DTPO & Genealogical Research

Inspired by John’s excellent contribution on how he uses DEVONthink, Courtroom blitz, I thought it might be of interest if I described how I use DEVONthink Pro Office, (DTPO) in my Genealogical and family history research. First a bit of background information.

I have been researching my family history and genealogy for something like 10 years and until I came across the Devon suite of applications had relied on written notes and files to contain documents, ephemera and sundry family related objects such as medals. I did have an application to record the family tree and still use the same one; although I have tried others I find that Reunion for Macintosh suits my needs and the work I do the best. Reunion also links very nicely into DTPO which I do nor know if some others do, they may well so if you are using something else then what I say about linking may also apply.

My basic set up in DTPO is to have a Group for every person in my Reunion application for whom I have a document of any kind. What do I mean by a “document”? For these purposes “document” means any image of anything relating to my genealogical research. This is very broad and can include photographs of objects, scans of certificates, letters, emails, web pages, notes, diaries, internet links, books—you get the picture anything that can be reproduced into electronic data and therefore importable into DTPO. Here is an extract from my folder structure.

The Groups for people are entitled in the Surname, Forenames, Date format; the date being the year of birth. This is important as it distinguishes family members who may have the same name; I have come across only a couple of instances where the name and year of birth are the same and here I put the month or year quarter if I know it. In Genealogy it is often the case that one document is applicable to not just one person but several, in the case of Census images, for example, it could be any number of people depending upon how many people are living in the same household; I have known 16! It would be possible to duplicate the document or replicate it but with the system I use combining DTPO with Reunion with the linking facility that DTPO has that is unnecessary.

So in Reunion, or hopefully any other Genealogy application, I open the card for a person for whom I have a document in DTPO and create a new Notes field, this will be the place where I place the link to the document in DTPO. You create a new Notes field, (in Reunion this is done by going to Preferences>Fields>Person>Notes and then in the left hand side click the Add Note button, name it something appropriate, (I have called it DTP Documents). Once you have done that you must click on the “note field” you have just created and then on the right side of the window click the Add button and this will make the field appear in every Person card.) Once you have your Notes Field you can now create a link in DTPO, Menu Edit>Copy Item Link, and paste that in the Notes field you have just created. Now all you have to do is when you are working in your genealogy programme is to cluck on the link and you go straight to it in DTPO.

I have found it useful to set up a little template in Reunion for the notes field.

This has two variations of links, the “See Self:” link is to an entire Group, that is the one that contains documents for the person him/herself. When this link is selected the whole of that group opens up and I can see all the documents relating, in this case, to Herbert Allsop. The second link, “See Father Allsop, Robert Peter 1852 File” is links to individual documents which reside in someone else’s file. This is where I have the case that I mentioned earlier of many people on the same document, so everyone on that document will be linked in this way to it in Allsop, Robert Peter 1852’s Group. My rule of thumb here is that this type of document is filed in the first mentioned name on the document.

Having done all that we now have in effect DTPO and Reunion linked into an autonomous workflow.

I use this method for all documents and I have sometimes been asked what do I do with photographs? There are of course alternatives you could keep them in something like iPhoto but I have come round to keeping them in DTPO and linking them, it just works so well and seamlessly that I prefer it.

I do not use Tagging as I think the search facility in DTPO is so good that if I take care in naming documents there is no need to tag. Also since I upgraded to DTP Office I find that the way it handle’s PDFs is just unbeatable! So I have begun to save documents as a PDF that then becomes searchable in its entirety. With Census for example this means that I do not normally have to get everyone’s name in the title of the document, something that clearly is not practical! A great leap forward in this respect has been my getting a Scansnap, I can now scan a document straight into DTPO as a searchable PDF. This is a great time saver.

I am still learning and every now and again something in these Forums crops up which I can use which makes the workflow even better so I keep an eye on the Forums daily which has proved to be most beneficial.

This is another interesting use case … and another generous reader who has taken a great deal of time to explain his process. Thank you, Andrew-Bede, your contribution will be helpful to many current and future forum readers.

A question – you don’t mention OCR as part of your process. You have DEVONthink Pro Office, so is the OCR helpful or not relevant to what you are doing with your genealogical research?

Thanks Korm for your kind comments. Yes, OCR is very important and helpful as when I import PDFs especially OCR is automatically applied by DTPO and this enables the documents to be searched in their entirety. In fact the OCR capabilities of DTPO means that all my Census scans are searchable as I mentioned, I should have made it clear that this was achieved by DTPOs OCR! I know that I could let the Scansnap do it but I prefer it to be done within DTPO.


Thanks for posting your usage of DevonThink and Reunion. I am going to test your procedure out over the next few days.


I am pleased that you found this helpful. :smiley: Let us know how it goes and if you can add anything to help us all improve our practice.

FYI, I’ve found that you can link to DT items from Gramps, but not from MacFamilyTree or RootsMagic (free version).


You mention that you converted the various census forms to pdfs so that the OCR can be applied. How does the OCR handle the various forms of handwriting that occur in census forms?


Fairly well really :smiley:


You show that you link your DTPO file to “notes” in Reunion.

Why not link from the source form in Reunion to DTPO, or is this just a personal preference?


Got t in one! My preference is indeed to link to notes as I link all sort of stuff not just sources.


Then I assume that not all of your resources are considered to be “sources” hence the linking in notes?

I just want to be able to click on one place to see what I want! But you can put the link wherever you want.