Genealogy File and Folder Organization System for Mac, Part 4

Learn how to use Macintosh Finder aliases to save time and space when you have files related to one person with multiple names, for instance married and maiden names. This will help you stay organized so that your genealogy research will go faster and smoother.

It builds upon my recommended folder structure presented in prior screencasts. While you can use the techniques with other folder structures, you may want to view the other videos prior to this one.

Next article in the series: Genealogy File and Folder Organization System for Mac, Part 5, Multiple People.


  1. Pat Sheldon says

    Hi Ben… A few months ago you patiently explained the MAc genealogy software to me. I subsequently bought Reunion and LOVE it. It is so much fun, although at times confusing, so clearly it is time to learn and use your hints on organization! I am watching your screencasts and setting up my places and people files. Excuse me if I have missed some points already answered :( There are a number of specific questions:

    1) In Reunion, I have been listing a wife with her maiden name, and that is the way she appears in the index. Is that what you recommend?
    In your system for data files, it looks like a woman’s file should be set up as married name with an alias linking to the maiden surname… or to a folder created for her within the maiden surname folder?

    2) The family I am researching is from Greece, where surnames have different endings for males and females. And in a few cases, I also have a shortened/Americanized/Ellis Islandized surname also. For example… Male in Greece: Goulakos. Female in Greece, whether maiden name or married, Goulakou. Current US-ified name Goulos. Do you have any advice or case studies of situations like this?

    3) For each person, I will create alias(es) to appropriate folders. I will add any supporting documents to the primary folder, and they will automatically be linked to the aliased folders as well, yes? This would be census, ship manifests, jpegs (links from iPhoto), etc?

    4) Surname misspellings. On some of these Greek immigrants, names were misspelled on the manifests as they left port and further misspelled – sometimes impossible to recognize – by the saintly people who typed for Ellis Island’s site or who took the census. So I have the original name because I know it, Should I make a folder for the same person for each misspelling of his surname (sometimes five, if the person crossed several times!). What do you recommend?

    Thank you so much for this inredible resource, and for encouraging me in this venture.


  2. Margaret Murdock says

    I think the situation of multiple variations on a name that Pat describes comes up frequently a lot for many researchers.

    I have also encountered the opposite situation – multiple people with the same name, about the same age, living in the same area at the same time, and you’re not sure which ones are actually the same person and who is related to whom.

    And what do you do when a woman has multiple marriages and married surnames? Put the alias in each husband’s surname file with only that surname in front of the maiden name, or string them all together, with or without parentheses?

    What if you don’t know her maiden name yet? Just list her under the husband’s surname, with empty parentheses?

    I think your system deals with these kinds of complications much better than other ones I have looked at, which are based on a Windows directory structure. I don’t think a purely hierarchical structure can really address these issues very well. This is why I decided to look for a Mac-oriented approach and found your tutorials. Thanks for sharing your ideas with such clarity.

    • says

      When I have people with the same name similar dates and I haven’t proven them to be different people, I put all the files in the one folder until I’ve proven they belong elsewhere (using my system).

      With respect to women with multiple marriages, I do what you wrote: “put the alias in each husband’s surname file with only that surname in front of the maiden name.” And yes, if the maiden name is unknown, I use the married name until the maiden name is discovered. I don’t ever use empty parentheses.

  3. Randall says

    I’ve watched the video several times now trying to understand the structure for married persons. In the video by the way, at the beginning of the demonstration, you say “married name” when referring to Minda Roan’s married name and maiden name folders–that makes it very confusing. For this to work for single and multiple marriages, I think you have to put the original folders in the maiden surname folders. For example: Betty Jones marries Bob Brown. In the Jones surname folder would be a folder Jones (Brown), Betty; and in the Brown surname folder would be the folder Jones (Brown), Betty alias.

    If Bob Brown died and Betty subsequently married Jim White, we need a folder Jones (White) Betty alias in the White surname folder. This be another alias of the Jones (Brown) Betty folder in the Jones surname folder, but to get the forward trace to both the Brown and White surnames from the Jones surname folder, we should rename that folder Jones (Brown, White) Betty.

    I think that makes this work, but please reply if I have it wrong.

  4. says

    So Ben, I can see the elegance of this system on the original computer where you set it up, but if you copy the directory structure to another drive/another machine/etc. do the aliases remain pointing to the proper location on the new drive/machine/etc. or do the links break? Does this work if you copy the directory structure to a cloud based storage provider like dropbox or skydrive?

    • Ben says

      As long as you’re copying (or backing up and restoring) to and from a Mac OS X computer everything stays as-is. When you leave the Mac OS X filesystem you’ll lose the aliases (links), but not the files and folders to which the links point. The lesson: don’t leave the Mac–as if you needed a reason to stay.

  5. says

    I just had to migrate to a new laptop. When I transferred all the files, etc. from my old MacBook Pro to the new, everything remained in place. I was essentially restoring from a backup, but everything came over with no broken links.

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