MRIN Filing System+ for Genealogy

MRIN Filing SystemThis post was originally published in October 2006.

The paper-based MRIN filing system was developed by Karen Clifford about 35 years ago. My contribution to it is a digital filing system also using MRINs.

It was quite laborious (in retrospect) and I have since greatly streamlined this process. Watch the FREE PowerPoint presentation (updated 2014) that goes through the whole thing from A to Z.

I finally got organized when I had so much paper and so many digital sources that I couldn’t find anything without wading through up to my shoulders. But, to be accurate, it was really a couple of years past that point.

If you are already filing paper by MRIN, you already know that MRINs (Marriage Record Identification Numbers) are cross-referenced with numbered tab dividers kept in binders. I do the same thing with hanging folders for paper that doesn’t fit in the binders. A filing cabinet would also be fine.

There’s no need for me to go back over the basic system.  If you’re interested, it’s explained in clear and simple language. I just want to explain how I’ve expanded on the original system with a digital component.

The only part that really matters is that your MRINs match up with your document numbering, and your Master Source ID numbers match up with your Master Source documents. That’s it. The rest is optional.

For the sake of preservation I scan everything I can. Not everything works well. For instance, I have photocopies of hand-written documents from the 1700’s and they weren’t using letter and legal size paper back then, more like 17 X 22 and other weird sizes. But I do the best I can.

So I have some documents existing as only paper, some as both, and quite a bit that’s only digital saved from the Internet and not printed to paper. I use a free program called PDF Creator or MHT to print pages of interest from the Internet so that I’m not just quoting URLs that may disappear tomorrow.

Back to the MRINs. If you’re using hanging folders as I am, or using tabbed binders, you can still use only the numbers you want to. Some people in your database may not have sources other than what information you copied direct from another person’s database.

If you don’t want your MRINs all over the place, just renumber them starting at “1” for the people you actually have paper or digital sources for. It’s under Tools in the Legacy menu and it’s a very easy thing to do. It really doesn’t matter because even if the MRINs that have source documents are 34, 128, 2037 and so on they’re still going to line up in numerical order.

I put most of the pages in archival quality page protectors. They come in boxes of 100 at a reasonable cost. I number the edge of each page protector with the MRIN using a permanent marker. I don’t like punching holes in paper so this seemed the best solution.

18 thoughts on “MRIN Filing System+ for Genealogy

  1. Melanie Armstrong Post author

    Could you please explain to me step by step how you use Legacy‘s MRIN filing system? I’m trying to use it but I don’t have paper copies for every MRIN so I’m not sure how to set up the filing system.

    For example: I may have a marriage license for MRIN 1. Then I may not have anything to file until MRIN 500 how do you handle something like this?

    I like the way you have your system organized but I don’t quite understand how you did it. Any help would be appreciated.

    1. JL Post author

      As the post says, the MRIN Filing System is described in detail at My own post is on how to add a digital component to the original system. I can’t do any better than to re-direct you to both. Read them several times until you can see it in your mind. If you can’t, it’s not the right system for you.

      In answer to your specific question about numbering, if you don’t want empty spaces in your numbers, then renumber your MRIN’s as you go. In your case, just renumber 500 to 2. And carry on in that vein through all the people you have papers for. Look for “Renumber RIN’s” under Tools in Legacy. You’ll find an option for MRIN’s there too.

  2. Christine Post author


    I think your idea is wonderful and it is very simple in its application. You have helped me greatly.

    I do have a question on the numbering you mentioned i.e. 0001 – 9000 as I failed to grasp your meaning.

    Are you saying to use the numbers 0001 – 4999 for individual source documents and 5000 – 9999 for master sources? Therefore it is possible to have up to 4999 separate source documents for each MRIN? And to have around the same number of master source documents?

    In the example you quote i.e. the cemetery records, you say ” I number the folder 9003.” Are you saying you already have assigned the numbers 5000 – 9002 and 9003 is just the next number? Also what is the ‘folder’ in this context? and then are the paper documents filed sequentially for ease of retrieval ?

    kindest regards

    1. JL Post author

      Funny you should ask. I was just wondering last night what exactly did I write in the article about the numbering?

      There’s only one thing about the numbering that’s critical and for the rest you can suit yourself. The critical part is that each couple in the database has an MRIN and that’s the number that ties to their documents in your digital library and your paper filing.

      This is what I’m doing now, which is a little different than what I said above –

      I use numbers 0001-4999 for my father’s side of the family, and 5000-9999 for my mother’s side. This is not a requirement, it’s just my way of seeing it. There’s 2 advantages to this. When I’m going through my database I can see at a glance from the MRIN which side of the family I’m on, and second, I can quickly see the same thing when I’m in the Source Library. I can see I changed it from what I said originally but I don’t remember exactly when that happened. Sometimes I’m moving very fast. It could have been 10 seconds after I first posted the article. This part doesn’t matter so just pick whatever makes sense to you. The most important thing about a filing system is that it makes sense to you. If you can’t visualize it as easily as breathing you’ll be tearing your hair out forever. So take the essence and put your own spin on it if you prefer.

      An important aside to this: If you number the MRIN’s this way it could put the higher ones outside the range of numbers already in your database, so don’t go compacting your MRIN’s or the higher numbers will be lost. If it looks like you could easily exceed 9999 consider going with a five digit number or something else.

      The only part that really matters is that your MRIN’s match up with your document numbering, and your Master Source ID numbers match up with your Master Source documents. That’s it. The rest is optional.

      Now, out of 0001-4999 (my father’s side) I use 0001-3999 for the MRIN’s, and 4000-4999 for the master sources. On my mother’s side it’s 5000-8999 for the MRIN’s and 9000-9999 for the master sources. I figure that will give me plenty of numbers. Right now I have 8,400 people in my database and 3,000 MRIN’s, so it’s a long way to using up all the numbers. Not likely in my lifetime. Each one of the numbers (0001-3999 and 5000-8999) is available to represent a single MRIN, not individual sources as you suggested. If you’re just starting out you can use this numbering system or if you’ve already done something else it’s fine.

      Now, you might be wondering how do I use those sets of numbers when there’s already MRIN’s that are different numbers? It’s easy but it has to be done carefully. As I enter sources for more and more people I renumber the MRIN’s as I go. This is not something to be done erratically. Go in order and as you enter a source (or want to enter File ID #’s for sources you entered a long time ago) renumber the MRIN for the next couple to the next available number in your filing system. Be careful not to renumber an MRIN that already has sources with File ID #’s attached to it.

      The easiest way to do this is simply start at 1 and go 1-2-3 and keep on going. And pick something way out of range for the Master Sources like 9000 – 9001 – 9002, etc or something else entirely, like 123abc. Even easier don’t renumber anything, just use the MRIN’s the way they are. The disadvantage of this is that if you want to use Geoff’s binder system with the pre-numbered tabs, you’ll have to buy lots of tab dividers for people you don’t and will never have any paper sources for.

      If you’re working with boxes of paper to organize, start with sorting and numbering your paper: parents are #1 and put a sticky tag or something, and the next pile (grandparents?) is 2, etc until your paper’s in order and then renumber the MRIN’s in your database to match. At that point you’ve got the beginnings of a system.

      Let’s say some couple’s MRIN is 98. Then every digital source attributed to them (or either of them, or their unmarried children) is preceded by the number 0098. They line up all together in the digital library as 0098-1, 0098-2, 0098-3, etc. It doesn’t really matter what comes after, as long as it starts with 0098. It could just as well be 0098-a, 0098-b, etc. Then I put a short description. Say the 1880 census record for this couple is “0098-5 1880, John Smith”. (That’s how it would look in my digital library.) Everybody else in the 1880 census for the John Smith household has a File ID# of 0098-5.

      Since I probably don’t have dozens of paper sources for John Smith or his wife I just put 0098 on anything I do have and file it numerically. I could put the extensions -1,-2, -3, etc as well if I thought that would help. If I use the extensions, more than likely these papers will not be chronologically-ordered but it doesn’t matter. If I don’t use the extensions I can have chronological order instead. I haven’t figured out a way to have it both ways.

      The “folder” I was referring to was my crazy side-accessed hanging folder system, which has now been replaced by sheet protectors and storage boxes, so I number them the way I used to number the folders. That’s to keep the reference system going between the database, the digital sources and the paper sources.

      This system is all about MRIN’s. Don’t try to think alphabetically or about RIN’s or about making sure the birth certificate comes before the death certificate in the extension numbers and all that, or you’ll confuse and frustrate yourself. Just concentrate on the MRIN’s and it’s straight ahead.

  3. Mike Swain Post author

    Hi JL

    I have just started using Legacy and have also decided to redo my filing system at the same time. In the explanation of your system, you point out that many MRIN’s are of little significance, in my case I have about 350 “family’s” but only about 100 are likely to be researched to any great depth at this time. You do say that it is easy to renumber MRIN’s to take this situation into account. All of my data was imported via gedcom without any marriage numbering system, but all marriages do have sources of one kind or another. Would you mind giving me some pointers as to how to go about starting your system off.


    1. JL Post author


      Interesting. I assumed Legacy would automatically assign MRIN’s on import of your gedcom. Are you sure there aren’t any numbers in the MRIN boxes? It’s the middle number in the bottom right of your screen:


      I fear I made this system sound more complicated than it actually is by thinking out loud about various choices for numbering your married people. It’s really not that important. It’s only important that they have a number and that your paper and digital sources are cross-referenced accordingly.

      Paper sources can be filed in boxes, file cabinets, binders, whatever you’ve got, by MRIN. For the digital sources I made a folder called Source Library, using the same MRIN’s of course. If you can see that it would make sense for you, renumber the MRIN’s starting at “1″ for the people you have sources for. I would strongly suggest renumbering if you’re using pre-numbered tabbed dividers in binders. Just jump in and start with somebody. One couple at a time as you get organized. I would not recommend renumbering everybody at once, you’ll just get confused. Just work one thing at a time and your system will expand naturally. If you don’t have any MRIN’s in Legacy that would be a question for their tech support.

      I have many digital documents that I do not have paper for, and vice versa. In cases where I only have paper filed, I put a blank text document in the digital Source Library to remind myself that number has already been used, and I don’t go renumbering it for some other couple. Generally, this would not be a problem for me, as I go in order to the next MRIN as I work. It’s a good reminder, regardless, to point from the digital files to the paper ones when only paper files exist.

      I’m looking at your question and wondering what I neglected to say in my article that you feel is still missing. Perhaps you could let me know.

  4. Anonymous Post author

    Hello JL,

    I am looking into starting a new database from scratch to follow the MRIN++ filing system and get some of the stale information out of my master databases.

    I have a question about events in Legacy.

    Is it reasonable that any event which just references an individual should be documented as an event under that individual but when it is an event involving both husband and wife that event could be entered under the MRIN in the events of their marriage, right?

    It seems that everyone ties all events to the individual but in the MRIN++ the folders you create are based on the MRIN, so it seems that events involving the couple should be entered in Legacy under the MRIN on the marriage event form.

    Like a census where the couple is mentioned in a household, that is actually an event for the couple and each individual seperately.

    Any thoughts?

    Hmm… I see there is a disadvantage to entering events under the marriage events… you can’t have those events show on the Individual Report.

    The marriage event checkbox is greyed out.

    1. JL Post author

      You may have answered your own question.

      I have to say I’m not an expert in where to put events in Legacy. This would be better referred to the LegacyUserGroup. And you may find a range of opinions there.

      I don’t separate my source documents into folders. So far. There’s just one huge folder with documents sorted by MRIN’s. Therefore, it wouldn’t matter in this instance whether a census is recorded under the individual or under their marriage as the MRIN is still the same.

  5. Bob Runion Post author

    I’m trying to find a system that will fit my needs and the one you describe seems to be about as logical as any I’ve seen, particularly with its ability to use the same numbers for paper and digital records. I have 16000 names with thousands of MRINs and have just moved to Legacy, so a lot of ‘catch-up’ is needed.

    I do have a few questions:
    (1) If I ‘re-number’ the MRINs, starting with my marriage, will the entire 5000+ MRINs get re-numbered automatically, or as inferred, will I have to physically re-number each MRIN as I go?
    (2) If MRIN 3999 is to be re-numbered to 2 – what happens to the number 3999?
    (3) And what happens to the old 0002 number?
    (4) When multiple pieces of paper are to be numbered under MRIN 0002, how do you keep track of the next suffixed number? i.e., if 0002-40 was the last number used and I get interrupted or move to another MRIN, when I return to MRIN 0002, how do I know what suffix to place on a new piece of paper?

    In preparing Master Sources, I propose to begin numbering them with 9000-series. As an example, suppose I make Master Source 9050 the 1920 Federal Census. When I encounter Uncle Joe (MRIN 0002) and family on that census, would I have a Master source of 9000 and a detail source of MRIN 0002-1 to be added to him and all the family for that specific census? This has caused me some concerns with the MRIN 0002-1 document getting into the system as the Master Source when I view the .fdb file in Access. Your impressions on this please.

    1. JL Post author

      I almost lost you amongst the LUG mail. Better if you don’t write me direct from there with an LUG header. I have to backtrack through the archives to see where you’re coming from.

      (1) Since you’ll probably be renumbering MRIN’s as you file your paper, then yes, you renumber them one at a time as you go. There’s no point in renumbering them otherwise.

      (2) and (3) As you renumber the numbers get swapped. 3999 becomes 2 and the old 2 becomes 3999.

      (4) When you’re looking for the next extension to use, click the little magnifier next to the File ID box and you can find it there. Read Another MRIN Filing System Tip.

      I don’t use Access so I can’t comment. I don’t use any Master Source numbers for census records. I just give each one the MRIN+extension for each person listed in that particular household. There may be many different census citations for a particular location, so there is no “Master Source” document. I only use Master Source numbers for single documents that contain information on multiple families, such as cemetery listings, books, emails, descendant charts from other people, etc., where the document can’t be attributed to any particular MRIN and I need individual numbers to identify them.

  6. D


    I’m just starting out with Legacy and am also using the MRIN filing system. One question….Is there a way to get Legacy to automatically number my mother’s side starting with say MRIN 5000 if I have both sides in one file? Or will I have to manually renumber those individuals and keep track of next available numbers?


    1. JL Post author

      I don’t think Legacy will do what you’re asking, i.e. separate out part of your file and renumber it.

      I started my mother’s side at 5000 (optional) and as I’ve added more documents I’ve renumbered for the next relevant person as I go. I have not tried to renumber that entire side of the family and if I wanted to I think it would have to be done manually.

      Have you read Another MRIN Filing System Tip? I explain there how to find your next number.

  7. Beth

    I created another variation in my digital archives. I use the pre-assigned MRINs in the file and let Legacy assign new MRINs as I add marriages. My current file has 9112 families so to make things easier to find, I started adding RINs to the file name so an entry in my source library might look like this 228_789_Death Cert or 228_789_pic1. I use an underscore to separate identifying data in the file name. This also lets me assign specific information to adult children who never married such as war records, census records, etc. especially when the children actually moved out of their parents homes and are listed as boarder or other on census records. Just thought I would share in case someone runs into this issue like I did. I also make sure I print a hard copy of the MRIN listing and the Name List which shows the RIN to use as a reference in the top drawer of my filing cabinet.

  8. Beth

    I forgot one other variation I added. In my source library I have a folder titled locations. In side this folder I organize pictures of specific locations and buildings. I set these files up as Country_State_City_Building Name. Ex: USA_IL_Brdstown_Schmitt Hosp

  9. Sara Jacobsen

    Actually, the filing system you are referring to is actually a system that Karen Clifford developed about 25 years ago. I know that she taught the sytem to me back in 1997? Back then we had to number the 99 tabs by hand. Then I know that we typed the numbers on the tabs and now her company provides very professional tabs that are so easy and quick to use! She used and still uses the filing system for her full-time clients at her company Genealogy Research Associates,Inc.

    Their company is They also have and

    If you would like further information on how great this system works, visit

    I dont’ know why people are referring the system to Geoff, he was probably 6 when this was developed and already used. I think I remember karen saying that at a point Geoff worked for her company but that doesn’t mean he developed it!


    1. JL Post author

      Thank-you for straightening us out about this. I heard of the system through Geoff and didn’t think he had ‘invented’ it but got used to referring to ‘his’ system, meaning the one he said he uses, and didn’t even stop to wonder where it came from originally. At, there’s a link for Legacy and I admit to tunnel vision; i.e. Legacy Family Tree = Geoff Rasmussen

  10. Kay Brown

    I think your MRIN system is definitely the best way to go. However, how do you handle divorced people and another marriage? With and without children?

    1. JL Beeken Post author

      Every marriage has an MRIN. I try to keep the MRINs for multiple marriages next to each other, (although I’m not sure it matters) so if the first marriage is, for instance, 150 the second marriage would be 151. I have one person married 5 times so there are 5 MRINs. The files for unmarried children go under the parents’ MRIN, otherwise they have their own.


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