A little while back, I had a question from Tammy who asked how I organize my digital files. I was hoping to answer her question much sooner, but “life” got in the way. Sorry for taking so long Tammy!

Everyone needs to have a system that works best for their own thought process. But here is an overview of what I do.

First, I wanted to have a place in the cloud where I could access every document whenever and wherever I want. I decided to use Google Drive for a number of reasons:

  • 15 GB of free storage for each gmail account.
  • It doesn’t matter if I’m on my home computer, library computer, family history center computer or iPad – I can look at these files from anywhere.
  • The ability to organize files for specific lines simply by having a different email address for each line. For example, I have several different gmail accounts and one of those accounts is specifically for my mother’s family and another is specifically for my mother-in-law’s family. These are the 2 lines that I do the majority of my research in. I do have accounts for my father’s and father-in-law’s families as well.
  • It’s easy to share a folder with a cousin who is also researching the same line. They can also add documents to the Drive folders.

Google_DriveIn this image, the top account is my work email and the remaining accounts are all genealogy related. I do have a couple of additional accounts, but they don’t show up in my list because I haven’t used them in a while.

Another advantage to having several email addresses is that I can email documents directly to a specific email address and know that they will be waiting for me to sign in and get them where they need to be. No more wondering which flash-drive something is on.

Once I’ve signed into an account, I am able to access the Google Drive that I need.


Level 1

Within each Drive, I’ve created a set of folders to match my 5 gen chart. I have them numbered so that they appear in my Drive in the same order as they appear in my chart. I call this Level 1 of the system. If I have a significant number of records for another generation back, that is also indicated in the folder name. For example, folder 3 has files for Scott and Wade.

I do have a few additional folders based on whatever documents I have. For example, a folder just for maps and another for research aids.

Level 2

Each surname folder you see here contains 5 folders.


Level 2

These folders are based on the way that I keep my research. I do have genealogy software, but I rarely use it. I use Ancestry extensively and I try to upload any documents to my Ancestry account that I have not found through Ancestry. This gives me a 2nd backup if anything were to happen to my files. I also keep detailed notes for each person, so I don’t like to take additional time to add details and citations to a software program. One thing that I do use genealogy software for is for printing charts and reports. When I need that, I usually download my Gedcom from Ancestry for the sole purpose of printing the chart.

Level 3


I use Excel extensively so I keep all Excel files that I create for a specific surname in the Excel folder. This would include any databases I am putting together, timelines, resource lists, etc.

Group Sheets:Group Sheets

I have my own Group Sheet template that I use, so all Groups Sheets for a specific surname (or FANs for that surname) go into that folder.

There are times when there are 2 men with the same name, so I name these group sheets with the man’s name, (birth year-death year) and the wife’s name. That way, I can quickly tell if Group Sheets are for 2 different men or for the same man with more than one wife.

Just a note that the Mercer County Smith’s are a potential line that I am following, so they get a folder of their own.


NotesI keep very detailed, chronological notes for each couple that I am researching. These are Word docs that get updated every time I find a new source, so those are all in the Notes folder.

In these notes, I add

  • Document images
  • Links to documents saved on Google Drive
  • Transcriptions of sources
  • Maps from the time period
  • News clippings
  • Notes on what I’d expect to find – for example, a pre-1850 census yet to be located
  • Theories I’m trying to prove or questions I need to research further
  • Correspondence with “cousins”
  • Posts from this blog to help me remember a thought process or to keep track of what I planned to research next. Because quite often, a significant amount of time will pass before I get back to that question.
  • And I always try to create a correct, complete source citation for each fact, to the best of my ability.



PeopleAs I collect documents that are for a specific person. I place them into the People folder. Every person associated with that surname gets their own folder.

Again, I’ve added dates after most of these names to help me tell the difference between men with the same name.

At this point, you need to have a system that you can easily follow for naming your files. I like to have everything in chronological order. Whether I am collecting for 1 person, 1 family or 1 cluster, I like that my documents give me a timeline of what is going on and where each person is. So here is the “template” that I use to name files that I’ve downloaded or scanned.

Year, County, Type of Book, Page number, Person’s name.


If I were to open the folder for John M. Smith, you would see folders for his children followed by each document I have for John. Obviously, one of John’s children is my direct ancestor, so he would have a folder of his own apart from John’s folder. I not only keep scans of documents here, but also any transcriptions I’ve done of that document.



PlacesMy last folder is for Places. This folder is for documents that don’t necessarily belong to a specific person. For example, when researching county records, I often scan every listing starting with the letter “S” so that if I need to find another person with the surname “Smith”, I don’t have to go back and look for it again. I also include any historical information for that specific county. It might be about a battle that took place there or the story of a cemetery being moved to a new location.

Some of the sub-folders contained here would be:

  • Indexes
  • Court Records
  • Deeds – often broken down by specific book or time range
  • Tax Records
  • Marriage Records
  • Will Book and Pension Records

So that’s it! It took me quite a while to come up with this system, but it works like a dream for me!