My Ahnentafel based filing system

In my last post we looked at the Ahnentafel system.  I outlined how it works and how I use it sometimes in printed family histories.

However, my main use of this system is purely administrative.  I use it to organise information on my computer – and I find it invaluable.

This is how it works:

  • I have a folder for Family History.  Within that folder there are some miscellaneous files.
  • However, most of the information is attributed to the appropriate direct ancestor and stored in a filing system based on the Ahnentafel system.
  • Each folder has the ancestor’s Ahnentafel number followed by name and birth/death years.
  • To make it easier to home in quickly on the correct folder I include the generational prefix.  So I am 01_001, my Dad is 02_002, my Mum is 02_003, my grandparents are 03_004 to 03_007.  My great grandparents are all within the prefix 04, GG grandparents within the prefix 05, and so on.
  • Putting all of the above into practice, a typical folder will have a title like 09_368 William Wade 1702-1783.
  • The folder is created when the ancestor is found.  Inclusion of dates is advantageous for distant ancestors, partly because naming patterns often mean there are ancestors over consecutive generations of the same name, and partly because I don’t remember the name of every distant ancestor and which generation they fit into.
  • Whenever I have a new piece of evidence (downloads, photos, etc), I store it in the appropriate file for that direct ancestor.  Remember that you won’t be able to see any evidence linked to your online tree on Ancestry, etc, if you let your paid subscription lapse.  You may also have downloaded evidence from other online sources, or you may have family tree software on your computer.
  • Some of the info I have relates to siblings / other children of the family who are not my direct ancestors.  For these, I store them with one or other of their parents.  If one of these people has an interesting history with a lot of additional documents I create a sub file for them within the parent’s file.

So here’s a snippet of what it looks like when I have xplorer open on my desktop.  On the left you see some of the folders for my 8th generation (5xG grandparents) and on the right I have opened one of the folders so you can see the kind of information I store in there.

Screen grab of computer filing system based on the Ahnentafel numbering system

You may wonder why I did this.  It’s true that it involved an initial investment of time.  However, it has paid dividends ever since.  I can now quickly store and retrieve any digital file connected with any of my ancestors or their close family members.

I find this better than just having a handful of surname files, such as one for the Wades, one for the Thompsons, and so on.  In part this is because it’s so much easier to retrieve information from a smaller folder – there could be a LOT of information to plough through to find the right file amongst all the others in a general ‘Wade’ file.  This also worked better for me in keeping consistency with women who have changed names upon marriage.  A filing system focusing on group surnames could ‘lose’ married women who started out with their father’s surname and changed to their husband’s.  My system means that every woman has her own file in her birth name, and any changes upon marriage can be accommodated by simply including the correct files in her folder, regardless of what name is used and indeed however many times she changes her name.


I haven’t mentioned Lockdown for a while, but just a quick note to say I hope you are all well, and if any of you are in areas that have gone into localised Lockdown, keep safe.

4 thoughts on “My Ahnentafel based filing system

  1. I really like your approach, but have a question or two. Since your folders are sorted by Generation # – Ahnentefal, how do you locate the individual you want? Unless I’m missing something, you would have to run down the entire list until you find the correct individual? I’m thinking of adding the first letter of the individual’s surname, so at least I’d be searching through a “clump,” rather than my entire folder list: C_02_004 Cosford, Fay Thomas 1901-1979. Something about using the letter isn’t sitting right, but I can’t think why.


    • Hi Sali, Thanks for getting in touch. I use my filing system in conjunction with my tree, and I can quickly see on there at which generation any person is to be found. In fact, that was why I tweaked my system to start with the generation number – because then at least I only had one generation to run down when looking for someone. The numbers of people I have to run through is further reduced because I know that at any generation level my paternal grandfather’s ancestors always come first, then paternal grandmother’s, then maternal grandfather’s and finally maternal grandmother’s – so if I’m looking for someone at generation 9 on my maternal grandmother’s side I aim for generation 9, towards the end.

      A priority for me in setting this up was to avoid splitting married couples, and to avoid splitting daughters from parents. A surname-based system would have done one or the other. Either a woman is always Mary née Smith, in which case she would never sit with her husband, or she becomes at some point Mary now filed under Jones. My method allows the couples to sit alongside each other, and their parents will sit alongside each other a generation later.

      The important thing though is to find a system that works for you, so if the surname letter would make it easier for you then go for it. What I will say though is that you can’t ‘give it a try’ – even though I only have a file for each direct ancestor there’s so much work to do in reorganising the system that I wouldn’t want to have to re-do it! So it’s great to be thinking so carefully at this stage.


  2. I love this method! My surname folder has over 200 files at this point and it’s only going to keep getting larger. Finding anything is so time-consuming. I’m curious how you handle non-direct line ancestors (children/siblings/in-laws, etc.). I would want to include them somehow in the generation and considered something like listing them as children under the parents’ generation and then using either letters (A, B, C, etc.) or Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.) Then if I was also listing in-laws and/or children, the numbering would continue somehow off of that. Thoughts?


    • In my main folder system I have only direct ancestors, but when I have records for any other children of my direct ancestors I put them in the folder for their father or mother. Sometimes it’s just the odd file, but if they have a story to tell and lots of records then I give them their own folder within that main folder of their parent. So as an example, I have a lot of info about my great uncle who died in WW1, so he has his own folder within that of his father, my great grandfather. I find this works for me.

      As far as numbering the other children, it isn’t strictly part of the Ahnentafel system to do that, because it really only relates to direct ancestors. But some researchers get around this by doing just what you say. In the great uncle example I used above, my great grandfather is number 10. I have him filed as 04_10, since he is generation 4, and that helps me to home in on all the generation 4’s, all the 5’s, etc. (I have way more folders than 200!) So that great uncle who died in WW1 was the firstborn, and he would be 10 (i) or 04_10 (i) if I wanted to name his folder. I don’t do that. It works for me without that extra administrative detail, but you could play around with it and make it work for you any way you want.

      To be honest I don’t see this working for successive generations of descendants of the siblings; it would be too cumbersome. But what I also have is general folders for some of my surnames where I put other records and also bits of info that I haven’t yet worked out how it fits in.

      Hope that helps. Good luck!


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