A Genealogy Filing System that Has Lasted


I started this project in 1977 without a clue as to where it was going.  This predated the commercial Internet, or even the ready availability of a computer to store data.  It did not take long to realize I was quickly amassing notes and had to figure out, quickly, a way to file things.  Even in those days other genealogists recommended filing in binders by family lines/surnames.  The first thing that struck me was that it did not allow for cross filing easily without a lot photocopying, work, and sounded limiting.

Without much thought I started taking the notes, documents, etc. that I was accumulating and established a sequential numbering system as  I filed random documents.  Each document was a source, so the first one was S0001, the second S0002, and so on as things randomly fell into my hands.  I would then take each document and file it in a manila folder closed on three sides and label it with the number and a one line description.

  These I stored in a filing cabinet, or storage boxes.  With that done I could extract the information on each document and start filling out pedigree charts and family group sheets by hand.  I used note cards to write extensive notes from sources.  I tended not to type any sheets or notes as I found out in college I really sucked at typing error free.

As I came across old boxes of photographs, I repeated the filing system, but with a P prefix and the name of the person, or persons, in the photos.

By 1981 I decided to by a computer - a TI 99/4A.  That experience is a story into itself, but with it I got a word processor.  Now I could type and easily correct my errors.  I went back over some of my sources and transcribed biographies, notes, and even documents.  I created indices to my source and photo filing systems.  Through the years I converted those files to text files, Wordstar, Word Perfect, Word and into Adobe Acrobat.  This way I avoided retyping massive notes.

When I graduated to a PC clone, I was able to create folders to store these files.  I was one of the first to buy an affordable (not so much so in those days) scanner and start scanning photos.  All in the name of saving soft copies of what I had in the storage boxes.  As years went by I had to rescan some files for better resolution because I has started so early.

In the 1980s I used the PAF software first from the LDS church, I graduated to Family Tree Maker (which I hated) to Ultimate Family Tree, then back to FTM.  Finally in 2007 I went to using a Mac and started using Reunion.  This was a breakthrough for me as up until then my use of citing sources in the database was difficult with the software used.  Transferring between programs never went well.  So in 2007 using Reunion, I started over from scratch aligning my “S” files to the source list in Reunion and creating a new “SC” (source citation) directory.  This directory contains fully scanned and cited sources - 780 of them at last count.  Any old “S’ files are not in the directory, but the number in noted in the notes field for each tagged person from many years ago.  So traceability exists.

With Reunion I also for the first time employed tagging photos to the database in a useable way.  By this point all photos are scanned and all sources are scanned.  There is no dependence on physically pulling a document.

As the Internet rose in the 1990s, I established a web site with selected profiles.  I used the domain, kapnet.com.  It was tedious and limited, so eventually I let the domain lapse.  Today, I have the mestephil.org domain.  Once again, my Reunion database publishes nicely to a web card system, that includes not only source citations, but the option of the scanned documents along with all scanned photos.  It is a complete database system that can be easily maintained.  Additionally, I use iWeb to create a template welcome page with all links to my information:  sites I use, my database and all its features.  I use Reunion to upload cited gedcom files to Rootsweb and Geneanet.  I upload to Ancestry as well, but again Ancestry (the FTM folks) does not translate source citations.  I have just started a feature on my web site for old letter scans and transcriptions.  Again, I use a sequential “L” filing system as  I randomly scan letters.

Today I maintain a structured file system so my database can find referenced files consistently.  The file system uses my sequential numbering system just like I established in 1977.  SC for source citations, P for photos, L for letters, C for cemetery photos, B for large batch files like old scrap books and photo albums that I wish to maintain relationships.  My web site database has a special notes field with links to a person’s tombstone memorial on Find a Grave.  I have nearly 250 places of burial located now out of a published database of 3,600.  I have now established another special notes field in the published database that provides a link directly to letters written by that person.  This is a fledgling effort as of today, but will grow quickly.  When I publish the cited GEDCOM files to Rootsweb and Geneanet, these special fields carry through there as well.

Backup is easily accomplished to:  time machine incremental backups, whole image backups, but the best is I subscribe to MobileMe and backup my entire genealogy file structure - all 15GB.  This includes all structured directories, my primary database, all in process file directories and my web site directories. 

In 33 years I have not altered or abandoned my filing system.  I still maintain old physical documents and photos in the storage boxes, but all are scanned, uploaded and backed up.  I can access any file on my Mac Book, or online from any computer - even view anything from my iPhone.  The filing system has not let me down.

People ask why not put it into a book?  I could say the expense of publishing a tome that will gather dust, but even electronically publishing a book is limiting.  This is a story that never ends and the present format can continue to be improved for a more polished story.  More importantly  the story can easily be extended and added on to bring these ancestors to life and not be forgotten.

I still have many boxes of files never organized and indexed.  Plus the information being scanned and published comes in so fast, I cannot keep up with it.  I will spend the next 25 years continuing to fill end the life stories of these ancestors and relatives.  I expect my filing system to last that 25 years with no trouble.

© Ken Piper 2016