09 August 2019

Make Your Digital Genealogy Documents Searchable

Who needs a search engine? Your computer is a search engine!

I'm constantly bouncing all around in my genealogy research. One day a person with my last name mentions their grandparents' birth dates. Another day a DNA match reaches out to me looking for our shared ancestors.

I need a quicker way to search for these connections.

One of my genealogy goals this year is to enter the details from thousands of Italian vital records into a spreadsheet. Then I can use Excel to search for a particular man's name and find the one who's married to the right woman. Or I can find all the babies born to a particular couple.

I've done a chunk of that work, but it's going to take years to complete.

Luckily, I found a faster method I can use in the meantime. Now that I've somehow become a "morning person", I'm using the evenings for an easier genealogy task. It's not exactly a no-brainer, but it is simple. And the benefits are really big.

This can apply to you, too, even if you don't have a huge collection of vital records on your computer.

Don't worry where you filed that document. Your computer knows where it is.
Don't worry where you filed that document. Your computer knows where it is.

Whenever you're not quite up to serious family tree research, but you have your hands free, you can do this, too.

Rename your digital genealogy files to include the name(s) of the primary person.

I'll bet you've done that with census sheets, ship manifests, and other documents.

But did you realize you can search for any and all of a particular person's files on your computer at once?

This will really help you when you need to:
  • answer a question from a new possible relative
  • find the marriage record for a new person you added to your family tree
  • figure out if the "Pasquale Iamarino" in this document is the same as the one in that document
I was especially happy to see how smart the search function can be. For instance, if I search for "Mary Murphy", but her full name is "Mary Jane Murphy", I'll still find her.

If I had any doubt about the value of renaming my files, one search washes all doubt away.
If I had any doubt about the value of renaming my files, one search washes all doubt away.

To save tons of time on future document searches, I've been renaming files like a madwoman.

At night, with the Yankee game on TV, I open my collection of Italian vital records. I've renamed every marriage record image from 1816–1860 to include the names of the bride and groom.

That means I can search at the town-folder level to find a marriage between any particular couple. A search for "Antonio Martuccio Maria Maddalena Paolucci" delivers their 1849 marriage record. Instantly!

The benefits are so important that I'm excited to rename more and more files. Plus, doing this makes me an expert on the names that come from each town. While renaming one file I thought to myself, "the groom must be from my other grandfather's town". And I was right.

Is your genealogy document collection named so it's searchable?

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  1. I name all of my files as Year Type of Record (Birth, Death, Marriage) names of party,parties. (i.e. 1820DeathGiovanniMangione) I file them in a folder with the family line but I think your method is much more detailed. I am always in awe of your organizational skills and dedication. I have tried to teach many how to research using the Antenati but now I just point them to your blog. Thanks to you I was able to download all of the records from a primary town on my maternal line in Sicily (although it is a town with over 60,000 in population so very hard to self index - would take me a few years).

    When I have a DNA match with someone on Ancestry the tree of the match (if there is one) is almost always wrong. Most people are very interested in building their tree but only want to do "point and click" research. I always send a friendly and polite note to my DNA matches where I see how the tree went wrong but many are just not interested in doing the hard work to do it right.

    You are an inspiration to me and I enjoy your blog so much.

    Thank-you for your hard work and help!


    1. Ro, thanks so much for referring people to my Antenati article. I agree with you about most DNA match trees. People get that DNA test, don't realize there's work involved, and many aren't interested in doing it. That's the power of Ancestry DNA commercials!!

    2. The strength of Ancestry is the size of the DNA database, family tree creation and ability to sync with my desktop software. So I am a member there.

      The weakness of Ancestry is no Chromosome Browser or other serious tools to analyze your DNA, emphasis on ethnicity estimates and parlor tricks like "DNA Traits" and of course the expense to maintain the membership. But still the best place to find a match.


    3. Agreed. But that's why you should download your raw DNA file from Ancestry and upload it everywhere else that's free. More tools!

  2. I use SurnameForenameMiddleInitial_Event_ddMonyyyy_Source

    Is there something special in Windows that allows you to label a folder and get those green checkmarks!

    1. Good question, Tess! The green checkmarks are there because I continuously sync these files with OneDrive. The checkmark tells me it's all up to date.