Organizing Your Genealogy Database | Legacy Family Tree

Methodology for organizing your genealogy database is not set in cement. Far from it.

If you’ve been at it for a long time you probably already know everything you need to and you’ve settled into what you like best.

If you’re new at this and floundering, you need to start getting a feel for what your database software can do to help you. That’s a whole manual and beyond my scope in the short-term. I could start picking my way through it but it would slow you down. You have to read the manual, take some classes, write emails to their tech support and purchase the training CDs. Any or all of the above. If your questions are Legacy-specific, they have very friendly tech support by email.

There are a lot of old hands at the Legacy mailing list. People who have been there/done that and know their way around the maze. The more opinions the better, so partake.

If you have a question related to one of my posts, it would be better if you ask your questions at the time you have them rather than saving them up. Just post a comment. It’s more relevant to everyone that way. There is no such thing as a question that’s too simple. The Internet is full of the whole range of humanity talking and talking and talking. Most people are happy to help you out if they can.

Legacy is pretty straightforward software to use. I’m not a genius and I fell into it like an old rocking chair. Getting an eagle’s view takes a little longer due to there being a lot of boxes inside of boxes. You have to look around. The first thing I ever do with new software is take a quick tour by clicking on all the menu items.

Legacy’s own newsletter sometimes offers tips and tricks. They have a set of CD tutorials, Legacy Training, Vol 1. and Legacy Training, Vol. 2.  There are special-interest tutorials on their website. There’s an extensive and simply-written help menu. I know help menus are not always the most fun places in the world. But, occasionally I spend some time in one and always come out of there knowing something that I didn’t before.

I don’t write about Legacy all the time, because this is not a Legacy-specific blog, and I don’t want to alienate non-Legacy users by bending things that way. I know a lot of the readers are from Legacy but people also find their way here through the search engines. At the same time, Legacy is my software of choice so it’s bound to come up sometimes in what I write about.

So, on the more general subject of getting organized, intended for all and using Legacy as an example only, the whirlwind tour:

The OverView

I look at my database from my end-viewers backwards. The best thing for them (as well as being easier on me) is to bring consistency to the way I enter data. End-viewers are split into 2 main groups. 1. People who want to be entertained (I hope) by the family history and 2. Other genealogists who are interested in the same kind of nit-picking that I am. My closer family, for instance, do not care if a 4th cousin 3 times-removed may or may not have died before 1850 due to a dubious entry in a census record … and 3 other distant cousins’ opinions about that.

The easiest way to see what you’re doing to yourself with your style of data entry is to print out reports. As PDF or TXT or HTML, whatever is available, and have a look. If you haven’t done that yet, do it now:  pick someone a few generations up your tree and do a full Descendants Book Report. Are you happy with it, or shell-shocked? Take a tour around in the Report options so you can see what you’re going to get ‘after-the-fact’. That may change your mind about where you put data to start with.

Legacy Family Tree, Reports

Source Citation Report

Try a Source Citation report including Detail, Text and Comments. Is it what you expected?

Legacy Family Tree, Source Citation Report

Notes & Events

So I try to manage my database around who’s likely to see it. Generally, think about what stays up front in your reports for ‘general interest’ and what constitutes errata. For instance, I use “General Notes” as a place to contain what other people are going to read in the way of ‘stories’ and I try to keep that to being written in full sentences, not vague points.

It’s not a place for alternate dates. (That goes in Events.) Neither is it a place for baptism or burial notes, social security numbers, alternate locations, Source repository addresses, etc.

Someone else might choose to put their ‘stories’ under Events instead and add Notes there. Legacy is flexible enough that it doesn’t really matter, as you can choose which boxes to be printed out in your reports. But again, consistency is key because the reports are only going to put out what you’ve put in. Somewhere along the line, you have to make that connection. Garbage in = garbage out.

Legacy Family Tree, Events

Birth notes go under Birth Notes, and Death notes under Death Notes, and so on. Ho-humming about a particular source citation does not belong in the ‘stories’. I put that in Source Detail Comments. I can print all that kind of thing in Source Citation reports to send to my fellow-genealogists. This information is also laid out in front of me when I’m scrolling through the Assigned Sources screen for an individual. These are just my ideas and not set in stone.

Legacy Family Tree, Source Detail

This same consistency applies to dates, and locations. There’s no reason to have a location or a date written in 6 different formats. I’ve already addressed locations in Master Locations.

Date Formats

Legacy has an entire screen under ‘Customize’ devoted to setting up date formats. It also has 6 choices for Circa or About when you don’t know an exact date. Make some choices here and stick with it. If you enter data in a hurry thinking you’ll get back to it later to clean up, it is going to come back to bite you one way or the other. The more people you have in your database the harder it is to clean it up later. Think of today as being late enough.

Legacy Family Tree, Customize Options


I’ve seen enough other people’s gedcoms to come to the conclusion that we are not making full use of, or anything even close to, the potential of our software. Genealogy software is built by people who have been there/done that. It’s our job to look around and realize. There’s a Search function, Search & Replace, Tagging, Merging, USA County Verifier, Potential Problem reports and Global Spell Check, to name a few. These are all things to help us stay tidied up and better organized as we go along. If you start working with these features you’ll get to know your way around better.

If you’ve been chucking information at your database, here’s one simple thing to show you what you’ve accomplished. Do a search on [General Notes contains ‘e’]. In other words, anyone who has anything there. Then, using the Name List view, click through one after another and delete, edit or move what doesn’t belong. If we can’t understand our own cryptic notes a year or five years later, how could anyone else?

Legacy Family Tree, Detailed Search

Research & To-Do’s

I use Research Notes and To-Do’s for things that don’t obviously belong somewhere else. Lately I’ve been going through my To-Do list and finding things that have been in there for years. Some of the questions have been answered when I wasn’t looking. The comments belong elsewhere. Some of it is so mysterious it will have to be deleted. It’s worse than trying to read my own handwriting.

It will serve you much better over the long-term if you narrow down where you put your queries and odd notes, instead of just throwing information anywhere. I’ve seen gedcoms and charts where there’s no rhyme or reason to anything. It’s as if all boxes are created equal. Just tossed it.

Computers are not washing-machines. Yet. Working-with is required.


Some people seem lost as to what to do with Sources. Legacy 7.0, due out soon, includes a Source Writer that is about to save us from ourselves.

Take a look at the Sources tab in the Name List view. In particular, have a look at the far-right column that says Detail. It’s shocking the stuff people put in there. Source http’s and township names and social security numbers and and and …

Legacy Family Tree, Sources Tab

To break this down really simply:

There are Master Sources which include tabs for Text, Repository, (fancy name for address) Comments and Pictures. If you have other things to say about your Master Sources, put it under these tabs.

Legacy Family Tree, Master Sources

Source Detail Information is for individual citations of a Master Source. Each time you use a Master Source you can also add more information about that particular citation, in the various boxes available there.

Legacy Family Tree, Source Detail

To answer a few other odd and ends:

To approximate locations you can use poss., prob., near, etc. I’m not crazy about it, but I have incorporated charts from a cousin who loves that sort of thing, consequently I have lots of it.

Your database is yours, so if you want to write a novel on each of your close family members, of course you can. I don’t know if I’m quoting this correctly but I believe any Notes fields in Legacy can contain up to 2 million characters each. A cousin of mine switched to Legacy because she got ticked off running out of space in Family Tree Maker. You might want to put double brackets [[ …]] around it so it’s not accidentally printed out in your reports to unintended recipients. Make sure you also tick the report option to keep that private.

Multiple Databases

In regards to syncing databases in different software: I have tried running multiple databases and have found it too confusing. As far as I know there’s no way to synchronize between programs in a one-button sort of way. I’d have to make a gedcom in one and import it into the other, work in the other for awhile, export and import a gedcom back into a new family file in the other and so on. And it’s never a smooth transition either way. Or I could split my one database into two or more and run them in different software. But I can’t see the point.

There’s so much to do with computers and, relatively, so little time. I try to whittle down my list to doing the things I would most like to accomplish. Running my ancestors back and forth between different database software just isn’t it.

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