Organizing Your Files – paper and computer


Does this sound familiar?

Genealogy begins as an interest,

Becomes a hobby;

Continues as an avocation,

Takes over as an obsession,

And in its last stages,

Is an incurable disease.

– Author unknown

Before long you will have so much information that you will need to have an organization system.  There is no single perfect system.  There are several choices.

Paper files

It used to be that an excellent introductory article on organizing your files could be found at: or just go to, select Learn,  and do a search for “organizing your files.”

Then at the end of the above article is a link to an article called :” Organizing Your Paper Files Using File Folders” – also available as a pdf file –  which describes a filing system using color coding.  – but FamilySearch just deleted the link to Organizing Your Paper Files!!!!!

The colour coded filing system was created by Mary Hill – and can be found elsewhere on the Internet – such as – just remember that any link back to is broken!

There is also a video at YouTube called “organizing your paper files” –

The official Mary Hill site is

Watch this space for any future links on Organizing Your Paper Files

There is no one perfect system.  Your system is best for you! – just have a system!

 Organizing Your Genealogy Using Computers


You do not have to have a personal computer to keep genealogy records, but it helps! Computer note keeping offers an important advantage. After typing the information once into the computer, you can use it repeatedly in many different ways. The same information can be used in pedigrees, family group records, and descendancy charts, and is easily shared for other people to use. Reports and charts are easily updated without extensive retyping. A number of computer programs can help you organize your records on your home computer.

Uses of Computers:

Genealogical management program

Genealogy management programs, such as PAF, organize family information into family group records and pedigree charts. These files can be searched by name, date, place, or relationship and show a person’s ancestors and descendants. The GEDCOM feature of genealogical management programs allows you to share genealogical information with others.

When you create a new file in a genealogical management program, give it a name you will easily recognize again. Most often people name files by the surname or portions of the surnames they are tracking in that file, i.e.

• Jones.paf

• JonesSmith.paf (for 2 grandparents)

Be sure to back up your genealogical management program files every time you make changes to the file.

Word processor files of family history information

A word processor allows you to create several kinds of documents useful to the family historian:

• Family histories can be written and edited easily.

• Timelines show the chronology of a family’s life events.

• Summary reports show your analysis of research progress on a specific family.

• Correspondence can be written and edited easily.

Make folders and subfolders which are named for the kind of document you are writing. Being careful about folder and subfolder organization will save you much frustration and time wasted looking for a document.

• Create folders by the surnames of families you are researching, such as “Jones” or “Smith.”

• Within each folder, create subfolders by the kind of document you are writing such as family histories, short family stories, timelines, research logs, and research summaries. The subfolder could be named, “JonesFamHistories” or “JonesTimelines.” Do this for each of the surnames you are working on.

• Within the subfolders, be sure to name your files so that you can easily identify them.

If you have files already set up which are poorly organized, you can think through how you would like to have them organized and then rename the files and reorganize them to create a useful system.

(Note:  Consider software specifically designed to help you create a personal history)

Digital Photographs, Scanned images of photographs and documents

Because scanned images use large amounts of space on your hard drive, you may want to invest in an external storage device on which to store scanned photographic images and documents. Make an index of the photographs. They can be named JonesGeorge1889, JonesLucinda1996, etc. if you identify carefully each photograph in your index, such as:

• JonesGeorge1889 = a photo of Uncle George Jones and Aunt Mary Greene Jones from Pulaski Co., Missouri. Dated 1889.

  • JonesLucinda1996 = Lucinda Jones, dau. of John Jones of Hunter Beach, California. Born 3 Jun 1996.

if you want the folders to be in chronological order then consider naming them:  201110Fam (year,month,word), 201009FHL

E-mail correspondence

Your e-mail program should have a built-in filing folder system. Set up folders and drag and drop e-mails with important family information in them into these folders. Set up folders much as you do in the basic file folder system. That is, create folders for locations and folders for family names.

Your folders might be named:

• Surnames: Jones; Jones, John; Jones, David; Smith; Smith, Thomas; etc.

• Localities: Kentucky; Kentucky, Cumberland Co.; Germany; England, Durham Co.; etc.

• Historical events: Civil War, Revolutionary War, French Revolution, French Huguenots, etc.

• Societies: County historical, state historical, DAR, etc.

Your e-mail program may also have features for address archiving, filtering, and searching e-mail correspondence.


Web site bookmarks

Web sites are valuable aids in family history research. It is not possible to remember where these sites are all located on the Internet. Therefore, use the “Bookmarks” or “Favorites” section on your browser. You can create sub-folders within “Bookmarks” or “Favorites” and name the subfolders to meet your research interests. Your “Bookmarks” or “Favorites” should have an option to <Export> which allows you to keep a backup copy.

Under <Views> , <Toolbar>, activate the “Links” bar or “Personal Toolbar” option to place your most frequently used web links on a toolbar at the top of your browser.

(Source:  Research Help section of the old website)

Addendum/personal note:  by copying and pasting into a word processor program you can move your emails into the same filing system as your word processing documents.

Selecting Genealogy Software

Why use software?  Why not just use paper?

  • Enter data once, see it in a variety of views and printouts
  • Avoid copying data from page to page – and thus avoid errors
  • Easier to edit and add information as you do research
  • Easier to share your research with your family and others who are interested

Lots of choices!  Good free programs do exist.

  • Go to and search for genealogy software for some independent reviews
  • Try and then buy/adopt

Some of the Windows Programs include:

  • Legacy Familytree – has a free basic version
  • Ancestral Quest – – has a free basic version
  • Rootsmagic – has a free basic version
  • FamilyTreeMaker
  • Personal Ancestral File (PAF) – has a free full version – but is old

Some of the Mac Programs include:

  • Reunion probably the most popular Macintosh genealogy program sold in N America.
  • Family TreeMaker
  • MacFamilyTree
  • Rootsmagic has said they are developing a version for the Mac

Online genealogy programs include:

  • The Next Generation
  • Family Pursuit

Looking to the future and the public availability of “FamilySearch FamilyTree”, the lds church issued the following advice which might help in software selection:

Features to Look for When You Choose a Family History Computer Program

If you want to use a family history computer program, choose one that will allow you to contribute your information to FamilySearch.

The most useful features are discussed below.


Select a computer program that creates and imports GEDCOM files. Most of the popular computer programs do. GEDCOM allows you to exchange family history information with others who use computer programs that accept GEDCOM. You can also contribute a GEDCOM file to FamilySearch if your program does not “synchronize” with FamilySearch.

Certified FamilySearch Synchronization

Please consider using a computer program that supports “synchronization” and two-way data transfers with FamilySearch. In addition to being able to create and import GEDCOM files, these programs let you compare the information on your computer with FamilySearch. You can then selectively contribute small amounts of information that are not already in FamilySearch. Many popular family history programs can or will soon be able to synchronize with FamilySearch. An add-in is available for Personal Ancestral File (such as Family Insight).

(Source:  What’s new in 0.94?  August 2008)

Backing up your files – Protecting your information

Do you have more than one back up copy of your valuable genealogical information with at least one copy in a location other than your own?

In the 1500s the Church of England asked all the parishes to make a back up copy of their parish records!  Today in England we have parish registers and Bishop’s Transcripts!  If they needed to make a back up so do we!  If they can copy their records out by hand then we can make copies onto flash drives or CD/DVDs!

What should we be backing up?

Not just the data for our genealogy program, but also our pictures, scanned images, word processing files, correspondence, and links to web sites.

What should we use to make back-ups?

  1. Get an external or portable hard drive with back up software to automate the process
  2. Use a flash drive/USB drive
  3. Use CDs or DVDs
  4. Use an online site like Mozy, or Apple iCloud or Dropbox – there are many!

Follow 3 -2 – 1 back up

    • A simple rule I’ve learnt over time, with backups.
    • 3 Backup copies of anything you want to keep.
    • 2 different storage media.
    • 1 offsite storage site

Remember – there are only 2 types of computer users:

  1. Those whose computer has “crashed”


  1. Those whose computer is going to “crash”!
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