Question of the Week: How do you keep your research organized?

+12 votes

How do you keep your research organized?

I use WikiTree, of course! I also use RootsMagic to store my tree offline. And I have a color-coded folder system I use in Dropbox. I'm working on organizing my papers and documents, etc, to match the color-coded system.

What works for you?

P.S. Reshare the question image on Facebook so your friends and family will see your answer.

asked in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
edited by Eowyn Langholf
Current research is organized via Microsoft Edge's saved tabs.  Once I create a profile, most research information I gather is then entered into the profile under a Research Profile.  This allows anyone to verify/validate any of the research I conducted on the person.  Secondary documentation (not online is a little trickier.  That is in a huge folder called "Genealogy", where also lies lots of research on lots of other historical topics.  

I am, however, "working on" an application intended to work with WikiTree, which will function as both an offline and online interface for it.  Hopefully, when I'm further along and ready to implement it, WikiTree has an API that allows it to work in that manner.  But the intention is to allow the app to store files as a blob, and for supported documents, upload them to WikiTree as images.

I have a lot of great ideas for it, but those are at the moment ideas.  But those ideas formulated out of the challenges of organizing research for people.  Prior to the Saved Tabs in Microsoft Edge, I used to save favorite links for documents that I found and wanted or needed to explore further.  With Saved Tabs, I can research a person, when there's a document that I need to further explore, I can save that tab and recall it when I have time to.  The really great thing with Saved Tabs is that there's no limit on how many tabs you can save.  The current problem with it is there's no organization to it either.  So, I have to keep myself organized there as well.

You can get similar plug-ins in Chrome and Firefox, just not as nice.  Definitely recommend if your research involves a lot of online searching.
unfortunately not very well- hope to get this mess worked on later today

32 Answers

+14 votes
Best answer

I am a firm believer in redundancy for best data protection.  I have a database application on my computer that I developed to store and organize my research information - documents, images, and notes.  I have a copy of that database on a flash drive kept offline, as well as in my computer backups, which are stored on a drive kept offline.  In addition to all that, I have my own web application running on my web server that I use as a repository to backup everything that I have on WikiTree.

I'm very new to genealogy - only been at it for four years now, so I don't have huge collections of paper - I am an avid proponent of paperless storage of everything!

answered by Gaile Connolly G2G6 Pilot (511k points)
selected by Jennifer Olmstead
Gaile, but don't you think that having a paper version of your family tree is necessary just in case anything happens to you hard drive!
Richard, I have three copies stored on drives - my hard drive plus a second hard drive and a flash drive that are not connected to the computer when it is online and I also have a copy stored on my own web server that is physically located far away from my home, as well as on WikiTree.  I don't feel a need to have it all on paper that would take up a lot of space and be a nightmare to be able to search - computers are so much better at finding things than people are.
+9 votes
I use Legacy Family tree software and all my research is inside one folder on my Computer Hard Drive. It's that huge bulging folder called Genealogy. Inside that folder are TONS of other folders as well.

There's not too much organisation within that folder. Some families are still in their original folders before I discovered Wikitree, so they keep their original folders.

The newer (more recently discovered) families have folders inside the bulging Wikitree folder which is inside the Genealogy folder - so I know exactly where to find them.

And then there is a new DNA folder inside that bulging Genealogy folder as well. That holds more folders for all those people whom I have been on contact with over possible DNA connections.
answered by Robynne Lozier G2G6 Pilot (431k points)
+10 votes
Besides Wiki Tree, I use FamilyTreeMaker software where I store records, documents and photos. Everything on FTM is stored in the FTM file on my hard drive. In addition, I have a folder named "Genealogy" containing  multiple folders that cover anything research related. One of the main folders is "Surnames". Each surname has a folder where I store additional documents, land records, marriage certificates, etc. This is an easy retrieval system that has worked well for me.
answered by Virginia Fields G2G2 (2.7k points)
+12 votes
I have a lot of decades old research and sources that I keep in binders that are labeled by surname.  I also have manilla envelopes that I keep copies of articles, pages from library books, etc. labeled by surname and date.  I have family bibles and county history books as well as surname genealogy books.  All this material is kept in 2 bookshelves in my home office.

I have made copies of the ancestor photos I've collected (which are framed on the wall of my office) and keep those on a thumb drive with photos of gravestones.  I also share ancestor photos with other family members to lessen the chance they will get lost.

Wikitree is my computer filing system.  If it ever goes down, I still have all my hard copies so nothing will ever get lost forever.
answered by Saundra Stewart G2G6 Mach 4 (48.3k points)
Me with the binders too - got GRAMPS but do not know how to use it yet
+5 votes
In addition to WikiTree, I find it helpful to keep parts of my tree on Geneanet and Filae.  I used to keep an updated tree on Ancestry but don't use it very much anymore.  I haven't yet found it necessary to use offline tree software.  I keep electronic documents on Google Drive.
answered by Greg Lavoie G2G6 Pilot (139k points)
+4 votes
Eowny, how did you create your colour-coded folder system?

Email me at
answered by Richard Sayle G2G6 (9.3k points)
+7 votes
I use Wikitree as my main system, before that, I started writhing all my family history down so I have a hard copy should anything happen to the Wikitree site, the only down side with Wikitree is that with the new privacy changes being implemented I can't add details of children under 16, this is in no way Wikitrees fault and for this reason its why I keep a hard copy.

And when I get new information I write it down first, then transfer the information I'm allowed to into Wikitree.
answered by Richard Sayle G2G6 (9.3k points)
Very, very good point Richard.
+5 votes
I store the results of my research on WikiTree.

While I am researching a family/person, I have it in Notepad ++ (a pure text editor). When ready, I cut and paste the information (mostly digital sources from BDM and Trove into WikiTree.
answered by Leslie Cooper G2G5 (5.4k points)
+7 votes
I have accounts on and (I am way behind on all of my wikitree stuff because... infants and toddlers) Though most of my stuff is PAPER! Whatever I find, I print a hard copy of. I have folders color coded by generation (direct ancestors) with hand written family group sheets/individual sheets dividing the sources by person/family. Also in that folder are all the descendants of that couple other than my direct ancestor (who has his/her own folder of the previous color) These folders are in carry along 24 pocked expanding files, one for mine and one for my husband's family. I also have an expanding file separating my censuses by decade.

That's just the papers themselves. I have composition notebooks where I number the right page. Each direct ancestor (or other relative of import or mystery) is assigned a number in the order they were discovered and I just add them to the table of contents at the beginning. The person's first page is mostly spaces for birth/death/marriage/names of kids sort of quick reference along with relationship to me. The rest of the page front and back are sources and what's on them. When I run out of room on that page, it's simply "contd on page__" at the bottom
answered by Amanda Sullivan G2G Crew (580 points)
I am also working on getting everything into folders on a flash drive and typing up reports on people and stuff, which will help with getting things more complete on wikitree
+9 votes
The question posed is the one we should all consider regularly, like a New Year's Resolution.

I have a hard backed notebook which I started in 1991 and into which I still write research records. I always record the date and the place or online source I am researching. I regularly go back and re-read notes from past years (and decades) and suddenly things I wrote 20+ years ago make sense.

I love Wikitree because I can encourage cousins to use it and access shared ancestry lines on it. For almost a year I have been encouraging ALL members of Clan Sutherland to register and post on Wikitree.

I keep my master trees offline in a Family Tree 2012 programme with all files backed up on the cloud. I do have partial trees on Ancestry (private) and FTDNA (public) to match up with my DNA tests.

I have box files and lever arch files containing 43 years of personal research and also the vast amount sent to me from fellow Sutherlands and other cousins all over the world, usually asking me to verify their trees or add to them.

I have storage boxes full of family papers including lots of original letters from the late 1600s and early 1700s including some relating to the Sutherland Peerage Case of 1771 which bankrupted my branch of the family, the Sutherlands of Forse.

I also have a library of 1500+ books including many which are out of print.

The combined effect of all of these is why I put a long list of sources on profiles I manage or "interfere with". They may not all seem relevant to every profile but collectively they tell the story of my family from 1100 when my ancestor Freskyn of Moravia was born, almost certainly in Pembroke in Wales on his father's or grandfather's estates.
answered by Mark Sutherland-Fisher G2G6 (6.3k points)
Incredible, thanks for sharing!Steve
+6 votes
I set up on a category basis Microsoft Office spreadsheets to keep track. Categories include my direct family, my extended family, my Quaker profiles, war veterans categorized by conflict, and so on. The spreadsheet allows you to then sort the profiles in several ways. I mainly alphabetize by last name and by birth date (oldest to most recent). Each profile in the spreadsheet includes last name (maiden name if different from current), the subject's Wikitree profile number, the subject's full name, the birth year, a special title such as occupation or military rank (something that sets the subject apart), and then I have columns for various things such as whether there are photos or artwork on a profile. Finally I include a column with a one click link back to the subject's Wikitree profile. On top of this I then regularly back up the information onto another computer just in case... I find that I refer to these spreadsheets all the time for many reasons.
answered by Robert Green G2G2 (2.4k points)
that sounds just about perfect
+6 votes
I use The Master Genealogist, even though they've closed up shop. The product is too good not to continue using (and I'm staying with my old operating system (Windows 7 Pro) as I see no reason to change.  Computer wise, I have two folders for Genealogy: 1) Genealogy for anything to do with my family and 2) Rowley for anything to do with my Rowley research, including a copy of the website where the data is organized in yet another different way.

Paper wise for my family, I use colored hanging folders in a lateral file cabinet. The folders are colored by family, but arranged alphabetically. Many have more than one folder in use, for example for my dad, grandfather, and his ancestors each have one hanging folder or a folder within the hanging folder. For those that aren't yet filed, I keep magazine boxes around and they are stuffed. I need to verify that they are all entered then file them appropriately,.

The magazine boxes make it easy to pre-organize, especially when I receive something in the mail, labeling with the date I received it and from whom. [I have a shelf installed over my entry door and across that wall to hold the magazine boxes; a beautiful way to keep most of them off the floor. I use them for everything else too, like my genealogy magazines and papers for the computer,  e.g. just about everything that is 8 1/2 x 11 or smaller. It could be a little larger even.

Paper wise, the Rowley papers have mainly been sent to New England Historical Genealogical archives since I had two lateral file cabinets and no one to inherit them. I have a magazine boxes on them also, which I will later send. They will also take responsibility for my website when I quite changing it and for my Rowley database to write a book or series of books on the Rowley.
And YES, I feel disorganized, because there are too many file in magazine boxes and corespondence I haven't answered. Also, in TMG, too many of the sources are listed in Note events, not in actual sources, which fouls up printouts.
I am a ex-computer engineer who believes in backups, but one backup is paper.
answered by Judy Bramlage G2G6 Mach 2 (23.4k points)
edited by Judy Bramlage
+10 votes
In the "My documents" in my computer, I created a file:

"Family Tree"

inside that Family Tree file are 4 files, one for each grandparent and named solely with the surname of that grandparent.

File: Grandparent A
File: Grandparent B
File: Grandparent C
File: Grandparent D

Inside each of the 4 grandparent folders, there is a folder for each surname that is an ancestor to that grandparent including one for the same surname.

File: Grandparent A:

File: Surname 1
File: Surname 2
File: Surname for Grandparent A


Inside each surname folder, I have a folder for every individual of that family who is in my direct line, with the year of their birth in front so as to keep them in order by date.

1716 John Surname 1
1748 William Surname 1
1787 John Surname 1
1812 Henry Surname 1


For Henry's siblings, I put a folder in 1787 John's folder, "Children of 1787 John Surname 1"

All you have to remember then, is which grandparent a surname ascends from.  If you can't remember, a quick CTRL + F and you can find it by surname search.

Inside each individual's folder, I put inside all of the documents and photos I find.  I name each item first with the year and then what it is, Henry Surname 1 may have the following items:

1787 Christening record, John Surname 1
1792 Will and probate of 1748 William Surname 1
1801 Marriage record, Parsons Parish Church, John Surname 1


When you have a 19th century profile that has 5 census records, marriage, birth death, city directories, will, probate, land records, etc., having them sorted by date makes it easy to track one's movements.  If you put the locations in the item names, you don't even need to open the attachments, you can just look in the individual's file and see where they lived year by year, decade by decade just looking at the item's names.
answered by SJ Baty G2G6 Pilot (241k points)

You’re hired! Let me know when you’re going to be here! laugh

I love these ideas. Hmmmm, wonder if I can change all my file names as you did.  Great info.smiley

+6 votes
Organized!?! Who said genealogical research was supposed to be organized? I must have missed that memo.

Actually, I’ve been using FTM for years, though I liked the older Verison better. That’s where I keep many of the stories I can’t share in profiles on WT. I do the sources bettermin WT, so if anything happens to me, my kids will have to use both to get the fuller picture.

Otherwise, I have notes and copies in boxes and scattered around my office and in closets. Shame on me, right?
answered by Pip Sheppard G2G6 Pilot (711k points)
I am totally presently disorganized - but my Wikitree peeps are pretty ok
I also like the old version of Family Tree Maker and still use it. I have uploaded a Gedcom from that tree to two sites online -- one is at, and the other at our personal family website where I use TNG (The Next Generation) which is a very nice family tree fomat. I have uploaded about 1600+ photos there so far, and they are linked to various individuals on the tree. I also have papers filed by family name in a file cabinet. I could go through those and maybe weed out some.
+3 votes

It’’s hard to believe I started this a year ago.  I have all my computer files backed up on a flash drive.  All my pictures are stored in Google Photos.   I have one folder called Ancestry.  Inside that I have folders from immediate family as in my folks.  Then I started new folders for great grandparents x 4.    Inside those I have folders for families aNd older generations.  I am a member of, My Heritage( which has free software that I keep records)! also Family Search, Find my Past and new to WikiTree for 2 months.  I hav printed material for 2 sides of family but primarily I am only printing material that I paid for off and Canadian archives.  smiley

answered by Sheryl McPhee G2G5 (5.2k points)
+3 votes
I keep it written down and sequentially ordered in a folder together with printed out documents of importance. Occasionally I also store stuff on an flash drive.
answered by Callie Joncas G2G Rookie (290 points)
+2 votes
I use Legacy to keep my records up to date.  I try to source all the information I find there too.  In addition I keep digital copies of my research in Dara folders for each family.
answered by
+3 votes
I'm partial to GRAMPS for offline organization. Keeps my sources attached to families or individuals, I can add pictures, occupation information, military service, etc. It's really quite robust and the best I've found so far after switching between several programs for the last ten or so years.

Online, I'm just getting started here, but I am partial to Family Search for helping organize my relatives and sources related to them.

I also keep a running document that serves as a research log, more or less. Just a little daily journal of what I did, who I found or could not find, and any next steps or ideas I might have about it.

On my computer, I have one genealogy folder that is divided into subfolders like Birth, Death, Military, Marriage, Census, etc. into which I rename and dump appropriate files.

It's kept me pretty well organized thus far. I'm excited to read through these responses, however, and get some better ideas on things!
answered by Patricia Ferdig G2G3 (4k points)
+2 votes

There are a lot of methods I use.

  • Write it down and put it in a folder
  • Put my info on my Ancestry tree
  • Put it in documents, like Microsoft Word.
Just to name a few.
answered by Ashton Carter G2G Crew (900 points)
+2 votes
All of my photos and documents that are displayed on Wikitree are stored on Google Drive.
answered by Bart Triesch G2G6 Pilot (188k points)

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