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June 26, 2013 -- Working with Digital Images for Genealogy

Getting files off the camera.

  • SD Card directly into the computer
  • Card Reader
  • Cable
  • File names are typically generic like DSC_0001.jpg.
  • You can rename the files in batches.
  • Decide on a folder system to store the files until they can be processed.
  • Make sure the camera is set to at least 300dpi for the photos.

Getting files from a scanner

  • Use the scanner software
  • Use a program, like Photoshop Elements or Picasa
  • Depending on what you use to scan the files, the file names may be similar to the camera file names or you may be required to name the files.
  • Be sure to scan the images at 300 dpi or more depending on the type of image. Print only documents can be scanned at a lower resolution, but probably no less than 140 dpi.
  • Decide whether to give the file a temporary name to speed up your scanning or to give a final name.
    • One method for the initial naming is to use the date of the scan or photo as the first part of the file.
    • Photoshop Elements has a renaming facility that lets you rename a batch of files.
  • Decide on a folder system to store the files until they can be processed.

Getting files from the Web

  • Site like Ancestry.
  • Other web sites.
  • You should provide the file name when you download.
  • Decide on a folder system to store the files until they can be processed.

Now you have the file on your computer—what next?
Organizing Your Images
Start by creating folders to store the files.

  • Use folders by year or year and month to organize photos and scans that are current.
  • For genealogy documents, you will use a different system.
    • One is to create a folder by location for the images.
    • One is to create folders by surnames.
  • Organize the folders in a way that makes sense for you and that will allow you to find images later.

Rename the files

  • File names can be up to 255 characters. They can also include characters like hyphens and commas.
  • The name must be unique.
  • One method for the initial file naming is to use the date of the scan or photo as the first part of the file name and additional information following, e.g., 2002-01-08-Birthday Party for Doris Gonsalves.
  • Another is to name the files by Surname of your grandparents or great-grandparents, e.g., Gonsalves-Doris-Birthday Party-2002-01-08.


  • Editing is up to you and is a topic that will take longer to cover.
  • There are several programs that allow editing; some are more automated than others. Two examples are:
    • Photoshop Elements--$79.99 from Costco for both PC and Mac.
    • Picasa (Google)—free and for both PC and Mac.
  • Always save the original image and do any editing on a copy of the original.
    • Have a location on your computer or a drive on which you keep the originals.
    • Make backups of the originals.

Key Word Tags (Metadata)

Picasa and Photoshop Elements both have some capabilities to add data to the photo that will make it possible to search by the Keywords.

Image files have a way to store the metadata so that you don’t need particular software to search the images. Both Picasa and Photoshop have an option to save the information you give it to the metadata for the file.

Sharing Images

  • Printing and mailing—Use at least 300 dpi for printing and mailing the prints.
  • Emailing—If the viewer is only going to look at the image on a computer, the image can be resized so that it is small enough to email. Some of the photo software will allow you to send the image from the software and do what is needed to size the image.
  • CDs and DVDs—Save the files to a CD or DVD. You can also use software to create more customized slide shows. PE has options to create CDs and DVDs as a slide show or a movie.
  • Website/Cloud—Use some of the services available to put your images up to be shared with others. Privacy options vary. Picasa (Google) can do it.
  • Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google, Flickr—You can save the original files to one of these sites and give another person permission to access a folder where you store the data. This is good when you want someone to have the original image for printing.

PDF Version Includes additional material on uploading images to Ancestry and Family Tree Maker and adding metadata to files.

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