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Naming Sources

I’ve been asked to explain how I name my sources in RootsMagic. I’m sharing my method as an example. I’ve never actually written out my ‘naming’ practices.

However, I have heard the genealogist, Cousin Russ, talk about how he maintains a file of instructions that contains his naming practices. His blog post FTM2012 and AMT – File Naming and Captions discusses some of his naming practices.

Most of my file naming conventions go back to having been the technology coordinator in the local high school for quite a few years. When schools first introduced computers and their accompanying networks, students shared computers. Thus, a major challenge was helping students learn where their files were stored and how to organize them. Another challenge was helping everyone learn to give their file a name versus letting the computer name it.

These experiences along with my personal experience with file names have impacted how I name things in RootsMagic. Basically, my naming conventions take into account the following factors:

  • sorting — how does the computer’s alphabetical sorting impact the sorting based on the naming convention I’ve chosen
  • grouping — how can I use names to group likes things together in a list

RootsMagic 8 introduces a very powerful search function that will help compensate for not using a naming convention. For me, the power of this search feature will be in its ability to sort thru lots of items to quickly locate the one I want.

My willingness to follow a naming pattern has helped me to quickly scroll thru a list of items to find exactly what I’m looking for.

To start with, the source templates that I’ve created are at the top of the list of source templates. When I first converted my Master Genealogist data to RootsMagic, it created source templates whose names started with _TMG_. These source templates appear ABOVE the built in source templates.

Thus, I knew that placing the underscore at the start of the name would place the name towards the top of the list. When I converted to RootsMagic, I also started using Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book, Evidence Explained, as a guide for building my sources. Since I was creating my templates based on Evidence Explained, I elected to begin the names for these source templates with _EE_. The next part of the name refers to the type of record. This portion of the name is usually the same as the name for the template I copied from.

When it comes to source templates, I learned one thing the HARD way. When one drags a person from one RootsMagic file to another, the source templates used for that person are also ‘drug’ from the first file to the next. Thus, one can end up with lots of duplicate source templates and no ‘easy’ button to merge them. This happened to me and I had quite a few census and newspaper source templates in my list.

There is a set of SQL instructions that will merge these ‘duplicate’ source templates. I finally got up the courage to run these instructions and it quickly merged most of my duplicates. However, I was left with a few duplicates and could not figure out the difference between two source templates. Thus, I renamed one as ‘BAD’ so that I would not use it for future sources. At some point, I will revisit this to see if I can spot the difference and get them merged.

When it comes to my sources, I begin the name with the type of source followed by a dash. For many sources, I will follow that dash with the abbreviation for the state where the record is found. Then I follow the state’s abbreviation with information about the source that sets it apart from similar sources. If the record comes from an online site, I often end the name with the name of the site followed by the letters EE. Those letters, EE, at the end of the source name tell me at a glance that this source is based on Evidence Explained and not a source created years ago before I started following these standards.


  • Birth-AZ 1880-1935 Ancestry EE
  • Birth-IA Index 1800-1999 Ancestry EE
  • Book-MO History Davies Gentry Counties Archives.org EE
  • Cem-IA Graveston Index Ancestry EE
  • Death MA 1841-1915 Ancestry EE
  • Death MA 1841-1915 FamilySearch EE
  • Deed-IN Warren 1827-1901 FamilySearch EE
  • Directory-CA Long Beach 1933 Ancestry EE
  • Draft-WWII Young Men 1940-1947 Ancestry EE
  • History-IA Northwest pioneers (note the lack of EE — this source was likely created in Master Genealogist)
  • Marriage-AZ 1865-1972 Ancestry EE
  • Military- WWII Navy Muster Rolls 1938-1949 Ancestry EE
  • News-KS Dodge City Daily GLobe D418 KSHS EE (D418 is the microfilm number at the Kansas State HIstorical Society)
  • News-KS Dodge City Globe (Dodge City, KS) Newspapers.com EE (I added the location to my naming process within the last few years.)
  • News-KS Hays Daily News Genealogy Bank EE
  • News-Dayton Herald (Dayton, OH) Newspaepers.com EE
  • Probate-KS Ford County EE
  • Probate-KS Wills and Probate Records 1803-1987 Ancestry EE
  • Tax-KY Fleming 1798-1875 FamilySearch EE
  • Vital-VT Records 1720-1908 Ancestry.com EE
  • Will-KY Fleming County Book H FamilySearch EE

When it comes to census records, I lump by county. Thus, my naming convention for census records follows the dash with the year of the census. The year is followed by the state abbreviation and then the county name. The source of the census record and EE complete more recent citations. Earlier citations were likely created when viewing microfilm of the census. Thus, they don’t have the source or EE. Examples would include:

  • Census-1860 IA Buchanan County Ancestry EE
  • Census-1857 KS Atchison
  • Census-1860 IL Douglas Bk
  • Census-1860 IL Knox County Ancestry EE
  • Census-1885 IA Wapello County Ancestry EE
  • Census=KS Counties 1953-1979 Ancestry EE

Prior to my transition to RootsMagic, I didn’t have images attached to events. After the transition, I started downloading images and attaching those images to sources. When I started naming these images, I followed a pattern based on the following:


The first set of YYYY referred to the year of birth. The second set of YYYY referred to the year of the event. My thinking was that this would put all images for a person together and that these images would then sort in chronological order.

I soon discovered that this naming pattern did not work for me. Instead I started using folders and subfolders to help organize my images. I have a folder for each of my surname lines. As I discover a new line, I add a new folder. This folder uses the surname for its name.

Within these surname folders, I have folders for the various people with that surname. Each folder name starts with the person’s birth year followed by their surname and then their given name. By starting the folder name with the birth year, the folders will sort in chronological order.

My Crawford folder is an example of how this works — especially where I’m researching several different Crawford lines

  • 1748-Crawford-William
  • 1750-Crawford-Mary
  • 1757-Crawford-James-Rebecca-Anderson
  • 1772-Crawford-James-Sally-Duggins
  • 1808-Crawford-Nelson-G
  • 1834-Crawford-James-H
  • 1838-Crawford-Washington-Marion
  • 1894-Crawford-Leon-Russell

My current practice is to base the file name on the following pattern

YYYY-Type of Record-State Abbreviation-County-Surname-GivenName

  • 1800-Tax-KY-Pulaski-Crawford-Alexander
  • 1818-Tax-OH-Preble-Crawford-James
  • 1822-Deed-OH-Preble-Bk5-p98-Sellers-to-Crawford

Naming these files is where I sometimes get lax in following the pattern. The one portion of the pattern that I have adhered to since adopting this system is to begin the file name with the year of the event. This places the files in the folder in chronological order when sorted by file name.

When adding the image to a source or fact in RootsMagic, I’ve adopted a similar naming pattern for the caption — it starts with the year of the event followed by the type of document.

As I’ve worked thru writing this blog, I’ve discovered quite a few places where I should go back and rename sources, folders and even files.

From my viewpoint, the issue isn’t whether you have adopted a naming pattern for source templates, sources, images or captions. Instead, the issue is whether you can locate the desired template, source, or image when needed. No matter what you decide, it has to fit your way of doing things.

One thought on “Naming Sources

  1. Marcia, Thank you so much for taking the time to share examples. One question – have you tried importing info into RM8 yet to see if the source citations move over correctly – especially if you have used the free form template?

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