Ask Yvette – How to Organize Files for Dutch Ancestors

A reader was used to organizing her files by last name. Before 1811 her Dutch ancestors did not have last names but used patronymics, which made it difficult to see which files belonged to which line. She asked me how to organize files for people who did not use last names.

I thought it might be helpful to share how I organize my files. I will use the files of my mother’s side as an example. I have two trees, one for my father and one for my mother. Most people prefer to have only one tree, but since my parents are from completely different areas, I’ve kept them separate.

I organize my ancestors’ files by their ahnentafel number. 1 = main person, 2 = father, 3 = mother, 4 = paternal grandfather, 5 = paternal grandmother, 6 = maternal grandfather, 7 = maternal grandmother, 8 = paternal great-great grandfather, etc. For each person, their father’s ahnentafel number is double their number. Their mother’s is one higher than the father’s.

I create folders per couple, by ahnentafel number of the husband. I use leading zeros so the folders alphabetize and align properly. I also use the last names or patronymics in the folder name so I can more easily see who’s who. I use NN [Nomen Nescio, I don’t know the name] for ancestors whose name I do not know; typically the fathers of children born out of wedlock.

I don’t have paper files for any ancestors beyond my grandparents. If I had, I would number them the same way.

In a folder, I store the following files:

  • Media files, such as scans of original records. I include the birth, marriage, death records of the persons in this file. Any files that are for a whole family, like a population register, goes into the folder of the head of household. So a population register showing my ancestor as a child, would go in the folder of that child’s parents.
  • Research reports. I typically have one research report per nuclear family, where I analyze all the information I have for them, and document the prove of their parents. The research report has citations for each of the sources, including those for which I have media files stored in the folder. I often copy the relevant section of the images into the report. If possible, I copy the citation to the “Comments” section of the media file in the EXIF data (available via Alt-Enter, or right click > Properties).
  • Correspondence about this family, including emails printed to PDF.
  • Subfolders with the files for children I’m not descended from.

I give the files a name that starts with the date (yyyymmdd), followed by the place, type of record, and names. Here’s an example of a folder with several media files and a research report.

In my genealogy program, I add the ahnentafel number as a private fact to my ancestors. That way, I can easily tell what folder to look for the associated media files. I also link to the media files from my genealogy program by adding them to the appropriate facts or to the person as a whole.

I know there are many other ways to organize your files, but this works for me. Please leave a comment to share how you organize your files. There is also a Facebook Group The Organized Genealogist where you can find many more tips or ask questions about organizing your files.

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for almost 25 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Michelle Novak says

    Minor point, but otherwise excellent organization (and very much along the lines of how I teach organization—so a bit self-serving, I know). But, you might want to start using hyphens instead of underscores.

    Browsers and SEO reads hyphens as spaces but underscores will be read by the computer as contracted words. To the computer OS, it’s the difference between:

    (computer OS reads as)


    (computer OS reads as)
    18340925 Breda Huwelijksbilagen BovendeerKoks 5.jpg

    • Thanks for your suggestions. Where do you learn that underscores will be read by the computer as contracted words? I have never seen that.
      I based my file naming system on the digital preservation guidelines for filenames of the National Archives of the Netherlands. The National Archives of the US also recommends either underscores or hyphens:
      Recently (after this example), I’ve changed to using hyphens in the dates, and underscores between elements, so 1835-05-15_Breda_Birth_JJansen.jpg.

  2. Marianne Hauptman says

    Thanks Yvette. Looks like a very effective give way to organize all documents

  3. Hello Yvette
    I am curious about the layout of your research report and what you state in it. Is it possible to show an example of this?

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