Photo Filing | Legacy Family Tree

by JL Beeken on 3-01-2007

Legacy Family TreeSure as the sun comes up tomorrow, someone will come up with another way to file photographs.

Having a photo collection is one thing. Trying to tell a story with pictures is something else. The choices for how to go about this are endless. To me, all this genealogy collecting comes down to presentation. So I try to look at this from the end point backwards. What and how am I going to share it? So, it helps to have a broad overview of a plan. And a photo filing system that allows me to change my mind.

I’m only talking about digitized pictures here. The paper ones are a whole other story. I only have a few of those left and I keep them in acid-free photo sleeves in one of those archival storage boxes I got from Demco. The old style albums with the glue sheets and the PVC plastic coverings massacre photos so if you have any of those my sincerest sympathies. If they haven’t been in there too long get them out as soon as possible. If they’ve been there for years it could be too late.

I scanned and edited everything and those are the ones I’m talking about filing. There was a certain point, maybe it was around 6,000 photos, where I couldn’t find anything except by memory if I was lucky. The ones off the digital cameras are easy. As we know, they come with dates embedded, straight off the cameras pre-numbered. Any number of digital organizers will allow you to create categories and tag pictures and that’s all fine until 800 categories become a different kind of problem. They tend to work in a linking system, so you have to be careful not to move your pictures or folders outside the software or they’ll become unlinked and that includes all your added descriptions. You know what I mean if you’ve been there. I lost my work dozens of times.

I’ve tried several photo organizers and found them not very useful. They all tout themselves as your one-stop shop for everything photographic but I find them to be prisons I’d like to get out of. Perhaps it’s only due to my lack of discipline. My digitals (mostly flowers, snow, rocks, sky, etc) are not part of the family history so irrelevant. Any recent people ones have been circulated by email ad nauseam so those are also not my concern at the moment. I think the digital-camera ones are best sorted by category. A digital organizer is a natural fit. I’m not overwhelmed yet so I just make my own. Events are better left intact rather than split into separate participants, eg. Mom’s Visit 2003, Road Construction 2006, etc.

At least 90% of my pictures are pre-digital. At least half of those are my siblings. What’s left after that is 200 years or so of the assorted and extended family. These are the ones that need a plan. For awhile I tried to sort these pictures by general family groups. That got too complicated and evolved into sub-folders within each group. That got too complicated so I threw them all back in one folder. I had some pictures listed by date, and some pictures by name. That was too complicated, so I created a system with User ID File numbers. A really dumb system. Way too complicated.

While I was going through all this, I linked pictures into Legacy at least 20 times, put in the descriptions and then moved my pictures and had to start over. This is the problem with any linked filing system. Then Sherry, over at tech support, pointed out to me that there’s a way to change the folder path, instead of relinking every picture. Under Customize/Locations. Assuming you’ve only moved the folder and not the pictures, or names of the pictures. It’s a very good point to keep in mind should you ever need it.

Mulitmedia Locations, Legacy Family Tree

Passage Express makes copies of any pictures imported into it so there’s no concern about them un-linking, or picture descriptions disappearing. This is a good thing. PE seems to be the cure for a lot, presentation-wise. A simple matter, I think, to start telling a story, put in the relevant pictures, burn a few CDs and mail them off to the lucky recipients. Yep, it works just fine.

For no reason in particular, except that I needed a starting point, I jumped in with one set of 4th great-grandparents standing on the banks of the Susquehanna, looking backwards, and then moving forwards. I had no idea how I was going to take several generations of different families through Europe, sailing across the Atlantic, battling the Indians and each other through the Revolution and get back over to Harrisburg in one piece but it just happened naturally. The magic of story-telling.

It wasn’t until I started telling a story that my filing needs became clearer. Up to that point I just had an overwhelming collection of information and pictures that seemed as if it could go off in multitudinous directions tearing me apart along with it. Telling a story places the pieces in context. If you don’t have an audience, yet, just make one up. Anyone who’s floundered in this enough has probably, at some time, shared the desire to toss it all in a gigantic box for someone else to deal with posthumously. But, it ain’t over yet.

Story-telling is at the heart of this family history business, but I digress …

I’d still like to bring at least some of the pictures into Legacy for creating reports and I’ve had an epiphany now. Once again, simplicity wins the day. But photo filing is a monstrous subject and this is just my 2 cents.

1. My ancestor pictures are first sorted into the two broad categories of mother’s side and father’s side. Pictures are named in this order: surname, given name(s), and then the rest. My inclination is to number everything starting with a date. Big mistake. The Picture Center (in Legacy anyway) provides the list of names starting with surnames. If your pictures are named the same way this will save you a lot of time and stress. Trust me, I’ve wasted hundreds of hours with other methods.

The Picture Center, Legacy Family Tree

The Picture Center, Legacy Family Tree

I may have other pictures of a person that I do not need linked to my database, for instance, gravestone pictures that I plan to put into Passage Express, but don’t intend to print through Legacy. It still helps to have these listed alphabetically under the person’s name as they’ll be easier to find this way. If you’ve only got a few pictures this will not seem important but as the numbers grow you’ll wish you had a better system.

2. Pictures that are going to be linked into Legacy, or any other genealogy database, should be in their own folder. Just one. This saves having to browse all over the place into separate folders looking for them. Legacy has its own picture folder. Or make one somewhere else. It doesn’t matter but make it be just one. And then copy your chosen photos into it. This way you’ve got the other copies in their original location for other types of projects, and you’re not wondering where you put them.

Pictures folder, Legacy Family Tree

3. Before you start copying and linking pictures, try to get a handle on how you want photos to fit into your database projects. Do you just want a single picture per person to show in a Descendants chart, for instance? Then just pick a favorite or two for each person, not your entire collection. Do you want to use the Scrapbook module? Which pictures? Start small, one thing at a time. You can always add more pictures to this folder as you go. Make a practice chart or scrapbook page with a few pictures to make sure the outcome will suit you. Otherwise there’s no point to continue in this line of thinking.

There are many different ways to present photos, so only copy into your database picture folder what you’re going to use there. It will probably be a relatively small number of pictures compared to your overall collection.

What about group pictures? Good question. I don’t use group pictures in my database but the way I file them is to put the picture under the name of the oldest person in the group. It makes as much sense as anything and it’s consistent. If you do use them in your database, group pictures can be linked to any number of different people.

In my database are 39 people by the name of William Finney. No joke. 39. I do not have a single photo for any of them. On the other hand I have an uncle, a grandfather, a great-granduncle, a g-g-grandfather, and a g-g-g-grandfather all with the same name and I have photos for all of them. In this case I can see who they married and distinguish one from the other that way.

Attached Pictures, Legacy Family Tree

In other cases where it’s not so clear to me, it helps to turn on the RIN numbers in the Picture Center and add an RIN to the photo description before beginning the linking process. Or assign a User ID File number to each of those people and add that number to the photo name. The User ID boxes are on each Individual’s Screen.

Options, Legacy Family Tree

I think it would be a fairly rare occurrence when you couldn’t distinguish one John Smith from another so whatever works there … a birth year will do …

Alphabetical filing will not work for all your pictures and I would dissuade you from even trying. Photo collections of my siblings and their offspring, for instance, hundreds of photos of each, taken over decades, were filed by date and left that way. I picked a few for my database picture folder and the same with my generation of closer cousins and their offspring. The thousand per sibling were scanned, edited, burned to CD and mailed to them individually, and the complete works to my mother. I didn’t know what else to do with them. They were thrilled. No-one else would be.

Another point on naming photos: If you’re thinking of making web pages through Legacy it will automatically put underscores in the spaces, so “smith, john jr” will become “smith,_john_jr”. Whether other web page creators do the same I don’t know, so it’s a point to keep in mind. Servers don’t like spaces. They also prefer small letters to capitals.

And, please, back up your work. I just heard another sickening story about a virus crashing a friend’s computer, everything lost. You can get unlimited online space from Mozy for $5 a month. It’s a good idea to have a backup away from your home. When the price hit $55 a year I decided I couldn’t afford not to.

(Also read about IPTC for tagging, a huge part of photo organizing.)

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