This page was last updated 2014-07-02
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2014 Donald R. Snow

These notes are published in our Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group (UVTAGG) monthly newsletter TAGGology and are then posted here on  where there may be updates, corrections, or additions.

A timeline is a listing in chronological order of events related to something such as a person's life.  Some genealogy programs, e.g. Ancestral Quest, have a built-in timeline creator that will mix your ancestor's life events with world events and show them chronologically.  What I will describe here is a method of doing an interactive timeline with files, primarily document or image files, and freeware programs, so that the files automatically sort in chronological order and form the timeline for a person.  The freeware program EVERYTHING is a major part of this and is a very handy tool for many other things as well.  I have discussed it before in this column and it is available from .  There is a portable version of the program that you can run from a flash drive without installing it on the computer, so you can use it at a FHC or elsewhere.  The program searches for all files on the computer regardless of location, organizes them by name, size, date, path, etc., and shows them ordered by any of these.  It allows you to select any words or characters you want and search for files with those in the titles and it brings those up almost instantly.  If the titles have been labeled in a systematic way, showing them in alphabetical order forms a timeline.  In the past I haven't always used a systematic method of naming files, so when I first ran EVERYTHING and searched for files with Don and Snow and other keywords in them it found files all over my computer that I didn't even remember I had and I as able to collect them into particular folders.  I found lots of duplicates that I still need to examine and delete.  EVERYTHING allows you to run, rename, move, copy, or delete files.  You don't have to move the files to work on them, since EVERYTHING shows them wherever they are, but I have found it helpful to put the ones I am working on into a single folder.  To move them with EVERYTHING you can highlight the group and drag-and-drop them to the desired folder which you have open in Windows Explorer or some other file management program.  Since you are only moving these files and not renaming them, only the path changes for them in EVERYTHING.

Here is my systematic naming pattern that helps form the timelines.  I use this for scans and text files of documents, screenshots, letters, newspaper articles, portraits, etc.  I don't use this for photographs, other than portraits, since having too many photographs would make the timeline too cluttered.  Here are a few examples from the several thousand files I have so you can see the pattern.  On my computer clicking on any of these opens that file to view it.  Or using Windows Explorer with the Preview Panel open (click on Preview in upper right corner), just arrowing down shows what's in each file as you go.



My file naming system used above is as follows.

     SurnameGivenNames(Married Surname)(BirthYear-DeathYear)-YYYY-MM-DD-[Event descriptors]-[Further descriptions]--[Scanning information].ext

Writing the surname first, then the given names, puts the files for each person together.  The birth and death years shows me immediately the person are time period and I don't have to use Jr., Sr., etc., which usually aren't part of their real name anyway.  The date written in International Date Format (YYYY-MM-DD) makes alphabetical sorting chronological, also.  This works for all files stored anywhere on the computer when using the freeware program EVERYTHING.  If the files are in a single folder, they sort chronologically in any file manager program, e.g. Windows Explorer.  When you rename any file with this convention, it is placed where it belongs in the timeline in EVERYTHING without you having to figure out where it belongs.  It is easy to rename the files, but does take time.  With files in a single folder you can use freeware programs such as Bulk Rename Utility (available from ) to add the name and information at the start or change descriptive terms to others through the entire collection.  To rename files I have found it helpful to open Windows Explorer's Preview panel (click on upper right side) so you see a preview of the file in the right panel.  You can open this panel by moving the bars on the left side to make it larger.  This allows viewing the file to decide on its name without having to open it in another program.  To include websites and URL's you can make rtf files containing the links so they are clickable.  The last example in my list above, about the Church News article, is a pdf that has the active URL at the top and a copy of the entire article.  It was generated and saved using Print Friendly, a freeware add-on or extension for various browsers.

To label the event or topic (after the date) I use several keywords including Birth, Death, Marriage, Medical, LDS, School, Military, News, Math, Genealogy, etc.  You can select your own keywords.  This makes it easy to find things pertaining to that type of event by just including that keyword in the EVERYTHING search.  It's like asking for chapters of your life and easily getting timelines for each topic by just searching for your name and those keywords.  If you don't have a document or file for a particular event now, you can always form an empty text file and name it so it goes where it belongs.  I usually avoid leaving spaces in file names since sometimes when those are copied into other programs special characters get put in for spaces and the titles become harder to read.  If a file pertains to the person's entire life, such as a genealogy or biographical website, I usually don't put the date right after the name, but put Genealogy or Biography, and then the date, so those all sort together after the timeline files.

Only the names and dates need to be in the places shown in the titles to form the timeline.  Other information can be anywhere in the title and it will be searchable, but making the rest of the title systematically helps in reading the list and finding items yourself.  I include the scanned date and sometimes even the number that the scanner put on the file since I keep the original hardcopy documents in folders labeled "Scanned 2014-04", etc., in a file cabinet.  That way I can find the originals, if I ever need them.  I include the screenshot date since websites change and may look different the next time you view them.

I hope this gives you some ideas that will help in your family history research for your own life and for your ancestors.  It has already helped me immensely and I just discovered this approach a few weeks ago and will undoubtedly make changes to it in the future.  I am converting file names a little at a time as I work on my own or an ancestor's information and I am not trying to do everything at once.  This approach uses the power of the computer to organize your data, but it's still a lot of work to rename the files.

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