Digital Organization and File Naming Conventions

Last week I returned from a genealogical research trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. The result of my three days of research was more than one hundred digital images of microfilmed documents, mostly consisting of 19th century New Jersey deeds for Middlesex County and daughter county Mercer, created in 1838. I was in information gathering mode and did not have time to read through more than a few of the documents while on-site. I needed a quick way to catalog my finds so I could see at a glance what I had already scanned and what was still outstanding from my to-do list.

For this project, I chose to first create an Excel spreadsheet where I entered in selected entries from the deed index available on microfilm at the library. Since I am exploring connections between the Tindall and Carson families post-Revolution in the aforementioned counties, I chose to focus on deeds where people with these surnames were grantors and grantees on the same document, or documents that indicated “heirs of” or “estate” or similar verbiage.

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Portion of my Excel spreadsheet showing deed research underway on the Tindall family of New Jersey.  [Click to enlarge this or any other photo.]

I then pulled the relevant microfilm, scanned the film, and saved an image file to my FHL 2014 folder on my thumb drive. Every evening when back at the hotel, I copied the contents of the folder to my laptop and to Dropbox for safekeeping.

I chose to save copies of the microfilmed documents as JPG files at 300 dpi or better (depending upon legibility of the microfilm). All saved files were named in a similar fashion, with one example shown below:

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Elements of the file name, from left to right
Repository: FHL
Microfilm file number: ####### (7-digits)
Volume number
Page number
Surname
Type of document (i.e. deed, death record, etc.)
Miscellaneous: this field may or may not be used; if I imaged only a portion of the full page, I might include “top” or “bottom” or “light” or “dark” depending on how I may have cropped or edited the file.

Note that I use no spaces in the file name, and separate the various elements with a hyphen. This will improve readability and sorting, and if I choose to upload the file to my website, I will not get those %20% space fillers in online URL links.

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Files in my Data > Genealogy > FHL 2014 folder

Not only does this file naming convention help me stay organized, it also helps me to maintain the necessary information for later crafting of a source citation. How many times have you gotten a copy of an item, only to later be unable to recall the source of that file or photocopy? By including the repository and the film number in the file name I have that information close at hand, and can later pull title information from the institution’s online catalog. Although not shown above, I typically include an image of the spine of the filmed book to aid me in creating accurate source citations as well.

Assembling the various images that make up one document into a single PDF file and abstracting and transcribing that information will keep me occupied over the next few months. I plan to also plat out the various metes and bounds parcels using DeedMapper (or similar software) at a future date.

Library of Virginia Research Notes

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The Library of Virginia (LVA) in downtown Richmond is one of the most important repositories for published and original manuscript material pertaining to Virginia. To aid researchers in navigating its broad holdings, it makes pamphlets and research guides available to patrons on a variety of topics. If you are planning a visit to the library, or simply want to gain a better understanding of the holdings of the Library of Virginia, then you will certainly want to review this material.

What follows is a list of the published “Research Notes” and brochures that I have found the most interesting to me in my own Virginia genealogical research. Many, but not all, of the links will open a PDF file that you can download to your computer and view using Adobe Reader or similar software.

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Interior lobby of the Library of Virginia, with the Circulation Desk at the top of the stairs. The reading rooms are located on the second floor to the sides of the desk. Photos by the author.

Some tips for using the library:

  1. Get a Library of Virginia card at the Circulation Desk. You will need to present a photo ID with your current address. You need not be a resident of Virginia to obtain a card. Having a library card will enable you to use library resources onsite, and to conduct remote research using databases the library subscribes to, such as HistoryGeo.
  2. If you want to make photocopies and print them to paper, you will need to load funds onto your library card using one of the cashier machines. There is no longer a separate copy card. If you have an old copy card bring it with you. Any remaining funds will be transferred for you at the Circulation Desk.
  3. Microfilm readers and scanners are available upon registration in the West Reading Room, and may be used for a maximum of two hours if others are waiting. You can save files to a USB stick without paying any fees; if you print to paper it will cost you .25 per page. The library recommends using a USB stick that is less than 8 GB in size.
  4. Do plan on taking a meal break. The Discovery Cafe in the Library of Virginia lobby offers both breakfast and lunch options. Daily specials are available (like BBQ pulled pork sliders). If the tables are full, ask to share a table with someone and strike up a conversation. You never know who you may sit by, and it just may be a library staff member willing to share research tips with you!

I hope to return to Richmond again very soon to conduct more research in their extensive microfilm and manuscript collections.