Question of the Week: How do you organize your research?

+10 votes

No photo description available.How do you keep all your genealogy research organized?

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in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (1.8m points)
edited by Eowyn Walker
I use the categorization method. I also use stickers and backgrounds. For example, I have used one background picture for all my civil war profiles. In that way, I can just go to the image page and there is a handy listing of those profiles.

10 Answers

+17 votes
Best answer

Organize? What's "organize?" sad

by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.2m points)
selected by CL Geddis
Pip, I love your answer and I loved your Scan-a-Thon Selfie!
Great comment, Pip!
I put mine in a giant yellow envelope. Make sure the papers are creased and slightly crumpled, as well as general disarray. Make sure there are many coffee stains, and coffee mug rings on everything. Then I use barely legible hand writing. Send it to Pip. Then wash my hands of all responsibility. That way I can just use Pip as my scapegoat.

Example: "Hey Paul. Can you show me some more info on the Dupree family from Twiggs County Georgia?"

 I sip my coffee, scratch my lower left hiny cheek. Then I answer.

 "Call, write, or email Pip Sheppard. He keeps track of all my names, sources, and records. If you help him install  a retaining wall. With some nice petunias to accent the area. He will handle your business too."

Hasn't come back to bite me on my rump yet.

"Make sure the papers are creased and slightly crumpled, as well as general disarray. Make sure there are many coffee stains, and coffee mug rings on everything. Then I use barely legible hand writing."

Paul, have you been going through my desk?

Yes, I was just looking for loose change. Honest man. I was not snooping. Not me buddy. I didn’t score any change. But I did score a sweet feather pen. Of course, clumsy me. I dropped the ink jar.
+12 votes
I use multiple methods.

1., multiple trees (my maternal, my paternal and my husbands full family) where I house most of the information. I also have a account to access military records.

2. Binders for physical documents, photos, written notes, charts, graphs, etc. - one for each tree. Only items not in binders are those which are really old that I keep in our fireproof safe.

3. External hard drive for all scanned documents and photos, including those I have in hard copy. This made the Scan-A-Thon very easy for me as everything I have in hard copy I also have a scanned copy of. I have high level folders that align with the trees and then folders for each surname so I can easily locate items.

I am fairly new to WikiTree (just started in Nov/Dec 2019). I'm finding it a very useful tool for research, connecting dots I had not connected before, learning from others and finding new ways to research.
by Amy Barlow G2G6 (6.6k points)
+11 votes

For the past few months, I've been using spreadsheets to track progress in the three One Name Studies I manage, keeping track of profiles added, whether they have any sources at all, their sourcing level (tracking 0 to 3 primary sources), whether they're connected to the main tree, and how many categories have been applied. 

(On that last measure, I figure that most people should have two to three categories at minimum: place of birth, place of death, and the cemetery in which they were buried. For people who show the same occupation in two or more records [census, marriage, or death], I add an occupation category. And for those migrating ancestors who I've been able to track to a particular sailing of a ship, I add the category for that sailing. Notables, people who served in the military, and people who have been awarded some kind of recognition [like a Nobel Prize] would of course get still more categories.)

These spreadsheets have helped me keep track of how the profiles in each One Name Study are doing, and motivate me to try to improve the numbers for the next time I report on that study (which I am currently scheduling at the rate of one study per month).

So lately, I decided to make a similar spreadsheet for the profiles in my watchlist. As I'm going through my watchlist and documenting the profiles I manage, that is motivating me to source and orphan the profiles of people who aren't closely related to me (like cousins of spouses of uncles and aunts, or people whom I added profiles for in order to connect some unconnected notable).

For the Connectors Project, basically the Let others know what locations you are working on is my to-do list. I work through it, removing branches that have been connected and trying to make sure that there are at least five unconnected branches and two unconnected notables in each section, and then start over again.

by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (444k points)
edited by Greg Slade

So as I'm going through my spreadsheet for the Slade Name Study (which is the one I'm concentrating on this month) and tallying up sourcing levels, categories, and so on, I've come to realise that the Slades from the Slade Genealogy site,, and Wikipedia are in way better shape than the Slades in my own Watchlist who aren't from one of those other sources. 

That's probably because I've been working through all those other Slades for a couple of years now, looking for profiles that I can improve in one way or another to make the numbers improve. So adding my other Slades into the spreadsheet is turning out to be a good way to identify those profiles which need some TLC (which is most of them).

Can you comment on how you split the data into worksheets and how you use (name) the columns and rows?

In particular, how do you encode conflicting or ambiguous data, and linkages that are not "tree-like", like cousins marrying or a father legally adopting his dead son's child?  Into which pile do these complex relationships go?

Where do the family photos that span across generations or families go?  How about photos of family reunions, that span thru 5th cousins?

For most of my One Name Studies, each worksheet covers one data set (, Wikipedia, my own Watchlist, and, in the case of Slades, a site called Slade Genealogy). Except that, for Slades, I ended up with so many from the that I split off the Peerage Slades who are still living or did not have Slade as their Last Name At Birth into separate worksheets, to make it a bit easier to navigate the main worksheet for Peerage Slades. Then, I have a "Dashboard" worksheet that pulls in the values for various things I'm counting, does calculations on them, and generates the charts.

Each row is for a given person. The columns in the main Wikipedia worksheet are: 

  • Given Name(s)
  • Last Name
  • Year Born
  • Year Died
    • (I put ~, <, or > before the year if there's some question about it, which would mess up the sorting if I were to sort by year of birth, but I don't usually change my default sort.)
  • WikiTree ID
  • Wikidata #
  • Sourcing Level
  • Sourced 
    • (This uses a formula to enter a "1" if the Sourcing Level value is higher than 0.5.)
  • Wikipedia as Source
  • Connected
  • Unlinked
  • Template Applied
  • Slade is not LNAB
  • Fictional
  • Living
  • In Peerage too
  • In Slade Genealogy too
    • (These all take a "1" if true, and "0" if false.)
  • People
    • (This uses a formula to insert a "1" if the Given Name(s) cell is not empty, and a "0" if it is.)
  • Profiles
    • (This uses a formula to insert a "1" if the WikiTree ID cell is not empty, and a "0" if it is.)

I don't try to track everything in the spreadsheet. It's not an attempt to replicate the data in WikiTree. It's just a tracking tool to help me see which profiles need more work in various areas, and to generate charts to give me an overall picture and track progress on the values I'm measuring. (I should probably say right out that a lot of this work stems from my suggestion for a WikiTree Dashboard a few years ago.)

In the case of conflicting or ambiguous data, I either cover that in the Biography section or add a Notes or Research Notes section, depending on the issue.

I haven't actually come across any pedigree collapse in the trees I've been working on. If I ever do, I probably wouldn't bother doing anything special about it. It should be obvious to anybody who looks at the Ancestor lists.

For adoption, I'd add both sets of parents (if I could find them), marking the adoptive parents as non-biological, and then explain the situation in the Biography section.

I don't track photos at all. Sadly, I've got almost no photos up in my family tree. (For notables, I grab the photos from Wikipedia where I can.) I do have a scanner on my wish list, so maybe if the Great Pumpkin considers me particularly sincere this year, I'll be able to do something in that department.

+7 votes
Wiki tree is my organization method. It is where I put all the info i have. The exception is my cemetery study where I cross reference my progress with regards to the goals of the project. Then I use a spreadsheet of the data from the cemetery and update it so I can see which profiles still need work with regards to adding their profile, connecting their profile, adding pictures of their tombstone and transcribing the monuments.
by Gurney Thompson G2G6 Pilot (202k points)
wikiTree does not have good visualizations of cousins marrying (happened many times in my trees) or adoptions or multiple marriages.  So you can enter all this, more or less (mostly less) but you can't review it compactly.  How would you manage that?
+8 votes

I am more organized than I have ever been, and I plan on sitting in this rocking chair that belonged to my mother-in-law and continue becoming even more organized. My husband said that I should have taken a photo three weeks ago--after the Scan-a-Thon. The floor was covered with photos and documents then.surprise

by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Pilot (431k points)
edited by Alexis Nelson
+10 votes
Not sure. It’s pretty rare for me to use the word “organize” and “research” in the same sentence... those two words never seem to cross paths for me.
by Alex Stronach G2G6 Pilot (324k points)
Alex, I understand, I usually have note pads and pieces of paper with names and dates everywhere.
+6 votes

I began my research decades before going on-line.  


I use the ahnentafel numbering system, and I can't imagine doing without it.


I have one Word document for each direct ancestor on which I record everything I know about the person, including how I first found the information.  I've become more careful and detailed about doing this as the sources have proliferated, but am not caught up.  


In my computer I also have one folder for family information for each ancestral line.


Also, I have a tree on Ancestry, and have added my direct ancestors to WikiTree, which I hope provides some backup in case of some catastrophic loss of my files.


Old family photographs and other important documents are now all scanned and uploaded to both WikiTree and Ancestry, for the purpose of sharing as well as preservation.

by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (434k points)

ahnentafel does not allow for cousins marrying, multiple marriages, divorce, or adoption.  How do you handle these?
Also: which name do you use when a person changes names, such as through marriage, divorce, or just a name change.
Where do you put the photos from family reunions?  Is there a way to associate the photo with each person in the photo and, say, tag that person's location in the photo electronically?  (that is, without editing each photo to draw a circle?)

Gregg, the ahnentafel system, as I use it, is for direct biological ancestors.  Other spouses of my ancestors are not assigned numbers.  Their information goes with the spouse who was my ancestor.  Divorce is irrelevant.  I have not had to deal with adoptions.

When cousins marry, that creates a kind of pedigree collapse.  Because of that, the ancestors who appear twice in a tree also have two ahnentafel numbers.  I have not found that inordinately confusing.  I store the documents according to the lower number, and cross-reference them on my master list.

I use birth names, as do most genealogy websites, other than WikiTree, as far as I know.

Normally I file family reunion photos with the patriarch, or my oldest direct ancestor who is in the photo (if any).  When I post family photos to genealogy websites, then it is easy to link them to all the involved parties (if they have profiles).  I have not tried electronic tagging.

Thank you!  Very helpful.

>Because of that, the ancestors who appear twice in a tree also have two ahnentafel numbers.

So if this happens over multiple generations then do I get a doubling of assigned numbers each time it happens?

BTW, prior to 1920, marrying cousins was actually quite common in small towns, as there were few choices and, I'm told, it was used to help keep the money in the (extended) family instead of paying it out through dowries to other families.  I have 4 instances of cousins marrying, plus a father & son who married 2 sisters (from another family, of course).  And my tree only goes back to 1880!

If I understand your question about the doubling of numbers, then yes.  Lucky for me, most of my pedigree collapse was in generations for which I did not have many earlier ancestors.

On my own WikiTree profile, I have commented about the pedigree collapse in my own tree.  You might look at that.  It is under the Ancestor Research Statistics table.  (It should be publicly viewable.)

The one exception in my own research is my ancestors from Kuchen, Württemberg, going back to the 1500s in the earliest branches.  (I did not do the original research--it was done by a German genealogist.  I have not put that information on WikiTree.)  There was so much intermarriage that it made charting out the ancestors a frustrating experience.

Related to that:  Of course all the main genealogy websites allow you to connect an ancestor to multiple descendants.  I don't know of any that can provide a simple, usable chart showing the interrelationships of multiple descendant lines.
+1 vote
I use family search to organize sources but Find Ancestry helpful to keep the tree and and all relations. I start there. Obviously I make sure there are sources to verify they actually belong there but I find my tree is pretty accurate because of a number of serious genealogists on both mother and fathers side. Of course if I go back far enough it traces my roots back to Odin and all the Norse Gods. I keep them there along with their stories for my amusement.
by Joelle Colville-Hanson G2G6 Pilot (119k points)
+1 vote
As carefully as possible and with sources as sound as possible.
by Carol Baldwin G2G6 Pilot (525k points)
+1 vote

Gramps. It has note fields with the type 'todo' or 'research' for every database field. You then go to notes overview, type 'todo' and voila! (manual does not describe this unfortunately).

Then all scans are images you link to. Those images store on a few folders on my computer and try to give them logical names (using the reference ID where possible).

by Michel Vorenhout G2G6 Pilot (223k points)

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