost? Please make a backup of your data and store it somewhere other than in your house.

Examples of how you can backup your data:

1. Copy your information to a CD, DVD, or other portable storage device and store in a safe place (either a real safe, safe deposit box at the bank, or a relative’s house). If you want a more classy way to store your DVD’s, you can use a DVD storage album, but it’s still a good idea to make a second backup disc and store it in a safe.

2. Use an online backup service. There are many backup services that will offer backups for free. Just make sure that the data going to their backup server is encrypted when transferred and encrypted when stored by an encryption key you provide. Mozy.com is a good place to start among the many backup solutions out there. You can get a couple Gigabytes of free, encrypted storage space. So if you computer ever decides to go “bye-bye” on its own, you’ll have a backup you can get to. BackBlaze is another great backup service.

3. On many computers, you can select the folder you use to store your information and select the option to “zip” or “compress” the folder. This will take all your data and make a copy into one file (usually a .zip file). This is at least better than nothing.

4. Each year, give out a disc with the family history information you’ve collected to your relatives. Make sure they store the disc somewhere safe.

Marking your backups

Please note on the CD, DVD, or storage label of whatever format you’re using the contents (”Family History Backup of the John Doe Family – Backup created 8/7/20xx”).

Adding the date will let you know when you look at backups, which is the most recent. Backup regularly, and especially when you’ve made major additions to your records.

Always let people know that you’ve created a backup and where it’s located. It doesn’t do much good if it’s needed and no one can find it.

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