Tuesday’s Tip: Naming Computer Files

Tuesday’s Tip: Naming Computer Files

As I’m working through my organize and input project, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have awfully negligent when naming my computer files.  In a good majority of cases, it’s not a big deal.  The file name may say “antonsouza”.  I open it and I can see it is a World War I draft card.  No big deal.

The real problem is newspaper pages.  I have many saved on my computer from research done in the Daily Alta, San Francisco Call, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Oakland Tribune.  At the time of research, I knew exactly what was on the page that had caught my interest.  4 years later I have no clue whatsoever.

It’s not a problem when dealing with something like a marriage license or obituary.  But what about a land transfer, a social event, or other small news item?  Many times these news items are tucked away in very long columns headlined “Around the City”, “Real Estate Deals”, or “Society News”.  They are usually columns of one item after another with many names included throughout.  Unless I know where I am supposed to be looking, I almost never find the item the first time.

If you are lucky enough to have saved the newspaper page in PDF format, it is not an issue.  You do a name search and are taken right to what you want to see.  But, many websites save them as JPG, GIF, or BMP files.  These are not searchable.  When I open up one of these files which I’ve named “pachecojoaoparty” or some other meaningless thing, I can’t find them.  I have to comb the page item by item.  If that doesn’t work, I have to go back and find the page on the website again.

Do yourself a favor.  Put some thought in to how you name your documents.  With newspapers it is important to know who it is about, the column, the headline (or part of it), and if it’s in the middle of some long column some direction.  It will make for a very long file name but at least you will be able to find the item.  The example pachecojoaoparty would have served me better as pachecocol4paragraph7.  Now I know to look for it in the 4th column and to count down 7 paragraphs.

Later, if I decide to clip that article from the original file, I need to remember that the newspaper information won’t go with it.  I will then rename the file something like SFChron7Jun1901pachecopg10col7.  This is so I can source it correctly if I haven’t already input the data into my database.  Or, if I need to go back to the original for any reason, I know the date, the page, and the column.

Do yourself a favor.  Name your files so they are helpful to you.  Take special care with newspaper pages.  It can be difficult and time consuming to try to figure out what you found the first time around.






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5 thoughts on “Tuesday’s Tip: Naming Computer Files

  1. Funny you mention this – I was just working on my handouts for a Managing Your Genealogy Data presentation. Here are my tricks:

    Instead of using 7 June 1901 in a file name, I will use 19010701. This helps with sorting file names: 19010701_Austin_Drowning_p1_SFC. I also abbreviate all my newspapers such as SFC for San Francisco Chronicle.

    And, depending upon which version of Windows you are using, your Windows explorer program can let you add metadata to the file: right click the file and select Properties then look for the Details tab. I will very often place my source citation in the Comments field.

  2. Thomas, I think file names is something we probably think about after we’ve amassed several and then can’t find what we are looking for. I hadn’t thought of using the metadata for the source information as I was focusing more on the file name and what I could see at a glance without opening a file. But that might be a good solution for articles I am cropping and inputting later. I will have to think about that.

  3. I save my newspapers articles the same way as Thomas mentioned (above) and include the paper name right after the date. I am an old DOS/Windows 3.x user, so I don’t use spaces in the files.

    I use the following naming convention for documents:

    The misc can be page number or anything to describe the file.

    The important thing is to stay consistent and don’t make it too confusing.

  4. You make a very good point about consistency. As I’m going through my files, I am trying to rename them so that there is more consistency in my naming practices. This way I don’t have to think so much about what a files really is when I look at the name.

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