I know many genealogy researchers use or are interested in using DEVONthink.i’d like to share ideas about using DEVONthink for genealogical research.

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I don’t personally, but we do indeed have some that are in here! :smiley:

A possible start are my two postings and subsequent discussions found here:

When I started, I was initially stymied trying to devise the perfect classification system. I finally dove in with the following based on Ben Sayers’s classification system :

My classification scheme starts with people and places at the top level.places generally are subdivided into countries: states: counties: municipalities: important/relevant places in a community (such s hotels owned by family, cemeteries, churches). I am not dogmatic about this hierarchy.

People are further divided by surname, then individual (with last name,first name, then range of years from birth to death to distinguish those with the idenical names.

To the extent possible, I put original images of items in my database. Because of image quality and manuscript, Ocr oftentimes is of no use.,so when possible,I import the item with associated text.otherwise I tag it with relevant information that may. Be helpful in a search ,nut not indicated by classification.

For example, I would the put image of Census in the appropriate municipality, then replicate it to any individuals of interest that appear on the page, finally, tag it us-census 1860 as appropriate.

This is nothing terribly sophisticated, but it has worked well for me. I thought it might get some people over the hump when they are first looking at a blank, empty DEVONthink database.

@Allsop Andrew, I have seen your posts here and at ReunionTalk regarding your very clever linking of both Reunion and DEVONthink.

I have invited ReunioTalk members to this thread to learn more about using DEVONthink for genealogy.i think they will find as we do that DEVONthink is an essential research tool!

DevonThink pro Office (DTPO) is my gathering place for all informations on DNA, genealogy for myself and for some people I help finding their roots.

This platform - which I discovered for my work as a researcher in Science - through Luc Beaulieu web site ( - has become my cherished and unconditionally loved tool for my family searches.

The hability to classifiy, to tag and to cross reference (by “Replicate” function) is invaluable for managing DNA matches; matches genealogical trees.

The use of (self created) templates and of the “Duplicate” function to start a new client/helpee folder is very helpful.

The fact we can import almost any kind of data through the clipper tool or just by copying entire html pages of results (on Gedmatch for example) or importing screeshots was a major breakthrough for my personal work.

Another useful function is the converting tool for pdf’s making them readable.

And importing email messages relating to a search.

I became a total enthusiast of DPTO and I could not discover what I did without it.

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@Milena: Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and kind words too)! Interesting stuff!


Would you be willing to share a couple of screen shots of your setup?

I would love to share screenshots, but because of my stroke and subsequent disabilities, I have difficulty accessing my computer!

I work on my iPad.

I am a professional researcher and use DTPO.

Donald W Moore
Antecedents® LLC


Thanks for starting this thread, I found the link via Reunion Talk. As a DTPO newbie I may be using this thread to post questions as I start using this software in earnest.

I also started with Ben Sayer’s simple classification system in setting up my folders by surname, person, places etc. I had originally filed census records by the head of the household but have now moved those into a stand alone census folder. And like many other people I still have paper files to be scanned and digital photos to be sorted and labelled.

But while I get my own house in order I want to transition to DTPO.

Can anyone provide me with a dummies list to getting started with DTPO? Such as

  • first 6 steps to get started?
  • tricks you wish you had known when you first started with DTPO?

Thanks, Grant

There is the Take Control of Getting Started with DEVONthink 2 eBook. A full reference of DT, not just a brief intro. This is part of the “Take Control of” series.

Try a google search.

Thanks Pvonk.

I am currently on page 30 of 290 of take control.

. I was hoping for some input from users on this forum.

My experience is that to work it out for yourself whilst referring to a good book such as you have is the best way to learn. If you have specific questions that you can not find the answer for then the forums are good places to go to. If you work through the book and understand what you are reading then you will be pretty well up on the application. :slight_smile:

Hi Grant,

I have been using DTPO for my genealogy and writing projects for about 8 years on and off. I seem to come back when I have a specific project and then become lax about keeping my new research updated. As a result, I have a few “New” “Newer” “Newest” database names. Not good, but there it is.

If I have learned anything, it’s keep things very simple. DTP does a great job finding files, names, and suggesting connections. All the folder filing is just an aid, not essential. Fewer nested folders lead to less time filing in the correct place. And DTP will find the file just as easily with larger folders.

Currently, I am starting two projects with DTP-- to organize and track reader email questions, and to track and access DNA match emails. I think this will be very helpful.

Best, Denise

Thanks Denise.

By habit, I am still filing my digital documents as I would for paper files. Census scans into the directory entitled Census. Records associated with an individual person are filed in their Surname directory, then their personal directory.

While I am still scanning some new aquasitions using my current filing system I suppose I could use DTPO’s scanning and tagging functions. But it will take me a while, if ever, to break that habit.

Eventually I will get to the point of bringing those files into DTPO adding the necessary tags.

Regards, Grant.

Same here. Nothing like staring at a blank database. That may be even more intimidating than a blank sheet of paper?

I’ve been doing genealogy for nearly 30 years, and I inherited my mom’s files and whatever she had of my grandmother’s files, so my genealogy database is gargantuan (12+ GB plus paper). My digital pre-DTPO/DT3 file collection resembled the aftermath of a flash flood, and I’m still in process organizing it after using DT for two years. I find duplicates upon duplicates sometimes upon duplicates. Because both sides of my family started researching in the 1940s, I’m left with some pretty strict brick walls and I tend to run around in circles every few years, I’m finding. I’m putting a stop to that with DevonThink since I can easily find things in the app before re-investigating. (And by easily, I mean easily!)

Up until about two months ago, I had two main groups–similar to my mom’s paper files: one for Source Types and one for Surnames, but I’m now organizing my files by archive/repository; replicating into the old source type structure; tagging based on surname, geographic area, time period, project, etc.; and creating smart groups.

For instance, I originally put the death record for Elisabeth Anweller Schmelcher into the Online Databases>Seeking Michigan folder, replicated it to Death Records, and tagged it with 1900s, Anweller, Schmelcher, Barry County, & Michigan. I then have smart groups for some of those tags.

I especially like being able to view all people from a particular census location in the same place. I used to be able to do this in the event-based TMG software, but since Wholly Genes ceased its development, I’m trying to recreate some of that behavior in DT. (I finally replaced TMG with Family Historian via Windows on VirtualBox, but it is still lineage-based instead of event-based and therefore lacking in so many areas.)

My initial groups (with whatever subfolders) are:

  • Archives, Libraries, & Societies
  • Online Databases
  • Online Journals
  • Person Sources
  • Research Reports
  • Scanned Photocopies
  • Subject Websites
  • Unknown

If you use Elizabeth Shown Mills’ system of documentation, knowing where you retrieved a document is pretty dang useful.

A note on the “Person Sources” group: this houses all non-email correspondence in addition to scans of my genealogy notebooks (or OCRs if I use techie solutions for handwriting), various non-annotation notes, and all of my Excel workbooks (via index)). I use DT’s mailbox archive feature to pull in and organize my emails.

Annotation Feature
Like one of the other posters, I use the annotation feature extensively. I’ve not found a better way to associate census data with census images, transcriptions with land and court records, etc. I use an annotation template based on a spin off of Cornell’s notetaking format saved as markdown.

I also created a template in markdown format for my research reports. This is where DT’s item links (and PDF page links) come in really handy, and where it is so nice that DT can display multimarkdown’s {{TOC}} feature.

Tracking Sources
As a side note, I keep track of my sources in Bookends (bibliographic manager native to MacOS), and I made one of its custom user fields to be the DT item link. As such, I’m also making use of DT3’s custom metadata by plugging in the Bookends Unique ID in its own field.

(I make extensive use of the custom metadata in a different historical research database but haven’t yet figured out how it would be more useful than tagging in my genealogy database. It sure would be nice if we could have the option of assigning custom metadata to one, some, or all of the databases instead of the current “all.”)

Oh, and I can’t forget to mention DT3’s sorter! Process:

  1. Find material I like
  2. Create source in Bookends (minimum of URL so I can fill out all the information later)
  3. Copy citation
  4. Paste citation in sorter Comments (with number only first in filename)
  5. Transcribe or summarize whatever it is that caught my attention (or pull screenshot).
  6. Add into DT in Inbox (if I’m lazy about tagging) or specific folder.
  7. Work with in database when I get to it.

Being consistent is key to a workable database. However you set up your database, use the same file naming convention every time. As an example, I name my census images with [state code]“CR”[year] [county] “Co.”, [city], [smaller] ([surname], [first name] [and others]) every single time (e.g., “OHCR1850 Ashtabula Co., Sheffield (Eaton, Horace)”). I can then search for “*CR18* NEAR Eaton” or sort records easily if I’m looking for a big picture.