Organizing genealogy records on my hard drive

I have to admit I’m a little loosey goosey when it comes to organizing my hard drive. I use a Mac, which has marvelous search capabilities, so when I find a file, I typically do a quick search, rather than drilling down through file structures, like I used to do on Windows machines.

But when it comes to my genealogical research, I’ve decided it’s time to reform myself. It started when I started trying to get my head around the notion of saving images of documents (like census documents), rather than printing them and putting them in my paper file. I think for the moment, I’ll probably do both, until I can let go of the thrill I get by holding the papers in my hand. (I blogged about this recently, in a post called To Print or Not to Print?)

I also want to be able to help clients organize their genealogy, both paper and electronic, and I realized I really should practice what I preach. But when it came time to figure out a file structure I started feeling that familiar overwhelm creeping in. Then I noticed a little perfectionism too. What if I set up a less-than-optimal system?

I figure any system is better than no system. But the point became moot because this weekend I came across the marvelous website Genealogy Tools and its accompanying YouTube Channel. I watched a five-part video screencast series from Genealogy Tools guru Ben Sayer on creating a genealogy folder system for the Mac, in which he shared exactly how he does it. (He has Place folders and Surname folders.) In the video he detailed his file naming protocol, which is nice and simple. In my book, simple is good.

That liberated me! His system looks great, so I’m going to adopt it for myself. I haven’t taken the time to revamp my current file names, but today I had the chance to jump right in. I’m away from my paper files and I found an ancestor on the 1850 U.S. census. I made a folder for her and saved the census image in that folder. Time will tell whether I feel the compunction to print it out and put it in her file folder.

In the coming weeks, I intend to clean up my Genealogy folder on my hard drive and get into the practice of saving documents in an organized manner.


  1. Jerry Brown says:

    Thanks for the article – I have passed it on to a good friend who also switched to the Mac.

  2. Susan Howard says:

    I have been using a variation of Ben’s system (I tweaked it a bit to suit me) for a few years now and it has worked well. I highly recommend it.

    • That’s really good to hear, Susan! And thanks for the reminder that tweaking organizing systems to suit our individual needs is always a good idea. I appreciate your comment!

  3. I am so glad to find your blog. My records are a hodgepodge of papers in notebooks and scattered information on my computer. I need all the help I can get. Welcome to Geneabloggers

  4. I’ve used Macs for many years and while it’s wonderful that finding a file on a Mac is easy, that very thing makes me prone to e-laziness. šŸ˜‰ I desperately need to get my files in order and your blog entry and the video series you link to have given me inspiration.

    Who knows? Maybe once it’s all organized I’ll find the golden nugget to help me break down an almost 15 year old brick wall.

    Thank you!

    • Denise, I love the term e-laziness and I agree that a Mac makes it easy to be lazy, thanks to its search function. What I find great about organizing my hard drive this way is that I can see what I found/saved already on a person. Since I’m in the process of making sure everything I found and printed is actually saved on my hard drive, that’s very helpful.

      I’m glad you found the blog post inspirational! And maybe your organized hard drive will give you insights to break down that brick wall! Best of luck.

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