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My Digital Photo Organization: Principle 1 – Gather Into One Place

Last week, I posted about a presentation I did for the Genealogical Society of Maury County on digital photo management and shared some of the details of my presentation. In follow-up, I thought it would be helpful to share details of my specific approach. This is the first in a series of posts where I will share what I do and perhaps it will spark some ideas for you.

The first principle I covered in the talk was to get all of your digital photos into one place so that the sorting process can be done effectively. I did this with my physical photos (gathered them all up into place) and it is time for me to do this right for my digital photos that I have everywhere. Once they are in one place, you know exactly where to go to get to your pictures.

The challenge, though, is that we have pictures in many different places. Personally, my digital photos come from three sources1) files saved in various directories all over my Google Drive account (including those that were synced to my Google Photos account, 2), photos I and my family members take on our cell phones, and 3) files I have on CDs. Let me share how I am handling each of these.

Files saved in Google Drive directories — For these, I merged all of my various folders into one directory, that I have named “_Photo Sorting Hub”. I am using the underscore at the beginning of the file name because I want to have it show up at the top of my file listing. With all of the folders now consolidated, I see that I have 35,000 photos/documents in my hub! That is a lot of pictures! Some are duplicate, I know, but still! Oh, and though the folder is called “Photo Hub” – it does contain documents (I tend to save my documents as images) and videos as I will organize these as well.

my photo hub folders

Photos on our cell phones – for cell phone pictures, I use Forever as a consolidation point for the family. I have permanent digital storage space there for my photos, past and present. For the photos I take, I regularly curate which ones I will keep and then I upload them into my Forever account. For the photos my family members take, they have free accounts (which includes 2GB of space) and can upload their photos to it. I am an Account Manager on their accounts, which means I can go into their account and copy over any photos I want to keep for the family archive. So far, I’ve gotten my husband, mom, sister, and brother set up – I still need to get the kids set up. No more asking them to email the pictures I want – they upload it and I grab the photo in full resolution. If I were to capture them from their social media accounts, I usually would not be able to get the full resolution photo, so an upload of the original file to Forever is better – and so convenient!

family accounts

Files saved on CDs – this is a whole other monster! Stack 1 has my mini-CDs, Stack 2 has my CDs, and you know what Stack 3 is? Floppy discs and zip disks. My laptop has a CD drive, so I can read the CDs, but I do not have the ability to read the floppy or zip disks. This 3rd stack does not have many pictures as they are mostly old work files, so, I am glad not to have to mess with those for now. For Stack 1 and 2 – most of these I think I transferred over to Google Drive, but I need to go through them all and double-check. Once I have confirmed, I will throw away the discs  I don’t even want to think about how many more thousands of pictures this will add to my hub folder!

old discs

I am about to go on vacation and guess what is coming with me? Stacks 1 and 2 above! I will work on transferring photos from those mini-CDs and regular size CDs into my photo hub folder and then focus my time on the curation, organization, and metadata-labeling process (writing descriptions of each picture in a way that embeds it digitally with the file). I am using Forever as my permanent, online archival home and thus my family will have access to our treasure trove for generations to come.

If you are wanting to step your photo/document organization game up, gathering into one place is the 1st step. I would love to hear from you if you’ve done this, are in the midst of doing it, or are even just thinking about it!

Disclaimer: The link to FOREVER is a referral link, so if you sign up for a free account (which comes with 2GB of storage space), we both get a site coupon.







Always Bring this Card With You…

Back in March of 2014, I blogged about a set of medical appointment cards that my maternal grandmother kept throughout her lifetime (note – most of the images in that post are broken – I need to fix that). The cards are amazing if you ask me, because while they appear, at first, to just be simple record-keeping of going to the doctor’s office, the fact that she had a collection of more than 60 of them that span a 20-year time period, AND cover all 4 of her kids and a grandkid – that makes for opportunities to add to the family history!

While I’d had the cards safely stored in one place, I decided a couple of weeks ago to really get on the ball and digitize and organize them. I started by putting them in chronological order. I then used my cell phone to take pictures, which I chose to do on purpose rather than use my flatbed scanner. Her earliest card is almost 70 years old now as it was from when she was carrying my now deceased uncle Stanley, whom she had in 1950. After taking the picture, I placed them in 12×12 scrapbook-style pocket pages. I use these for my physical photos too. They are archival quality and I like having my photos (now these cards) organized in 12×12 albums.

grandma's medical cards

My grandmother’s clinic appointment cards

I have added them to my permanent digital family archives at I set up an album called “Grandma Alice Clinic Cards” and it has 5 albums – albums for her and her 4 children. One of the features I love about Forever is the ability to do nested albums. This is something I was not able to do when I used Google Photos. And, since I love to be organized, having nested albums are ideal for me!

Within the “Alice” album is where I have all the cards that pertain to her care.

Alice album

Clicking on an individual picture brings up a detailed view. Here is where we see the filename I have put on the picture, the description, the date taken, my tags, and the information on the album the image is in. All of the descriptive metadata is compliant with industry standards and stays with the picture when it is downloaded. The ability to add industry-standards compliant metadata to my images is of utmost importance in my digital photo management strategy.

I am quite happy that I have the cards done now and filed away for safekeeping. My immediate family members have access to my Forever account so with the apps installed on their phones, they can get into my profile and access these anytime and from any location they wish.

I had to chuckle because many of these cards have the phrase “Always bring this card with you” and it is clear that my grandmother held true to that sentiment. Now, we will always have the cards too.

Disclaimer: The link I include above to FOREVER Storage is a referral link, so if you sign up for a free account (which comes with 2GB of storage space), we both get a $10 coupon.

Using SOAP for Digital Photo Management

taneya in front of maury county archives

This evening, I gave a presentation to the Genealogical Society of Maury County about managing digital photos. We had a great crowd and there were many questions that came up from the group.

bars of soap

I covered 4 principles in my talk:

    • Saving photos
    • Organizing photos (including how & why to add metadata)
    • Accessing your photos
    • Preserving your photos

Using the first letter of each element spells SOAP. We use soap when we clean right? I thought it would be interesting to use the acronym SOAP for thinking about important principles to consider when cleaning up your digital photo strategy! As genealogists, we tend to think about our OLD photos, but we also have photos from our more recent lives that need to be managed to as they, one day, will become historical photos.

Here is a bit more detail about what I covered.

  • Saving photos – I covered the need to set up a digital photo hub, principles for choosing what file types to work with (TIFF vs. JPG for example), considerations for how to name your files, how using year first date format for the beginning of your file names aids in photo management, and setting up a back-up plan that adheres to the 3-2-1 rule.
  • Organizing photos – we went over ways to organize your files and I shared how I set mine up to model an archives-type framework; discussed what metadata is and how important it is to use metadata that is compliant with industry standards. I especially cautioned against the use of any metadata labeling approach that is not compliant with accepted industry standards. For example, using the Windows operating system is not the way to go for adding metadata because it is not fully compliant with existing metadata standards – it would be shame to do all the work of adding metadata to your photos and then have it lost (that can easily happen when you don’t use an approach that adheres to standards). I presented a free software program that helps you easily add standards-compliant metadata (Adobe Bridge),
  • Accessing photos – we talked about preferences for accessing your photos? Is having them on your desktop/laptop good enough?  Do you want access to them via apps on your phone? Do you want your family members to have access? We talked about things to consider and approaches that can help achieve your access goals.
  • Preserving photos – I confessed that I’d not really had a good preservation plan for my photos until recently. Sure, I upload my historical photos to FamilySearch Family Tree Memories as I trust FamilySearch will be around for many more years and it is a free way to make those heritage photos easily accessible. However, I just was not happy with any approach I’d considered for my entire photo collection overall; that is until I recently discovered

Taneya presents

I covered a lot in 45 minutes huh? Overall, a great evening! Many thanks to the society for the opportunity to share something I love doing and helping bring digital photo order to others. If you’re trying to wrangle your digital photo collection, reach out! I’m happy to share some tips & further details on strategy.


social media image soap for digital photo management

My Photo Game is About to Level Up!

My daughter has been watching a lot of gaming videos lately, so I’ve got gaming terminology on my mind. Let me tell you about my next level coming up for my digital photo management game! First of all, it’s Thursday! Which means I usually post an old picture on Facebook for #ThrowbackThursday. But, today, rather than share a specific photo, I want to share some info on my photo management process, which is key to all of my photo sharing.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working to organize my digital picture collection. I invest time in writing descriptions and applying keyword tags to them so that I can easily find them. Using Adobe Bridge and Google Photos has been the foundation of my approach. The rewards of taking the time to do this process have been extremely well worth it and once I have a photo filed away, I can find it again in seconds.

Plot twist:Google has made changes that disrupted my workflow in using Google Photos. As I knew this change was coming, I started exploring other options. I found something that has rocked my world.

The Friends & Family view of my FOREVER profile

From this point forward, I will be using FOREVER Storage to store, manage, organize, and share my photos as it checks off multiple criteria in my oh-so-picky list of personal preferences AND it offers a solution for ensuring that my stuff is passed on to my family not only in the present time but also when I am long gone. I am ecstatic about the platform and am planning a series of posts to share my reasons why I think this is the ideal solution for me. As their promotional material advertises, I truly think it is the memory keeping solution I need in my life. Additionally, FOREVER has a philosophical focus on using pictures to tell stories and isn’t that what we are all about as genealogists and family historians? It will take some effort to get there, but making this transition is going to be great!  My photo organization game is leveling up for real!

I can’t wait to share more in future posts – stay tuned!

Disclaimer: The link I include above to FOREVER Storage is a referral link, so if you sign up for a free account (which comes with 2GB of storage space), we both get a  credit. 😀 


More BillionGraves Fun

I’ve had quite a busy weekend! Yesterday, I was at the Nashville Zoo to learn more about the African American history at the site, and today, I went to Greenwood Cemetery to take pictures for BIllionGraves.

I’ve blogged about BillionGraves several times before here on my blog:

I guess you could say I’m a fan (I promise, I am not paid to say that LOL). But, I am a fan because I do feel it fills a niche in the genealogy world. The aim is simple – geo-tag as many cemetery headstones as possible with the ultimate goal to get to a BILLION entries. And, given that all I have to do is take the pictures and other people can transcribe them — all the better!

This weekend, the BillionGraves team was in Nashville to document as many burials as possible in a specific group of cemeteries that included Mt. Olivet, Mt. Cavalry, and both Greenwood Cemeteries (African American). Given my interest in Nashville African American history, I signed up to help out at Greenwood Cemetery. Of all the photos that were on the site before this weekend, I took 80% of them anyway (800/1000). So, this was right up my alley!

BillionGraves check-in tent

Today, over the course of about 2.5 hours, I was able to take 800 photos! I wish I could have stayed longer, but I am happy with the progress. BillionGraves’ Chief Technology Officer, Brian Moncure, took about 300 photos himself! It is definitely a good thing that our photos will be among the new ones soon posted on the site. In the picture below, I took photos of about every grave you see in the picture, on this side of the entrance road. That’s a lot of photos and I hope it will be of help to others researching their family history and looking for relatives in the cemetery. In fact, while I was there, a woman came in looking for her grandmother and couldn’t find her location – an app such as this one definitely helps solve that problem!

view of part of Greenwood Cemetery


Here is the view of my contributions today as reflected on the BillionGraves site – see all those green dots? That’s me!

Most of this green represents my pictures from today

I did not work in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, but due to help from an Eagle Scouts project, and other volunteers, half the cemetery was photographed just yesterday alone. I was also glad to have the opportunity to meet and speak with both Brian, and CEO, Hudson Gunn. The team has some interesting plans for the future and I am looking forward to seeing them develop! Thanks BillionGraves for organizing this event!

me with Hudson Gunn & Brian Moncure


blog post social media image

New on the Genealogy Bookshelf

I wanted to share the two newest additions to my personal library – well, one of them will stay with me and one won’t.

The first book is Kenyatta Berry‘s “The Family Tree Toolkit: A Comprehensive Guide to Uncovering Your Ancestry and Researching Genealogy.” Kenyatta is a notable genealogist and one of the hosts of PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow. The book is a guide for understanding where to begin in the search for your family history. The chapters cover getting started in the process and how to work with different record types, from census, court, immigration, military, ethnic records, DNA, adoption records, and more. I’m excited to get this because we will actually be putting it up for raffle at the upcoming meeting of the Nashville Chapter of the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society. It will be nice to see this book in the hands of one of our lucky attendees so it will not be staying in my personal library. I will definitely get a copy for myself though!

The second book is an exhibit book for a collection of life-sized color pencil drawings of 17 men from the 25th USCT, Company G. The portraits are currently on exhibit at Ft. Negley here in Nashville and I was truly captivated. The book is by Shayne Davidson and is titled “Civil War Soldiers – Discovering the Men of the 25th United States Colored Troops.” I wrote a post on the AAHGS Nashville blog with more info so I invite you to read it at

Have I mentioned how I catalog my personal library collection? It may be time to do a blog post about that! As I am on a quest for improved organization, ensuring my book collection is well organized has been part of that process. That’s a topic for another day.

My Newspaper Research Presentation

When I started working on my family history about 14 years ago, one of the resources I quickly developed a love for were historical newspapers. I found them fascinating as they are full of so many different types of information! When I reached a point where I wanted to give back to the genealogy community, old newspapers were where I quickly focused. Being in Nashville, Tennessee and having access to the Tennessee State Library & Archives (TSLA) meant that I could tap into their holdings and help share what I was finding. Fast forward to present day and I am utterly tickled that I was invited to present for the TSLA Workshop Series recently – the topic I chose – historical newspapers! Many thanks to TSLA and Friends of the TSLA for the invite.

The presentation, which I gave on January 26, 2019, is online for free if you are interested in viewing it. Visit the video web page here to download the handout. I give an overview of researching with historical papers, mostly in Tennessee, but there are strategies and suggestions that are helpful no matter which state you are in. Enjoy!

The Power of an Index

My graduate project when I obtained my library and information science degree from UNC-Chapel Hill was to index a rap music magazine. I came up with controlled terminology, created a database, and indexed issues of The Source, one of my favorite rap music magazines at the time. I was an avid reader of the publication, had years worth of issues in my collection, and was frustrated that it was difficult to ever find any specific article I needed because no traditional indexing databases had comprehensive or detailed coverage. 
Fast forward 20 years and I still LOVE creating indexes! There are so many records whose use would be made easier of there was an index. Sure, digitization and the posting of full-text materials are great and I am so grateful for all of them, but an index adds value because it can make locating specific content easier and it is easier to represent knowledge across the whole document (or set of documents). 
Today, for example, I’ve been sharing online an update I’ve made to one of the indexes – an index of students graduating from Tennessee colleges & schools. In this update, I added about 300 students who graduated from Lane College, a historically black college in Jackson (Madison County), Tennessee. If you’d like to explore, you can visit it at
And this is just one of my projects. For the past 8-9 years I have created and/or facilitated several genealogy indexing projects and in 2019, my primary genealogy goal is to further develop them all. The others include:
2019 – My Year of Indexing. I look forward to sharing more about them all throughout the year. 

What a Wonderful Seminar!

Yesterday, I was delighted to have the opportunity to present at the 30th Annual Genealogical Seminar of the Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society. I gave a talk about using digital book collections (e.g., Google Books, the Internet Archive, and HathiTrust Digital Library) and principles in managing and organizing digital photographs. I had a blast!

I was one of 4 presenters and was in good company. Dr. David Dowell spoke about DNA and understanding inheritance patterns, Martha Gerdeman spoke about deeds and how to best use them for research, and Melissa Barker gave an overview of how archives can help you with your genealogy. It was a pleasure to interact with everyone who attended and I was pleased to see some longtime friends and acquaintances there as well.

Presenters – Martha Gerdeman, Melissa Barker, me, David Dowell – and we are with MTGS President, Bob Dennison.


Technology is a great interest of mine and I’m always pleased to have the opportunity to share approaches that may be of help. My next presentation is in January 2019 for the Tennessee State Library on using newspapers. Looking forward to that one as well!


He Was A Hero At Havelock

I received a most incredible email yesterday! Mr. Eddie Ellis Jr., A historian of Havelock, NC in Craven County, NC shared with me incredible details about a family member of mine. That family member is Rev. Wright L. Lawhorn and he was a brother of my 2nd great-grandfather, Samuel Becton Lawhorn.

We are fortunate to have in the family still, Samuel’s Family Bible. When I first started researching my family history, I received a photocopy of the bible pages that lasted names and dates of family members. The longest entry in the bible reads: “Rev. Wright Lawhorn the son of V Lawhorn born February 4, 1877 started preaching in 1902 at Havelock Mission now pastoring at Lancaster as of September 15, 1950,”

Excerpt from Lawhorn Family Bible

Excerpt from Lawhorn Family Bible

That was my first time “meeting” Wright and over the years, I’ve continued to research him and his family. Just last year, I wrote here on my blog about Wright’s second wife, Birdell, and how she had a yearbook annual dedicated to her. Shortly after posting that, I had a conversation with a family member who told me a bit more about Wright.

Wright apparently saved a train from crashing at some point in his life and as a reward, the train company gave him a job as a porter and gave him a pass to ride the train whenever he wanted, for free. The email I received yesterday from Mr. Ellis confirmed it!  Mr. Ellis had known about the story for several years, but until a couple of days ago, had only known the name of the man who saved the train as “McLawhorn” for that was the name printed in the paper. By happenstance, Mr. Ellis saw the name “Lawhorn” in a census records, started searching for Lawhorn, and found Wright and found my aforementioned blog post. So, Ellis sent me the newspaper articles describing what happened.

In July 1916 a hurricane came through the state and caused flooding in many areas. It seems Wright and his first wife, Vera, saw a train crossing that was washed away and so decided to try and warn any oncoming trains. The first train they saw was headed to Goldsboro returning from the beach and carried about 400-500 people. The train conductor saw Lawhorn waving him down, stopped, and was able to walk to nearby town and get assistance. The papers report that had Wright not been able to warn the conductor, the “loss of life would have been appalling.” Wright was lauded as a hero for his actions. The passengers of the train collected a purse for him of $25 or $31 dollars (depending on the newspaper account) which is equivalent to about $700 today. However, a later editorial chided the passengers for putting such little value on their lives and suggested the railroad company, Norfolk Southern Railroad, needed to give Wright a big check. Mr. Ellis thinks that may have been why they ended up giving Wright the job and subsequently, the free rides for life pass – a pass he noted was usually reserved for politicians and other important people.

Kinston Free Press newspaper, July 26, 1916

Kinston Free Press newspaper, July 26, 1916

Franklin Times Newspaper, July 28, 1916

Franklin Times Newspaper, July 28, 1916

I’m amazed to have these sources now to share with the family. What a treasure to have and learn more about the selfless act that  Wright and Vera did and the impact it had for those hundreds of people on the train. A “Hero at Havelock” indeed!