digital library

When various years had passed after I first began my genealogical research various decades ago - - I had ended up with a garage filled with boxes, filing cabinets full of hanging folders, shelves full of books, and piles of photos, and loads of research notes, xerox copies and genealogical correspondence all over the place. My garage had evolved into my own personal genealogical library.  But it was beginning to become very hard to manage and my wife kept threatening to throw it out. As technology and genealogy changed over the years - - I began to consider the option of a "digital library".

Today, with the magic of computers, the Internet, and digital scanners and cameras coupled with high density digital storage devices what in decades ago filled an entire library - could now (very literally)  fit onto a computer chip the size of a finger nail. The possibilities became  almost beyond comprehension

Below are various tips and points to consider as I share from my own experience of creating a digital genealogical library

see also my description of my scanning project


A computer and its  accessories will be the key component of your digital library. But before you even get started on something like a digital library - you have to really understand and come to terms with one thing:   Eventually your computer will crash and the data on it become irretrievable.  The same is true for other storage devices such as flash drives, CD's and other devices.  Its not a matter of "if" - its a matter of "when". You need to assume every day that such day could be the day your computer dies.  Because of this experts highly recommend storing your digital material of value in at least three independent locations/devices - devices that can communicate easily and quickly with each other. Most commonly this would be - on 1) the hard drive of your computer, 2) on a flash drive or portable hard drive, and 3) at a remote location from your normal work area - but preferaly on the "Internet"  or "cloud" as the buzzword is.  Should any one of these three locations have hardware failure - the data can be copied from one of the remaining two other sites.  Having a real concrete backup/storage plan that has actually been tested and that you are comfortable with is a MUST for anyone creating digital data.

Anti Virus Software is also a must for any computer you will be using.  You dont need to know the details of it.  BUT You need to be able to know with confidence that it is running and is kept up to date.
AVAST is an example of one of various FREE antivirus software - if your computer doesnt already have antivirus software installed.   Browsing the Internet without  your computer having up-to-date virus software - is really running a big risk.



There are various options as to genalogical software used- and where it is a locally installed program or a web based application.   But as you begin to share your digital genealogical information with others and others with you - learning what  GEDCOM file is can be very important.   It is a file structure that allows exchange of genealogical data between two different genealogical systems (thus avoiding rekeying of the data)

 Comparison of Genealogy Software

also see: 

also see:


A scanner can be an essential tool in helping you store documents and photos digitally. Scanners are dirt cheap - a copier/scanner/fax can be purchased for as little as $100. Be sure to store scanned documents in an organized way - consider using a folder system to separate/group items together that belong together.  Ensure that file names are not just default names - but are renamed by you to be names that make sense to you and help you identify what has been scanned. Be sure and learn how to use the paper tray on your scanner - and are comfortable with scanning to both jpg (image) files and pdf (document files). Scanning to pdf can group multiple items in one file - and in combination with your paper feed can allow you to scan many pages with just a few clicks of the mouse. Be sure and wipe clean the glass of your scanner before you start a scaning project - dust will be highly magnified by the scanner.

I highly reccomend a multi function desktop printer/scanner/copier/faxer. But I also feel many people would find a handheld portable scanner - a great additional tool for the genealogist. They can be obtained for less than $50.00.

Also be aware that many office copiers work as scanners - and have the advantage that many of them are configured to allow for delivering the scanned item by email. This is a very useful feature.



Digital Cameras can range in price from cheap ($50) to very expensive ($1,000's).   Diigtal Cameras can not only be used for taking photos of the family but everything from taking photos of family locations you visit  - to using it in place of a scanner for digitizing documents.

Digital photos should be downloaded to your computer periodically.  Even though your photo chip may hold tens of thousands of photos - you have to assume the possibility your camera could be lost or stolen

The Smart Phone has brought the digital camera to just about everyone - use it.



Digital Videos can also be an important part of a digital library.  Most cameras/smart phones can create videos. 
Note however that digital video can take up hundreds or thousands of times more storage space than other items. 
Be sure to delete video that you have no reason to keep. Also realize that in most cases video file will be too large for email transfer.



Once you start using image editing software you wil be amazed at how often you end up using them for all sorts of genealogical related tasks.  Something as simple as adding digital labels to images - and/or basic image editing of cropping/rotating/converting, as well as adding notes and comments to images of any sort.

Photoscape ( not to be confused with Photoshop) is my FREE favorite - but there are various others - even some that allow you to store your images on line.


- Downloading Images

Most images that you see on line can be easily downloaded to your local computer - simply by right clicking on the image and selecting "save as". You can then download to your hard drive and/or USB device. As needed - rename files so that later you will be able to identify the photo. Save it to a specific place and folder structure in your storage that will allow quick and easy access and identification.

When the "right click" option doesnt work - you can also do a PRT_SCREEN and PASTE to either a word procesor or image editor. 

Seriously consider using a screen capture program such as GREENSHOT.

-  Printing to PDF

I have occasionally come across people who when they wanted to digitize something they found on the Internet  would first print it out - and then scan the print-out.  Both of these steps are totally unnessecary in creating digital copies and also very much degrade the quality of what is being printed/scanned.  The best way to do this is with a print to pdf utility. Many computers these days come with a option/device in your printer list - that really isnt a printer - though it is treated as if it was one - but actually it is a tool/utiltiy that allows you to send the image/text of an entire web page to a utility program that instead of feeding the file to a printer - actually creates a digital pdf copy of the web page.

If your computer doesn't have a "save/print to pdf" option - consider various shareware utilities that can be downloaded from the Internet.  Note that these print to pdf utilites - generate a pdf of the entire web page - and not just the portion that is on the screen (like a screen capture program does).  

 - Downloading Entire Books

There are various sites that will allow you to download entire books to your computer.  Often these are books that are no longer covered by copyright.
Here are some sites that allow for viewing/dowloading books.   Note that virtually anything that shows in your browser as a PDF file - will be downloadable if you simply right click on the page.


Google Book   click on "EBOOK-FREE" option to download

Hathi Trust


Digital documents can often be extremely easy to send by email in sharing with others.  But email will have lots shortcomings when trying to send large files (larger than 20MB) as well as when sending a large number of files (more than 15 or so).  You will find that using on line services such as BOX.COM,  DROP BOX.COM, or GOOGLE DRIVE - - are invaluable tools for allowing you to share large files and large collections of files. Seriously consider learning more about these services.  They can save you a lot of time and headache once you become familiar with how to use them.  Find someone who is already using them to mentor you.



- File Searching

Once you start collecting digital files of various types in your digital genealogical library  the number of files you have can explode into hundreds and thousands.  Find ways that work for you to help you organize and search through these files.

One tool that I use when Im looking for a file but not sure what folder or what file name its under  is the Ultra File Search Uitlity - - quick and simple to use - and if it is configured correctly I can even search for words insides the file being searched for.

 - File Folder Syncing

If you are storing copies of your files in multiple locations - but dont have any  specific tool to automatically "sync" such storage locations.   You should seriously consider the program "Beyond Compare"

I use this program extensively - as I compare the folderrs on my hard drive to the corresponding folders on my USB device (flash drive etc.) The program compares the folders and shows me the differences and allows me to sync the folders - either in a single click or on a file by file basis).



- Mentors:

Having someone you can consult with and who can train and mentor you in a process that is new to you can really be a very valuable asset. You can avoid hours of headache and frustration - if you learn something sitting with someone who can show you - as compared to trying to learn something on your own. Especially if you are a person who didnt grow up with computers.   Consider paying a neighbor kid  a nominal fee for teaching you some computer tips or having your kids or grandkids show you how to do things.

- Improving your computer skills

Take a little time each day or each week - to improve your computer skills. Learn ways to reduce the time and headache it takes you to accomplish certain tasks.  Simple little things can often make a world of difference. Things like - learning how to bookmark a web page,  learning how to copy and paste a web address url to an email,  learning how to rename a file, create a new folder, take screen captures, learn how to download an image or generate a pdf file - - - these simple tasks can make a big difference in your online experience.