Friday, February 2, 2018

Color Genealogy Filing System

Editor's Note:  This posting was originally posted on my blog on Sunday, February 15, 2009. Links to this blog posting were updated March 10, 2014, January 23, 2018, and February 2, 2018.

Genealogy is a hobby full of papers, electronic files, and heirlooms. The more documents we find on our family, the more the paper piles up. As a result, the excitement of finding information on our ancestors is overshadowed by the weight of piles of papers.

Since beginning this hobby in 1994, I have tried various filing methods such as notebooks and an ancestral number filing system. However, none of these methods have worked effectively for me. Many new genealogist use a notebook to organize their paper documents. I used a notebook also when I began this hobby in 1994. However, after accumulating many documents, a notebook did not work for me. A few years ago, I discovered the Family Roots Organizer Video in my local public library. Later, I purchased my own copy of the video which I watch periodically.

The foundation of this filing system for genealogy papers is based on a color-coding system for the pedigree line. This method recommends using one of four colors for each of your four grandparents.

  • BLUE: Paternal Grandfather
  • GREEN: Paternal Grandmother
  • RED: Maternal Grandfather
  • YELLOW: Maternal Grandmother

  • I modified this filing system to suit my needs. I’m not sure why I didn’t use the exact colors for each grandparent that were suggested, however, the four-color method still works no matter what colors are used for each grandparent. I also choose to use color file folders for both ancestors and collateral family and green hanging folders for all families. I use highlighters on the hanging file folder tabs for each surname. I choose the following colors for each of my grandparents.

  • Minor: Maternal Grandfather (green)
  • Emma: Maternal Grandmother (red)
  • Mack: Paternal Grandfather (blue)
  • Hattie: Paternal Grandmother (yellow)

  • Red, Green, Yellow, and Blue colored file folders are included in the spring colors of an assorted box of folders. Orange is also included in the spring colors and I adopted this color for my growing collection of DNA related files. The fall colors of an assorted box of file folders includes Grey, Maroon, Royal, Teal, and Purple. From this box, I have chosen Purple folder for my files related to white families in my research who are either slave owners, suspected slave owners, or some other relations to my family such as employer, landlord, or neighbor. I use the remaining colors for personal files such as bills and other financial related files.

    Since using this color system for my ancestral files, I can now immediately indentify from a distance the category or grandparent to which each file belongs. By the way, this color filing system can also be used with notebooks, instead of file folders. Some genealogists use white notebooks and place a specific color cover and strip in spine for easy identification.

    For more information, visit the websites below:


    Greta Koehl said...

    Thank you for posting these links! And I've already adapted the color method to my binders (following an earlier post of yours); I know at a glance that big binder + blue patch = Brinlees (father's father's family); big binder + red = Moores (mother's father's family). I can immediately grab the binder I want instead of having to squint to read the writing. Thanks!

    Unknown said...

    Finally GF!

    I have been researching my family since 2002 and started following the Mary Hill color coding system maybe six months later. I have finally found someone who realizes that you don't have to use those four specific colors in that specific order according to the Family Roots Organizer plan. I use purple instead of yellow for my maternal grandmother because I realize as I get older that yellow highlighter is not going to contrast well enough for me. I use maroon the same as you use purple and I use orange for my location files. I also bought a ream of multicolored paper to print my family group sheets in color. Or, even as Professor Dru says, we can use binders in various ways to still make it happen. It's a wonderful organizing system but folks need to realize they don't have to have tunnel vision to use it. Think outside the box people. We are genealogists! That's what we are always supposed to be doing, thinking outside the box.

    btw Professor Dru, if also want to match your pc folder colors, you can download the Folder Marker app from

    Alison Jones said...

    Hello, I found your website blog as I am interested in filing my family tree info and was looking for ideas. Nice website :-)

    Unknown said...

    Great tip! Now to Implement...

    Colleen G. Brown Pasquale said...

    Great ideas. Family Tree Maker makes it possible to track those four family branches by color too.