I'm struggling with the problem of how to name digital images that I download from FamilySearch.org and other websites.

When the "Save As" dialog box pops up in Windows, there is usually a filename populating the dialog box. If the provider offers a distinct filename, my usual practice is to keep that filename and note it in my records. Unless the website includes in the filename the date it was downloaded, this allows me to check whether or not I have downloaded it before -- when moving it from my 'new downloads' folder to its place in my permanent storage area, W8 will tell me I already have a copy of the file.

But FamilySearch downloads all Save As "record-image.jpg" unless you tell Windows otherwise. The same problem exists when printing PDFs from images on FamilySearch (care is needed or the image gets cropped) or other websites. The 'Save As' dialog auto-fills with 'untitled.PDF' or 'document.PDF', forcing users to make up a filename on the spot, or end up with a batch of files named document(n).pdf and the like. My preference is to encode the archive reference in the filename where possible, similar to what Findmypast does with some of their record images from TNA.

My current practice is to rename the file using some version of the number following the 'pal' (Persistent Archive Link) in the link I took to the image, removing any characters not allowed in a filename (e.g. https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NW7Q-GQJ reduces to MM9110-NW7QGQJ). One advantage of doing this is that I also save a screen capture or scrape the data off the results page, and the original link is in the source citation -- if the filename matches that in some way, I can see that I have downloaded the corresponding file without having to explicitly note that I have done so.

However, I don't like this solution because when FamilySearch changes how they name everything again, the filename will be meaningless. See the related question Persistent URLs (web addresses) for online records of genealogical events, especially AdrianB38's answer -- the issues discussed there are why I want to move away from using the PAL numbers.

Another option might be to use some form of the digital file number in the references given for each search result:

Reference ID: v 445 p 693 , GS Film number: 961512 , Digital Folder Number: 4225007 , Image Number: 607

Two articles I found which discuss the GS Film number, and how to retrieve items when no online image is available, are Understanding the source information behind Historical Records results and How to find an image in the FamilySearch Catalog using the film number found in Historical Records.

To solve the 'where did these files come from' problem I place them into a folder labelled with the name of the website until I can work through the batch and rename them. But a long session on FamilySearch.org might result in a folder with dozens of files that are all called 'record-image' with the later files having the number appended by Windows when it downloads duplicates.

What system do you use? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Do you work in batches, or do you find it more efficient to rename each file as it is downloaded?

The image-processing program IrfanView allows the user to add a comment to an image. (Other programs probably do as well, but IrfanView is the one I use most). FamilySearch has a "copy citation" feature in its viewer, so I plan to copy the citations and attach them to the images with IrfanView's comment feature. This will preserve the citation as it appeared on the day I downloaded or re-visited the image until I can create a multimedia record in Family Historian.

Edited May 2015 to add: it seems that FamilySearch has changed the way they serve images when downloaded -- files now seem to have a reference number in the name. One of my recent downloads was named


I haven't decoded the reference number yet, but if the name is the same every time it is accessed, this will solve my generic image filename problem. I'll have to re-access the older images to capture the new filenames as I review my data.

Late 2019 update:

On the Evidence Explained website, in the discussion Using FamilySearch Citaton, Robert Raymond from FamilySearch posted:

ARK addresses on FamilySearch are intended to be long-lived. It is our (FamilySearch's) intent to maintain them for "a long time." We recommend you incorporate them into your citations. Unlike DOI identifiers (which Elizabeth illustrates in Evidence Explained), ARK identifiers are expressed as URLs. Dropping the portion of the URL starting with the question mark does not affect the persistence of the ARK.

Since the last time I updated the question, FamilySearch image downloads again autofill with a generic filename, so I am reconsidering how I can use a modified ARK identifier as the filename for image downloads. Another option would be to use film numbers, DGS numbers, or Digital File Numbers plus the image number as a temporary measure, but those may not be persistent.


5 Answers 5


I use a number of file-naming patterns, depending on the image source and the collection. The key, for me, is consistency within the collection. Since I use text files to keep index entries and transcriptions together, it's easy to also cross-reference the filenames and urls.

When a new collection is published, I may play with the file-names several times to fine-tune the exact sequence, depending on what information is most relevant.

My filename components

  • Provider (FS, FN, other) may be indicated in the name esp. if I have to use more than one source for images from similar collections. Ancestry is the default and omitted as an identifier
  • Supplied identifiers - I usu. include the FamilySearch's Digital Folder Number & Image Number as the initial part of the filename (although # of initial zeros isn't consistent). Ancestry's image numbering has been incorporated in some of the new databases, but is problematic because it is not available for items accessed from the shoebox instead of search or an external bookmark
  • Database or collection (often abbreviated or in keywords)
  • Jurisdiction or Year or Page
  • Type of document, if relevant
  • Relevant Surname(s)
  • other info if needed (given name, birth-death range, etc)

1930 US Census (PA Lawrence - 0030 New Castle Ward 4), 12B, Wonner
USCityDirectories - NY Rochester 1960, i211 of 1252 - Buchard
CanadaVotersLists 1963 ON Elgin 2809 - Gubesch
Boston Roll 225-289 1914-Aug-08 Cincinnati (Wagner x2, Luka)
WW1 A PA Kirschner John 1888

FS WW1 C NY Koch William 1899
004121859_00620 OH d- Ammon Carrie 1861 Zimmer
4654115_01654 MI co marr BER 1904 Zern-Hansel (affidavit)

29158 DeKalb IL death cert 1978 Andrew J Krafft
WVa Record Image bId_2131364 Speice Zelma 1906
The Windsor Daily Star - Jun 12, 1957 marr ann Schuller - Trupp


PolyGeo's answer points up the dichotomy in filenaming approaches: focus on the document content and source vs. focus on how the document fits into the research on the family and individuals.

My directory structure is by record/event class (newspapers, military, immigration, vital stats, censuses, etc) and filenaming is based on the source. Duplicates are easy to spot and minimize repeating effort. Non-familial associations are easier to find (example, neighbours on a census page, passengers on the same voyage). Multiple versions of similar records (example, obituaries from different newspapers) are easy to incorporate. Tracking of sources belonging to a particular individual or family is done in my genealogy database, not in the file structure. Not described in the 1st part of the answer is my practice of keeping and flagging documents for reference purposes that have been proven to not be my person of interest. These are kept in the same directory as similar images.

The system outlined by Randy Seaver is based on family structure and names of individuals. This makes it easy to list (and share) all the files associated with a particular individual, but (I think) has drawbacks when similar documents are available for an individual or a document includes many individuals or when a significant error is discovered.

Re generic filenames when downloaded

My image files (downloads, webpages printed to pdf, and screenshots saved in Paint) are first saved in my Downloads directory. I often work in batches, and keep careful track of the sequence of what I am saving. Usually I try to re-name generic filenames (sometimes with a temporary or partial identification) before more than 10 (max 15) have accumulated. As proper filenames are assigned, the files are moved to a working directory for further evaluation or transcription.

  • So what about say a marriage certificate? Two key persons. How would you name the image file? Commented Dec 5, 2020 at 17:20
  • 1
    Marriage records are labelled as described above. An example was included in the answer: 4654115_01654 MI co marr BER 1904 Zern-Hansel (affidavit). Surnames of groom and bride are hyphenated, previous marriage surnames in brackets if needed, ex: 004016970_00480 OH co marr 1912 CUY Ziegler-Schenker (Broos). More examples of other info appended: cert, not returned, lic
    – bgwiehle
    Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 14:28
  • Thanks. At the moment I am just using something simpler and using the husbands name to identify the certificate. We will see how it goes. Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 15:00

I won't comment on the file naming as others have but will offer an alternative to Irfanview.

Right click on the image select properties > details and then click the text to the right of the title header. You can then type in there whatever title you wish including the full url or whatever you wish. You can also change any of the other data here such as tags and subject and even add comments. These are all embedded in the file and can be viewed or edited later.


I found what looks like a useful blog posting entitled My Ancestor Family File Folders and File Naming Convention by Randy Seaver:

One of the challenges of having a lot of ancestors and a lot of digitized documents and photographs is organizing all of this "stuff" in a file system, whether digital or paper. This post is about my digital collections.

I decided about two years ago to try to put as much of my digital material as possible in a consistent and coherent file folder system. Since then, I've gradually been ...

My own system is far less evolved than this, and so I offer it instead, as an example of what seems to be working for someone else.


I don't worry whether an image comes from FamilySearch, Ancestry, ScotlandsPeople, the Norwegian National Archives, etc.

What's important to me are the Four* Questions Of Fact Gathering:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where

With that, I can backtrack to the original source, no matter if the original web site decides to rename everything, and the names are meaningful to non-genealogist family members if they want copies.

* "Why" is usually embedded in the What and Where.


@JanMurphy: I'm not going to comment on naming protocols but will add that you can use a powerful utility like Bulk Rename Utility (http://www.bulkrenameutility.co.uk/Main_Intro.php) which allows a vast number of permutations to change the names of files. The user interface looks like the flightdeck of a 787 so if you have a particular renaming requirement, I'd be happy to try to give some advice.

  • I have used this before. Useful if you have accurate information in the tag data of the files. But not useful if you want to name the files per person. Commented Dec 5, 2020 at 19:57

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