Is DevonThink Right for Me? (Genealogist)

I was looking for a way to organize my genealogy data more efficiently and stumbled into DevonThink. I’m excited about the possibilities! But the learning curve is much steeper than I anticipated.

If I persevere and figure out the details, will this ap do for me what I hope it will?

Here’s an example of what I want to do with DevonThink: I’m researching my family; so I find and download PDF images of this family’s appearance in censuses. I might find images for 1900, 1910, and 1920, so now I have three PDF images.

I transcribe the censuses into RTF files so I can read the information more easily. Now I have thee RTF files, too. Someone e-mails me a PDF file of their 138-page family genealogy that contains a relative’s name…so I store that, too.

I find a web page where someone has published their family history–it just might be related to mine but I need to investigate further–so I copy it as an HTML file to view in my browser when I’m offline later.

I find a GEDcom file that might help me in my research, (GEDcoms are simple genealogical databases that can be imported into different software programs; they can be edited as text files, too) so I download it.

I scan photographs of ancestors and save them to my computer. Between my library and the internet, I download/scan and/or transcribe maps, probate files, deeds, tax rolls, military roster lists, pages of out of genealogy books, etc. Some of it is my family’s, some of it MIGHT be my family, some of it helps me understand migration patterns in that era, etc.

Multiply this process by hundreds of families–I end up with a mess of files: RTF, Appleworks, PDF, JPG, TIFF, GEDcoms, etc., which I try to sort into folders on my computer, but it’s become so ungainly I end up duplicating my efforts and missing connections because I was inconsistent in naming files, or I put them in the wrong folders, or because there’s too much stuff… whatever!

I tried a genealogy-specific note management application, but I am not consistent about filling out the many little database fields that allow quick searches. And I can only put text into the database fields, and where does that leave my PDF files? My images?

Is DevonThink an ap that will help me keep things straight? How can I use it in the above scenario? (I’m thinking DevonAgent has OUTRAGEOUS possibilities, too, but right now I’m overwhelmed with DevonThink.)

Thanks for your help!

(Edited to add “Genealogist” to the title.)

If you’re looking for an application particularly well suited for the goal you mention, you might as well try Reunion, which was especially designed for this purpose.


Timotheus, thanks for the reply!

Actually, Reunion is a GEDcom database–it’s not a note file manager per se.

I need an ultra-flexible note file management software that will help me keep track all of my collected research materials rather than my GEDcom files.

I am hoping to learn how DevonThink would work with the scenario I described above.

Thanks, that clarifies your request.

Yes, I think you will be delighted with DEVONthink’s ability to search and help analyze your research notes. Even if you “screw up” your group classification scheme (or don’t manage classification of items well), DT will be a big help. Between “See Also”, “Words”, “Context”, “Similar Words”, “Keywords”, “Glossary” and the ability to sort and filter search hits (accomplish multilevel searches and sorts) by selectively replicating search hits into new groups, DT will give you lots of capabilities. (You will find some interesting hints in this forum if you search the forum files for terms such as “metadata”, “multilevel” or “sorts”.)

NOT and NEAR search operators are not yet available, but you can “fake” them with search terms, sorts and multilevel searches of hits. Note: You can use the PHRASE operator, for example, to find “William Jones” but not “Sam Jones”. Then, to continue the example, you could replicate the “William Jones” hits to a new temporary group and do a phrase search limited to that new group for “18” to look at only 19th century records of William Jones. (All this can be done quickly.)

You will need to save your AppleWorks files as RTF files in order to get them into your DEVONthink database.

DTWannabe, In my opinion, your description of what you want to do with DT sounds perfectly suited for DT. I think persevering with DT will reward you. I suggest you read, if you haven’t already, the User Portrait in the DEVONtalk PDF newsletter, Issue No. 2, about a man who uses DT to store data on thoroughbred racehorses. I think there are many similarities with what you want to do.

Thanks, Bill, for the terms you suggested. I’m playing with this program, searching the forums for the terms you suggested to better understand it. The forums here are very helpful; I’ve been making up a “cookbook” from threads.

I’m always screwing up my classification schemes!

Moses, that article in the newsletter makes it sound like DT is exactly the kind of program that would keep me from losing track of my research. It needs just a tiny bit more detail on HOW he does all he does.

I find articles like this one here very helpful: mainly because the author not only tells me what he’s using DT for, but HOW he’s actually doing it with step-by-step instructions, and I even my slow brain can follow along. :laughing:


Not to confuse you anymore but I would strongly recomend you look at MacFamily Tree


MacFamilyTree offers all you would expect from a modern genealogy application, it has been completely re-developed from scratch by using the programming tools from Apple.