Saturday, July 19, 2014

Getting Organized (Part 3): Dealing With Digital Media (Starting With What You Have in Your Family Tree)

At the beginning of this summer, I sat down and opened up my Family Tree Maker to decide what to work on this summer now that another school year had come to an end.  What I discovered VERY quickly was that my media files (.pdf and .jpeg) were in utter chaos.  I had somehow managed to accumulate multiple copies of a number of pictures in my Family Tree Maker program.  I also had a TON of pictures in a Dropbox file folder I created and labeled "genealogy" that had been a dumping ground for the past year and a half for any items I found in random old external hard drives and other digital folders and had no clue which pictures were duplicates, which had been uploaded into my tree and attached to people and which were sitting there forgotten.  Three copies of my grandfather's obituary here, two copies of the same picture of my grandmother there, and 5 copies of my 2nd great aunt's headstone over yonder.  To top it all off, most of the pictures had different file names (not necessarily with a (1) or (2) after it, but some with number file names and its "twin" with word file names.  Huh?  Where in the world did all of this come from?  To use one of my favorite phrases, "For the love of Pete," what had I done??????  Not only were there duplicates inside my actual Family Tree Maker program, but I couldn't figure out what I had already put it into my tree and what was just sitting on my computer in this long lost file.  So, I started at the beginning.  I first realized that I needed to deal with the pictures already inside my tree.  I had to somehow get all of the pictures together to see if there were in fact duplicates or if each picture was different.  The easiest way to do this in Family Tree Maker is to make the captions match, so I sat down and began the grunt work. (I have added the arrow to the picture below to show you where the caption box is.)
The program doesn't care if you have identical captions, so I decided to label each media item with the last name all caps, followed by the first and middle name and then what it was (i.e. headstone, letter, diploma, etc).  If it was just a picture of the person by him/herself, I left the caption as just the name.  For example, one of the pictures I have is labeled "ALDRIDGE, Edmund Carlton Jr. headstone".  As I went through each item, I wanted to make sure that everyone mentioned or photographed in the image was connected to it, so I spent most of my time in the "Detail" section. The arrow that is pointing up (in the picture below) shows where the tab can be found that switches the screen to that view.
The arrow pointing down (in the image above) shows where you can click to link the media to more people. The photo/scanned document in this screen shot is a telegraph that was sent to my grandfather by his brother about the birth of his daughter.  I wanted to make sure that I had my great uncle, his wife, and his daughter all attached to the media because all 3 were mentioned in it.  Here is where the FIRST "crap" moment happened - and trust me when I say that that is the nicest word I can say it.  I realized that I had somehow managed to add this scan without adding the daughter's birth date to her information.  So now, not only was I having to rename each caption AND link every person mentioned, I now needed to make sure that I had all of the information that the media item told me actually documented.  Pictures were a LOT easier to get through, but every time I got to an obituary or death record, I just wanted to cry.  I can assure you, I will NEVER add any new item without triple checking to make sure I have transferred all facts into the tree first. STUPID mistake!  If you don't learn anything else from this post - please remember that!  

Despite the amount of work that needed to be done, I started plugging away.  I got into a groove, and was actually beginning to make headway.  I even attached 60+ people to a .pdf file of a Dean and Brockman family genealogy ebook!  That was when the second "crap" moment happened.  Because I was attaching items to new people, was cataloging each new attachment as a new media item for the people involved.  I loved the idea that others would be able to find more information and new things on each person in my tree because of the grunt work I was doing and that they would be able to use these things to help with their genealogy research.  It helped make the task a little more bearable.  **I know that some people get all up in arms about "what's mine is mine" and "I put in the hard work and they are just taking it without the slightest show of gratitude", but I look at the mountains we all have to climb to get everything correctly done and documented in our trees and feel strongly about the fact that we will NEVER finish if people don't work together and share.  I share EVERYTHING I have in hopes that others will be willing to share with me.  I don't mean "I gave to you, now you give to me" but rather a pay it forward mentality.  (My tree is public for MANY reasons, including that one, but that is a discussion for another day and NOT going to be discussed any more right now.)  OK, back on track - What I did not realize was that once someone else attaches one of my media items to their tree, Ancestry's link summary page does not keep track of the fact that I was the one to originally link the media to that person, so LOTS AND LOTS of new "hints" came up for my Lake Family Tree on the website.  One day, I had a few minutes to spare and decided to look at the media hints for my tree, since it is pretty easy to see if the media items are relevant to the person. Now, I noticed that there were a lot of pictures that looked very familiar, but I could not figure out how to check the resolution of each one, and so rather than ignoring a picture that could have been a better quality version than the one I currently had, I decided to go ahead and attach it to compare at a later date.  I had no idea that I was downloading my own pictures because it showed the picture as being linked to someone else's tree and I had not yet discovered this little glitch in's website. SOOOOOOOOOO, 400 "new" media items later, I realized that I now had MORE duplicates to sort through!  Lesson learned the VERY hard way! (For those of you that have been following from the beginning of this series, this was the moment that my son heard me moaning and groaning!)

It took me a solid month (and some change) to complete the FIRST part of this "little" project, but I DID IT! I now have 2704 media items within Family Tree Maker that are cataloged and organized and all duplicates are gone.  I also have all information found in the media transferred to the tree (names, birth dates, death dates, spouses, places of residence, churches, burial information, etc.) and it has made a huge difference in the quality of my tree!  I still have a long way to go (since I haven't even begun looking through the "genealogy" folder), but feel great knowing that I am on my way and can now quickly figure out if something is an extra copies that can be sent to the recycle bin.

Keeping media items organized is important, and yet many times, it tends to be one of those things that takes the back burner because of everything else that we want to get done!  You may say "But it is in there, and I just want to focus on finding more documentation to prove what I have."  But you very well could be making more work for yourself in the long run.  When you attach a picture or a .pdf file, take the time to transfer the information and label it correctly.  Otherwise, you may end up where I was, which has put an absolute end to my researching for a good long while.  If you are where I was at the beginning of June, take the plunge! Even if you just commit to doing 10-20 minutes of sorting/organizing/cleaning up your media at each sitting. You will be happy you did it in the long run!  If you have been doing this all along, way to go!  You are much more with it than I have been.  I started this journey as a clueless "newbie" enjoying a fun little pass time and have had to learn as I go along (which means there have been quite a few mistakes that I have had to learn the hard way). My hope for this post is that it will keep someone - ANYONE - from ending up where I was! Learn from my mistakes!  There are plenty out there to make - skip this one and find another one that you can make!  That way you can share it and help us skip it.  Maybe, if we all come together, we can get away with sharing one "mistake checklist" rather than everyone completing the entire checklist alone!  Think of the time we could save!  Happy Organizing!  Grab and drink (as heavy as you need it to be!) and dive in!


  1. These articles are very good but have I overlooked a way to print them out? Is there any possible way to get a copy to print out?

    1. The way I did it for my Surname Notebooks was simply to highlight the entire blog (starting with the first letter of the title and going to the last word in the blog), right click on the mouse and select copy, then open a new Word Document and hit paste. There may be an easier way to do it, but that worked great for me. Then I just went back and copied the web address to paste it under the title of the blog. Hope this helps! If not, let me know and I can try to help you get a copy together. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Jeanna,
    Thank you so much for this. I too have photos and downloaded documents all over the place. Do you only keep your photos and documents in FTM? Or do you have another back up file somewhere with all that stuff?
    Also - have you figure out any easy way to NOT attach your own photo or document from someone else's tree? Do you some how label your images so that you recognize them? Or do you just have to compare to what you have?
    (I have to sign Anonymous - because nothing else works :>)

    1. Karen - My goal is to have everything in FTM and to keep a backup copy of the FTM Media file on Dropbox. I would also like to export a family tree (including the media) for each surname with all relevant people included onto a hard drive so that it is easy for me to send all of my media to any interested family members. (The Exporting hasn't been done - it is a "future" project) The one thing that I do find frustrating about FTM's Media File is that all of the media is in one big clump and that the name of the media remains whatever it is imported as (not what the caption says). I tried renaming some media items within the FTM Media file and FTM is not equipped to keep track of the new name. It will tell you the file cannot be found and will not reconnect until you convert the picture/pdf back to the original file name.

      I have not found a way to not attach my photo or document from someone else's tree other than just taking the time to go back and forth from my tree to the website to compare the pictures. Right now I have enough on my plate, that I think I will be ignoring hints for a while, so it won't be an issue for me in the near future. I guess I will have to figure out how to tackle that problem when it arises again (and I am sure it will). :) Let me know if you come up with anything before I get to it! Thanks for stopping by! Hope my blog is able to help you!