Organise your files

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Various methods used by users for organising research files for genealogy with Gramps.

Your system?

Create a new section with details on how you organise your files?

File naming limitations still exist

When designing a systematic file naming approach, the limits of your OS need to be considered. In some cases, earlier technical limits have been removed but performance and compatibility limits remain.

In Microsoft Windows, the fully qualified file name must be less than 260 characters, and the directory name must be less than 248 characters. (This MAX_PATH limit is artificially imposed even though NTFS supports up to 65,535 characters. In Windows 10, adept power users can opt out of the MAX_PATH limit.) There is a limit of 128 top-level folders. Sub-folder count is reportedly unlimited although FAT32 is limited to 65,534 files. You can only have up to 9 levels of nested subfolders.

There are performance limits to be considered as well. Windows search optimization & file locating performance degrades when the file count exceeds 255 files in a Directory.

POSIX based systems (Linux and macOS) have inode limits imposed when the system is initially configured.

Jerry's system

Here is my method of directory and file organization. circa 21 Jul 2008

  • /srv - I store all my server files in /srv, including WWW and Samba. This is the standard UNIX directory for "Site-specific data which is served by the system."

Then I place all my genealogy related files in a directory call ./Genealogy. The exact path may depend on how you are set up. Here are three different possibilities.

  /srv/Samba/Genealogy/ - If you use a samba file share.
  /srv/Samba/Family/Genealogy/  - This has the /Genealogy in a file share of /Family. 

This is the structure of ./Genealogy:

Basically there are three main areas. Books or publishing. Documents, which are the Media storage area. Gramps.

  • ./Books_Published/ - All books that I have published, such as "Perkins Family History".
  • ./Books_In_Process/ - Current book that I am working on.
  • ./Doc/ - This is the big one where I store all the Media files. Nothing goes in here till it is put into Gramps Media. See the ./Need_to_Process directory below.

File Names:

I am big on "Noun Naming". This makes it quick and easy to find documents. Hence for the ./Census directory I use the file name format of <STATE>-<COUNTY>-<CITY><YEAR>-<ENUMERATION>-<PAGE>.jpeg For the Media Title I use Census <COUNTRY>, STATE>, <CITY / TOWNSHIP>, <YEAR ENUMERATION>, p. <PAGE> - <FAMILY>. The Source Tile is the same, except without the , <YEAR ENUMERATION>, p. <PAGE> - <FAMILY>.

This makes it quick and easy to find and cleanup errors. Periodically I do a sort, then quickly look for errors. This includes the path field in the Media.

  • ./Doc/Book_<BOOK NAME>/ I have stored documents such as birth certificates, in a three ring binder. These are enclosed in acid free clear sleeves. The "<BOOK NAME>" is the name of the binder. Or you could create a directory for each book.
  • ./Doc/Book_<BOOK NAME>/001-<TITLE>.jpeg These are the scans from the book. The first three digits are the page number of the acid free sleeve. Then a title (<TITLE>). This title is the same as I use for the Media title. Hence a path of ./Doc/Book_1/031-Birth_Record_Perkins_Gerald.png has a Media Title of "Birth Record Perkins, Gerald Dana"
  • ./Doc/Census/ For a path of ./Doc/Census/california-humboldt-south_fork_township-1920-69-1b.jpeg, the Media title is "Census USA, California, Humboldt, South Fork Township 1920 69 p. 1B", then the Source Title would be "Census USA, California, Humboldt, South Fork Township 1920".
  • ./Doc/Head_Shot/ Where I keep an individuals head shot. These are placed in People > Person > Gallery. Hence their picture shows up.
  • ./Doc/Indiana_Marriage_Collection_1800-1941/
  • ./Doc/Media_yyyy/ This is kind of my general catch all. I know, not good. It started to be so large that I started a new one every year. Slowly I have moved some to there proper directories.
  • ./Doc/Military/ Example "Registration_Perkins_C_Ray.jpeg"
  • ./Doc/Naturalization/ Example "Helwig_Otto.jpeg"
  • ./Doc/Object/ These are photos of objects such as "Military_POW_Tag_Helwig_Charles.jpeg"
  • ./Doc/Ship_Manifest/ I have been working on the format here. This is a current example sm-philadelphia_rhynland-m-1901-06-16.jpeg. Where philadelphia is the port of entry. And rhynland is the ship. i = Immigration document, m = manifest.
  • ./Gramps/ The home of Gramps.
  • ./Gramps-yyy-mm-dd/ If I try something that may make a mess of Gramps, I create a backup copy.
  • ./Miscellaneous/ Currently store blank Census forms and the like.
  • ./Need_To_Process/ Any new files, photos, etc that I need to process into Gramps. Kind of a holding area.

Duncan's system

The goal circa 22 Jul 2008

I've decided to aim for a system designed to work on any computer made after 1994. This means I can put the files on virtually any media and virtually anyone can read them. But this comes at a cost:

  • Directory depth is limited to media plus 7 (limit of ISO 9660). For example: media/2/3/4/5/6/7/file.ext
  • File and directory names are limited to
a-z Lower-case alphabetical characters (see below)
A-Z Upper-case alphabetical characters (see below)
0-9 Numerals
- Hyphens/ dashes (must not start a files name)
_ Underscores
(And all names need a combination of lower and upper-case letters so Windows doesn't change the case)
  • File path lengths need to be limited to 256 characters (limit of Windows Path Size). Currently this requires manual checking.

Indicating unsure or incomplete dates


Directory tree

Directory naming rules:

  • Top directory is <upper case letter><lower case start of range>-<lower case end of range>, ie Aa-z for all the As or Sl-z for surnames starting with Sl through to Sz. This may look like overkill but it is primarily to avoid directories with letters in only one case as these can change case without warning on older Windows systems, breaking POSIX file paths.
  • Start words in directory names with capitals so Windows file systems don't change the case.
  • Once a family starts (shared address, children or legal union) any common files go into a family directory (alphabetically sorted) ie: Jensen__Williams
<upper case letter><lower case start of range>-<lower case end of range>/
- <family name(s)>/
- - <record type>/ (Ind, Sou, Evn or Sou)
- - - <file>
- - - <given name(s)>/ 
- - - - <file>
- - - - <event type>/
- - - - - <file>

For example

- George__Spencer/ (because 'G' comes before 'S')
- - Evt/
- - - Marriage/
- - - - S--marriage--george__spencer--charles__diana--england_somewhere--1981--wedding_certificate--0065.png
- George/
- - Ind/
- - - George__Charles--1948-11-14/
- - - - Evn/
- - - - - Stag_party/
- - - - - - Charles_and_the_surprise_guest.jpg
- Jetson/
- - Ind/
- - - Jetson__George--1995-01-21/
- - - - Sou/
- - - - - S--award--jetson__george--luna_city--2014--pilots_license--0562.jpg
- Spencer/
- - Ind/
- - - Spencer__Diana--1961-07-01/
- - - - Evn/
- - - - - Hens_night/
- - - - - - Diana_getting_drunk.jpg
- - - - - - Everyone_enjoying_the_fun.jpg

Jerome's system

My Media objects use the same naming structure circa 28 Sep 2010 :

ISO 8601 date_description.extension

4 folders with my grandparents' surname :

./Surname of the mother of my mother (maiden)
./Surname of the father of my mother
./Surname of the mother of my father (maiden)
./Surname of the father of my father

then 4 subdirectories into the 4 previous folders:

./Docs/ numerical sources (scanned certificates, papers, acts, hand written sources)
./Identity/ passport sized images use for generating reports
./Places/ (photos of gravestones, living places, buildings or addresses)
./Other/ not in the first ... (videos, sounds, groups photos)

Media related to my direct family and myself are on the top level of my media directory, close to my grandparents' folders.

All objects are also duplicated on an other support (backups and searchs).

I use tags on my database and share the common branch/folder with my distant cousins.

-- Romjerome 26 July 2008 (EDT)

Frederico's system

circa 26 July 2008

I'm converting my physical storage system from a ad-hoc solution based on a 2-ring binder with all the documents (organised by the Soza number) to a vertical filling system that is organised by manilla folders that contain all the relevant information for each family. The focus is thus less on the individual and more on the family. Using folders allow for a much easier way to aggregate all relevant documents (certificates, photos, research logs, etc) and also facilitates research since each folder is pretty much self-contained and can be easily retrieved when needed, and taken to the archives for investigation.

With that in mind it makes some sense to mirror this physical approach when organising digital documents, especially since every document has both a physical copy and a digital one. I am experimenting with creating a directory for each family under a Sources folder (it could also be named Families, or any other name really), like this:


The contents follow the same rules as the physical archiving. Of note is the fact that each person is generally present in two different folder: as a son they are present in the folder of the parents, and as one of the members of a family they have their own folder. Documents related to pre-marriage events go into the parent's folder, and from the marriage onward to their own folder.

Filenames follow more or less the examples given, e.g. BAP--John_Smith--1830.png.

The advantages I can see so far are:

  • Consistency between physical archive and digital storage. It makes is easier to compare the completeness of both of them so they they are not our of sync.
  • Easy to access all documents that relate to a family. Since many documents have information that applies to more than one family member it makes sense.
  • Each directory can be archived and sent to someone else and all the relevant sources are contained therein.

Some disadvantages:

  • Storing the birth certificates (or any pre-marriage information) of an individual not under his own folder but under the parents' folder can be a bit counter-intuitive in the beginning.
  • Since it is Family based (and not Individual based) documents that relate to an individual are split between two folders.
  • Sometimes one doesn't have information about the marital status of an individual, and when that is latter discovered files could have to be moved. An example would be the military record of an individual that doesn't contain information about his marriage, and since there is no other source that contains such an information it is not possible to create a Family directory. When latter that information surfaces those documents would have to be moved to the Family folder.

Doug's System

circa 19 May 2011‎

I don't do anything special: I put all images in one directory, mostly. But some are in other places.

My philosophy is: if I need something special, such as all media connected to a person, I'll add that functionality to Gramps.

Your philosophy could be: if I need something special, I'll submit a feature request to Gramps.