MRIN Filing Revisited: Digital Source Files

Legacy Family TreeThere has been a lot of interest in the MRIN filing system so I think it’s worthy of a recap. From the questions I’ve been asked it seems my overly-complicated presentation of it left some people in the dust. And there may have been other people who threw up their hands and just left. I’m sure there are genius-level filing systems around. The MRIN filing system just isn’t one of them so I take full responsibility for being abstruse.

First of all, your genealogy database has to include MRINs – Marriage Record Identification Numbers. If it does, the MRIN filing system has only 3 things going on:  the numbers in your database, (MRINs and Master Source File IDs) the numbers on your paper documents, and the numbers of your digital documents.  And for each source it’s all the same number. Hey, it’s your lucky day!

At this point I have over 9,000 people in my database, paper or digital documents for 500 MRINs, 100 Master Source File ID numbers, 1,000 digital documents, and a 15″ pile of paper.  And I’ve hardly begun. This system is as easy to use now as it was when I started.  Whatever I’m looking for can be found within seconds by a number.  The MRIN or the Master Source File ID.

Your paper can be filed any way you want, according to budget and space.  Binders are lovely but expensive. A filing cabinet would be my dream but it would take space I don’t have.  So I use storage boxes and and page protectors and dog-eared dividers with home-made numbering.  The supplies don’t matter so much, so just use what you have or can afford.

If you want to stick with the MRINs already in your database, that’s fine.  Otherwise start with anyone who has an MRIN that you’ve got documents for and renumber them “1”.  (under Tools in your Legacy program)  Now every piece of paper or digital file connected to them individually or as a couple, and any unmarried children, gets filed under “1”.  If you scan any of their documents, they go under “1” in your digital library.  Digital documents need an extension,  i.e. 1-a, 1-b, 1-c, or some such to distinguish them from each other.  I do it this way:

Digital Source Library, MRIN Filing System

As you can see, this has nothing to do with alphabetical filing.  It’s all strictly by MRIN.

As you are citing a source for the MRIN “1” people, in your database, use “1”, plus its extension, in the Source Detail box.  Voila! if you ever need to find your way back from your database to the related digital document, just follow the number.  If you’re looking for the paper source go to “1” in your paper files.

In this case the Master Source cited is Erie Co., OH Marriage Records, and the file ID number for the specific document is 0001-1.   If I have another document for couple “1” it would be 0001-2, etc.

Source Detail in MRIN Filing System, Legacy Family Tree

Then pick someone else to be MRIN “2” and keep going til you’re done.

It does not matter if you have paper and digital documents for a particular person or just one or the other or nothing.  It does not matter if you only have documents for some of your MRINs.  You can’t file what you don’t have, so forget about it.

Here’s what I do when I don’t have paper, but have digital sources only.  I put a plain text document (I don’t use plain text for anything else so its recognizable in its meaning) with the MRIN and the name of the person as its file-name in my digital library.  I put a brief list in the text document of the paper pages I have, so if I’m looking through my digital library it will tell me what I’ve got in my boxes of paper without having to haul them down off the shelf.  This is totally optional but seemed to make sense when my muscles got tired.

As I scanned my way through hundreds of pages I renumbered my MRINs starting at “1”.  Just one couple at a time.  It takes 2 seconds to renumber an MRIN.  What that does is push the higher numbers out of your way.  This is not critical, it’s just tidier.

Here’s the process if you’re scanning documents:

– give the digital document a number, i.e. the MRIN, followed by an extension, person’s name and a short description if you like
– extract all relevant information from the document into your database
-cite the Master Source, noting the number (the one you just gave the document) in the Source Detail File ID box for each place you use information from this document
– add the scanned page to your digital Source Library folder
– file the paper page, and move onto the next

I like to scan everything I can because I’ve seen what even 10 years can do to a piece of paper, not to mention the risk of fire or flood.  Another good reason for scanning documents is that it makes them easy to share by email.  If someone’s willing to trade you a 1795 newspaper clipping for a long-lost death certificate, you’re already on top of it. Yet another advantage is that you can search your computer for a snippet you recall but can’t remember exactly where.  But if scanning is not your thing, it’s even easier – just file your papers according to the MRINs of the people you’ve got paper for.

For Master Sources it’s a similar process.  Say, you’ve got a paper document of 30 pages called Pennsylvania Genealogies that involves many persons.  If you want to scan that, then give it a number, any old number that suits you.  If you only have it as paper it’s the same process.  You can also print pages from the Internet and give them a place in your digital library.  The number could be 4081, or PG107 or en&%kl4957.  The only thing that matters is that it says the same thing in your database under Master Source File ID as it does in your digital library and/or your paper files so you can find it again.   In this case there will be no number in an individual’s source detail citation box. You can put a page number if you have one.

Master Source File IDs, Legacy Family Tree

Somewhere along the road choose a backup option or two if you haven’t yet.  This is a project that will make you proud as well as taking the weight of chaos off your shoulders and you don’t want to be losing it. The combination of an external hard-drive and SyncBack is my favorite.  I also use Mozy for online backup.  If you have less than 2 GB you can do it for free.  If you have more, it will cost you $5 a month.

For the original paper-based version of this system, read If you have time, let me know how this is working out for you.

6 thoughts on “MRIN Filing Revisited: Digital Source Files

  1. Erik Pilgaard Vinther Post author

    Hi JL,

    Thanks for sharing your own version of the “Geoff MRIN filling system” with us. I appreciate that this is just your way of implementing a MRIN based filling system, and that you never promised to provide the ultimate “state-of-the-art” filling system, however, I do have a few questions I hope you can find the time to answer.

    1) You talk about Master Sources and Individual Sources. I know what a Master Source is, but I’m not sure I know what and Individual Source is. Could you please elaborate a bit in this? I guess an original (paper) Death Certificate would be an individual source (?), but what if the same information originated from a photocopy of a Church Record or from searching on one the many online databases.

    2) I use Legacy Family Tree for registering my genealogy data, and as far as I can tell, Legacy only uses one type of sources, i.e. Master Sources. Do you file, register and cite Individual Sources in any other way than Master Sources?

    3) You have reserved a range of file id numbers for Master Sources. This confuses me a bit. Say you have a photocopy of a census listing a particular family. Would you file this using a number from the Master Source range or using the appropriate MRIN number?

    4) How do you file and number Locality type stuff?

    5) How do you file stuff that relates to a group of people and/or many marriages, e.g. a group photo or a Probate?


    1. JL Post author

      Thank you for your questions. I probably don’t know what a state-of-the-art filing system is. I just use what works for me. If it would help your confidence, MRIN is the system that Geoff himself uses. I wrote a recap because I find it so simple to use I don’t want people floundering in unnecessary detail that makes it seem otherwise.

      1) “Individual sources” (in their meaning here) are any documents that can be attributed to an individual MRIN, whether it’s one person, one couple, or all included in, for instance, a census record.

      “Master Sources” that require their own File ID number are sources that cannot be attributed to a particular MRIN, such as a general history of an area, a map, a Descendants-of chart (received from elsewhere) etc.

      It is not my purpose to explain how to cite sources, only to suggest a numbering system to make an easy connection between your database, your paper and your digital documents. People far more experienced than I am have written books on source citation. Legacy has an in-depth and simple tutorial that I would refer you to. It shows examples of how to cite many different types of sources.

      2) No.

      3) The appropriate MRIN.

      I do not use Master Source File ID numbers for census records. There’s no point.

      I cite each census record as the appropriate Master Source, for instance: 1880 US Federal Census – Oxford Twp., Erie Co., OH. I might have 20 different families using that Master Source. As I enter the data for each one, I use the appropriate MRIN (plus extension) in the Source citation detail box for each person included in each census. The only point to putting a number there is if I put a digital copy of this census record with the same number in my “Source Library”.

      Census records “belong” to the MRIN of the head of the family.

      4) I presume you mean documents that include more than one person, such as a general history of an area. These are the Master Sources that I give Master Source File ID numbers to because I can’t attribute them to any particular MRIN. If it’s a long document I would cite a page number in the Source citation detail box for each individual noted there if that’s relevant. If there’s no direct connection to the database, just interesting information to keep around, I put it in a separate folder in my paper files under a general heading of the area or main family association. There’s no “perfect” way of doing things, (just opinions) so choose what makes the most sense to you and might not flummox your descendants when you’re gone.

      5) Groups. It depends what it is. If it can be attributed to a particular MRIN or if it involves different families and therefore different MRINs. If you sort all your documents according to MRINs you’ll be left with a pile that doesn’t belong anywhere in particular. These are the ones that need a Master Source File ID number.

      Photos are something else. I have thousands of them, scanned and edited, and they’re split into some semblance of order by folder name. Some of them are also organized into Passage Express projects. They’re not part of the MRIN filing system. I have very few paper ones left. And those I keep the way my grandmother did – in a box. (Very “state-of-the-art”.) Everything I could think of at the time about photo filing is written in a post called Photo Filing. You might get some ideas from there.

      Photos tend to be collected more around a particular family group, so the MRIN system would not be of good use for that, unless there was some other method of distinction included. If you had 5,000 photos filed under MRIN 237 you’re no further ahead with finding anything when you want to. On the other hand, if you have a few pictures for lots of different families, I don’t see why they couldn’t be filed by MRIN. Not mixed in with the paper, but a separate container, say, a photo filing box with numbered dividers. Perhaps doing the same with the digitals would also work. I have put the odd page of photos in with my paper documents filed by MRIN, for instance, when some-one photocopied a scrapbook page. It’s interesting and something to think about.

      I hope this helps. I’m willing to keep trying.

      1. Erik Post author

        Hallo again,

        Thanks for your answers.

        Let me test if I have understood you correctly…

        If the information in a document can be attributed to one or more individuals in a particular family, but no one outside the family, you would regard it as an Individual Source and file it using the appropriate MRIN number + extension (this is somewhat different from the Legacy examples of citing sources you pointed me to, as they create almost everything as Master Sources, even a single email or letter from one individual).

        If the document contains information about a number of individuals from different families you would regards it as a Master Source and file it accordingly using a Master Source File ID number.

        You were correct in assuming that by Locality stuff I meant local area history, maps etc, but also information about an estate, a house, a business or the like. Here I expect the same rules apply: if the locality can be attributed to one or more individuals in a particular family it should be filed using the appropriate MRIN number + extension, otherwise as a Master Source using a Master Source File ID number.


        1. JL Post author

          I have confused you with my use of the words Master Source and Individual Source, in trying to distinguish two different uses for numbering.

          All sources are Master Sources. Enter your data, cite your Master Source. As usual.

          Where I come in on this is creating a numbering system that connects with the digital copy of your source, assuming you have one. If you only have paper, and don’t want to scan it, then file your paper under the MRIN of the person you just cited the source for. Cite “Death Certificate” for John Smith, or however else you want to call it. If John Smith is MRIN 25, file the death certificate under 25 in your paper files. You’re done.

          If you make a digital copy of the death certificate, and name it, for instance “0025-9 dc, John Smith” (the “25” has to be there in some form to indicate MRIN 25) in your digital library, put that number (0025-9) in the Source Citation Detail Box after you’ve cited Death Certificate as your Master Source. That box appears right after you enter the Master Source. If you need to get back to it some other time, you can go there by clicking on Edit Detail.


          If you also want to quote that source for other information, say parents’ or spouse’s names, cite the same Master Source, use the same MRIN+extension (0025-9 in this case) in their Source Citation Detail Box, and make a note under “Detail Text” or “Comment” about whose death certificate it is.

          A source can include people who are not part of a nuclear family. (In the western world “nuclear” means Mom, Dad, kids. I had to look that up.) A census record, for instance, may include a cousin or mother-in-law. You’re still citing the same Master Source for each person, and putting the same MRIN+extension in their Source Citation Detail Box. The MRIN you use is the MRIN of the head of that household. (You could also put a note in the mother-in-law’s “detail text” or “comment” box saying “John Smith household: son-in-law”. If fact you could make a similar notation in everyone’s Detail Text box. Or you can add whose household it is under the Notes section in Events if you list census records as Events. That way it will show in a Descendants Book report.) So, say, you name the digital copy of the census record with the number 0025-5, put that number in all the applicable Source Citation Detail Boxes. Put your digital copy with your collection of other digital sources.

          An example of a document requiring a Master Source File ID number would be Cemetery Records: Sandhill, Groton Twp., Erie Co., OH. Say you have 100 relatives buried there. You don’t, but I do. It’s the same thing. Enter your data, cite your Master Source as usual for each one of those people. (for Burial obviously, likely also used to source Birth and Death dates) The reason it needs a Master Source File ID number is that the paper or digital version is filed under the same number. You don’t have to quote any more numbers anywhere. Just give it a File ID number so you can find it in your digital or paper files when you want to.

          Try filing a few that are “obvious” to get a feeling for it.

          1. Erik Post author

            Hi JL,

            Sorry to keep hunting you, but I have a few questions still…

            I think I have understood the basic concept:

            – anything I want to file in my personal digital and/or paper archive needs a File Id number (either a Master Source number or a MRIN number)

            – if the information can be attributed to a single individual and/or a single (nucleus) family it is filed using the appropriate MRIN, otherwise it should be regarded as a Master Source and filed using

            – whatever numbering scheme used, the important thing is to use the relevant number when citing the source

            I have applied these rules filing some “obvious” things as you suggested, and it feels intuitive and easy to work with. Now I have come to some thinks in the “pile” that I not to sure about. I general, I’m comfortable with how to cite the Sources when entering the actual pieces of information into Legacy, but I’m very unsure how to file the below mentioned types of information.

            1. Images of Master Sources. In Legacy I have created a particular Church Record as a Master Source, and on the Repository tab entered the call number for the National Archive where the original record is located. I have cited this Master Source for a persons Birth, and in the Source Details I’m referring to the actual page in the Church Record (and no File ID!). This is normal procedure I believe. However, I also have a digital image of this particular page from the Church Record. How should this be filed? Following the basic rules, this should be filed using the MRIN scheme, but in fact it is – at least part of – a Master Source.

            2. Sources that span multiple individuals and/and or families. I have several transcripts of interviews with family members sharing their memories about numerous other family members, family events, locations etc. Should this be filed using the MRIN of the person being interviewed, or regarded as a Master Source?

            3. Sources with no particular originator. This may sounds like a strange think, but for a family gathering I have stuff like the invitation sent out, the program for the day, the menu for the dinner, a song etc. Even though all this was created by individuals on the arranging comity, it should be attributed to the event as such. How would you file these?

            4. Local history information. Sometimes I come across newspaper articles or other form of local area descriptions for locations where some of my family members lives, or did live, but without explicitly mentioning any of my family members. How would you archive this type of information, and how would you link these to appropriate persons in Legacy?


          2. JL Post author

            Whenever you ask me something about citing sources or where things belong, you’re asking the wrong person. I am in no way an expert on this subject, and I live in more or less constant dread that my methods may someday prove to be fatally flawed and I will have to re-do everything I have so far. But I’m sure that I will never have my personal genealogy published as a scholarly work so I’m not trying to keep up to that standard of procedure. And so I proceed, in deep denial, by thinking even “those guys” disagree on methods.

            I don’t know if Geoff Rasmussen designed the MRIN system or just wrote a beautifully simple description of it at Or neither. My only contribution was to suggest a numbering system to connect the database to the digital copies of source documents. Not much to it really. IF you quote a source in your database you can attach a number to it that connects to both your paper and your digital documents. Whether you give it a Master Source File ID number or attach it to a particular MRIN is a judgment call in some instances, perhaps. Although it has always seemed obvious to me which way it goes. (so far)

            Having said that, I will still attempt to answer your questions one by one, not being able to see everything you can but my best guess.

            1. All sources are Master Sources. If that Church record is attributed to only one individual I would give the image an MRIN+extension and toss it in my digital library.

            2. It depends. If a transcript is about several different people and you’re quoting a part of it in John Smiths’ General Notes for instance, you will cite a Master Source for it as, for example, Transcript #1, and then give the digital and/or paper copy of Transcript #1 a Master Source File ID number, and quote page numbers for John Smith in the Source Citation Detail Box. When you use it for other people you cite the same Master Source and quote their page numbers. If it’s only about John Smith, file it under an MRIN+extension for John Smith instead of it having a Master Source File ID number.

            3. Dinner invitations are probably not going to end up in your database, so it has nothing to do with MRIN or MS numbering. If they do go in your database give them a number according to the person you quote the information for. I have things like that too and they don’t go in my database, they don’t need a number, and they just go in a folder of general items for that family. In your case you might have a folder for documents related to a specific family reunion. If you scan the documents for safe-keeping then you could have numbers on them that relate to the number of your paper folder, or a digital folder numbered (or named) accordingly that contains all the documents. Issues like this become issues when you have alot of paper, more than common memory can keep track of.

            4. Same answer as 3. If you’re not quoting anything of this in your database, you don’t need a number for cross-referencing. Put it all in a folder marked with the general family name or general location name. ( explains this.) Sometimes it fits to enter this type of information in General Notes, as an interesting inclusion. You can also add it to Location Notes in your database and print out a Location Index that will include it. This is the kind of information I put in my Passage Express projects to draw a wider picture. If you use it in your database it needs a Master Source, and probably a MS File ID #. If it’s just paper and will stay that way, then file it where you know you can find it again.

            Another idea I had for these types of documents is to put a plain text document in my digital Source Library with a list of what’s included in the paper folder of them, so if I’m on my computer I can see the list without having to root around in the paper. I could number the folder 5000 and number the text document 5000. It doesn’t connect to anything in the database but at least tells me what it tells me. A filing cabinet would make “rooting around” much easier but my paper is all in boxes. I haven’t scanned every shred of it yet but darn close.

            There’s no perfectly right or wrong way of doing this. I just put out the general idea of it, and assume people will add their own spins.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *