Getting Organized

In our article, Genealogy and Family History Overview, we talked about how to get started with genealogy research.

Now we’re going to explore some ways to keep your genealogy research and documents organized. This might seem unimportant right now, but you’ll soon discover that doing so will:

  • Make it easier to locate and refer to information you have already collected.
  • Keep all documents neat, tidy, and protected from damage.
  • Make it easier for others to locate your research in the future.
  • Make your life as a genealogist much less cluttered and a little less chaotic.

Obviously we’ll all have our own preferences for organizing things. Some of us will keep a highly organized filing system, others will decide to keep everything together in one big box. There is no right or wrong solution, but keep in mind that you will come across information in a variety of shapes, sizes and formats and it will be challenging to keep everything together in one location.

Let’s begin by looking at the types of documents that you’ll likely see when doing your research. These include:

  • Handwritten or Typed Documents
  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Newspaper Clippings
  • Family Bibles
  • Computer Disks
  • Computer Files
  • Photocopies
  • Photographs
  • Web or Internet Pages and Documents
  • Email Documents

There are even more formats than this and you may have started to notice a few challenges already. For example, chances are that it’s going to be hard to keep the Family Bible in the same file folder as the old family photo or a magazine article with a computer disk, etc..

There are a number of filing systems available. You will might choose one or more of the following:

  • Collapsible File Folders
  • Notebooks
  • File Cabinets and Folders
  • Boxes or Cardboard Filing Drawers
  • Computer Directories or Folders
  • Computer Software

So, what is the best way to keep everything organized? If you’re just beginning, we suggest that you start out with a simple cardboard or plastic filing box with separate dividers for each family. Then subdivide those sections into individual folders for each family member. With this type of filing system, you can keep a number of flat documents (photo’s, typewritten pages, etc.) together, all organized by family then individual.

Obviously, certain research materials will not fit as neatly into a file folder as others. Items like books, magazines, computer discs, etc., will need to be kept elsewhere. In these cases, we suggest that you keep these items in safe location away protected from temperature extremes and moisture. Plastic boxes are a no, no because they can create an ideal environment for mold and mildew. It’s best to store these on a shelf or a box made of acid-free cardboard.

Once you stored these bulky items, create a one or two page document inventory listing all of these research materials. Be sure to note the date that this inventory was last updated and jot down the item’s specific location, (i.e. “box in attic at [the full address]”). Then create a file folder marked “Records Inventory” and put this in the front of your filing box or cabinet. This way everyone will know that additional research materials exist and what their location was at that point in time.

One important note regarding computer files and images, keep in mind that computer documents are not archival quality documents. The reason for this is that computer systems, software and file formats are always changing and could be replaced by a newer technology.

What this means to you, is that in the years to come, others will likely not be able to access some of your computer documents. To prevent this from happening, you should always keep a printed copy of the more important computer documents that you have on hand. The computer is a great tool for record keeping, but it is a poor choice for storing and archiving information over the long term.

In our next article, Genealogy Charts, Forms and Outlines, we’ll go into detail about the types of documents that you can use to record the primary family history information that you come across.