Color Your Ancestors! 6

Frequently, I see articles and blog posts about organizing your genealogy.  I found one method I like very well and that’s simple to use.  It’s a system that’s been around for quite a few years that was developed by Mary E. V. Hill, A.G.*  Mary E. V. Hill is an accredited genealogist who developed her Family Organizer System when she was preparing a workshop when she was a staff member at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

One thing nice about the Mary Hill system is that it works well with genealogy software and without it.  Some of the genealogy software programs have the Mary Hill system as a feature in the software or have color-coding options that you can use to set up this organizational tool.  I use Legacy Deluxe, which includes the Mary Hill system.  I believe that the Master Genealogist and RootsMagic also has this feature.

The system is based on color-coding your ancestors.  Each of your grandparents is assigned a color.  This color is then carried through to each person in that grandparent’s line.  Your paternal grandfather is assigned the color blue.  Your paternal grandmother’s line is green.  Your maternal grandfather’s line is red and your maternal grandmother’s line is yellow.

If you use Legacy Deluxe or another software program with this feature, you merely go to “tools” and click on “apply ancestor colors”.  A box in the appropriate color for each ancestor will appear on the family view screen.  When your program is set to the pedigree view, each box containing your ancestor’s information will be color-coded.  You can make charts that will also automatically contain the color-coding.

Color-coding your lines helps you know at a glance who is in that line.  Knowing in which grandparent’s line a person belongs can be helpful when doing research on that person.

You don’t have to stop with your database, though.  You can purchase hanging file folders in these colors and sticky dots and color code all of your paper files.  Everything saved in your computer, file cabinet, and notebooks can be color-coded in these 4 colors, making all of your genealogy easy to find at a glance.

Hanging files in the color for each line can be placed in a file cabinet drawer or file box. Manila folders holding your documents can be placed in the colored folders with sticky dot of that color on each folder.  Sticky dots can also be placed on th corner of each document.

Colored marking pens could be used in place of sticky dots, but I prefer the dots.  They don’t smear and most will peel off if you want to remove them.  They are also more attractive than the ink marks.

With this simple system, you can keep everything straight on your ancestors. In addition to coloring them in your database and on charts and documents, you can color-code Family group sheets, pedigree charts, to-do lists, research notes, research logs, time lines, migration maps, and anything else you have on your family.

You can find more details on using the Mary E. V. Hill Family Organizer system by doing an online search using Google or your favorite search engine.


* The AG® certification marks are the sole property of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists.


Deborah Carder Mayes

About Deborah Carder Mayes

Debbie is the author of IDG’s monthly column, Beyond the Obituaries. She also writes a blog, Rambling Along the Ancestral Trail, (

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6 thoughts on “Color Your Ancestors!

  • Cheri Hudson Passey

    I have been using this system for a couple of years now and really like it. My Legacy genealogy program has the option to use Mary Hill’s system as well. I would recommend using it to help organize and give a visual reminder of what family line a person is in.

  • Margaret Fortier

    When I started out researching a dozen years ago, I looked at a few ways to organize and chose the method you describe. It works really well. It makes it easy to locate the direct line ancestor but allows you to group related surnames logically. It’s really clear what goes where so you don’t have to spned time deciding, time you can spend looking for elusive ancestors.

  • K Thompson

    I would enjoy reading this article more if the strip of icons -Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, etc- did not block the left part of text. There doesn’t seem to be a way to make it go away, so I have to guess the first word on each line. Hobbles the reading, understanding, and appreciation for the content. (Using iPad, Safari browser). Any advice to on this would be helpful.