Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jumpstart Tip #24 - Embed Dates in File Names

Earlier Tips have described the benefits of using Folders and File Naming Conventions to make it easier to store and find things - essentially helping keep them more organized and making you more efficient by not having to burn through valuable time looking for things endlessly.

Another helpful Tip is that you can leverage the power of your computer to help you create an automatic Chronology Document for one or more individuals. Here's how it works.

First - note that your computer will instinctively organize a group of files in alphanumeric order. In other words, if you have a folder with 10, 20 or even 100 items, they will generally be displayed in ascending order with certain characters, then numbers, then letters being used to create teh ascending order. This is, of course, unless you have directed your computer to display them otherwise.

To 'force' the order into a Chronology, use a specialized form of an 8-character date field as the leading part of the file name, then follow with a more descriptive title using words.

Use the format YYYYMMDD where the Y is a four digit year (e.g. - 2012 or 1912), M is a two digit month (e.g. - 02 for February, 12 for December), and D is a two digit day (e.g. - 01 is the 1st, 11 is the eleventh). For everything to sort correctly, it's important that you use leading zeros for months and days that would normally be single digit numbers. So, today's date would be 20110119 and this past Christmas Day would read as 20101225.

To make things a bit easier to read, I often use a period (or dot) to separate the year, month, and day.

2010.12.25 - Christmas Day
2011.01.19 - Today's Tip Posting

You can already see how useful it can be just by looking at the two entries above. Start by focusing your efforts on a favorite ancestor or one with a special importance. Create a folder and copy (don't move, but instead copy) various files into this folder. They can be any file type you like - digital images, PDFs, Word documents, and others. Then inspect and rename the files one-by-one, inserting a date at the beginning. Your default Chronology will begin to appear.

What if I don't know a date for an image?
You won't always know an exact date for an image or may have to guess all together - that's ok for now, there is a way you can indicate that. Consider the files listed below.

1883.02.05 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT Birth Certificate
1900.06.01 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT US Federal Census 1900
1903.00.00 - ?Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT Photo Shop
1910.04.14 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT US Federal Census 1910
1916.02.24 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT Marriage Certificate
1920.01.01 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT US Federal Census 1920
1930.04.01 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT US Federal Census 1930
1941.08.00 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT Portrait
1958.03.24 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT Death Certificate
1958.03.25 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT Obituary

In the example shown for my grandfather, you can see that I have a photograph of an uknown specific date, but the back of the original indicates simply 'August 1941' and so I indicate the portion of the date that is known. If you later obtain a more precise date, you can always go back and rename the file.

You can also see that I have another photograph which I'm estimating was taken in about 1903. Since I don't know for certain, I use zeros for the month and day and also lead the text description with a question mark.

These is a technique that has worked well for me and I hope you find it to be of some use as well.

Happy Hunting!

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