17 September 2017

How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images

As a long-time computer professional, I'm embarrassed that I didn't learn this till today.

You can add custom details and descriptions to any JPG file on your computer. Your customizations will stay with the file when you copy, move or share it.

The biggest benefit to customizing your image files' details may be this:

You can search for your customized description in a huge folder of images and quickly find the file you need.

You can rename your images as needed.
You can rename your images as needed.
I have thousands of downloaded vital records from the Italian Antenati website. As I go through them, I like to rename some of the files to include the name of the subject. If it's a close ancestor, I might include "my 4GA" (my fourth Great Aunt) in the file name. But now I can get more specific—especially with those direct ancestors.

This works on Windows or Macintosh. In Windows 10, right-click the image and choose Properties. Then click the Details tab. Many of the fields are editable. I never thought to check that before!

The Description and Origin sections are editable.
The Description and Origin sections are editable.
For Windows 7 instructions, see this short tutorial. For Mac users, see these instructions.

Before diving into this project, I'm going to decide on a set of standards. What might I want to search for? Which details are most important? My first thoughts are:
  • Person's name, year, and type of record (for example, Libera Pilla 1882 birth record)
  • The person's relationship to me (for example, my great grandmother, or my paternal grandfather's mother)
  • Which town the record comes from and the type of record (for example, Colle Sannita; birth record)
  • The URL of the original image and the name of the source
I'd recommend giving lots of thought to your own set of standards. Then start with the images that are most important to you. I'll start with wedding photos and my closest relatives' vital records.

Searching is easy with customized descriptions.
Searching is easy with customized descriptions.
Ironically, this tip is the solution to the problem I was having when I stumbled upon it. I wanted to find my great grandmother's birth record to send to my cousin. I couldn't remember her year of birth, and I didn't want to wait for Family Tree Maker to open. So I tried looking in several folders without success. I finally opened my tree on Ancestry.com and found the correct year. Then I happened to click on the image's properties and discover I could edit them!

Now a quick search for my great grandmother's name and "birth record" brings up the right image.

How will image details make your family tree research a bit easier?

Bonus: Select multiple images and edit their details at once.
Bonus: Select multiple images and edit their details at once.


  1. It is my understand that meta data such as discussed here could be lost when you upload your image to a site such as ancestry.com.

    1. I've also found that when I opened the image in Photoshop, it displayed only some of the meta fields. It's worth a quick experiment to see which fields are the best to use. But in simple file sharing or storage, everything should be kept.

  2. Always good to have multiple techniques to add info to a photo.