Getting Organized


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To succeed in family history, you need a simple, user-friendly system for organizing documents, notes, research aids, photographs, copies of family group records, pedigree charts, research logs, etc.
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And it needs to be in a readily-accessible form without digging through piles of papers. Staying organized makes your information more valuable to you, and allows you to use your limited family history time more efficiently.

[photo: MacBook computer: photo courtesy Apple, Inc.]

Computers Save
Lots of Time

Computers work the best to help you organize your information into family group records and pedigree charts which can be searched by name, date, place, or relationship. They’ll help keep tract of your ancestors and descendants. Computers offer an important advantage because you only have to type the information once, then you can use it repeatedly in many different charts and forms, and easily share the information with others. Family histories and correspondence can be written and then edited easily. Photographs and documents can be scanned and archived for safe-keeping, easy retrieval, and sharing with others.

[photo: watch from p.158 2nd edition]
Computers are wonderful to help you organize your information and save lots of time, but you may still want to print out some family group sheets and pedigree charts and keep them in folders. Try to keep yourself organized and your information readily accessible as your family tree grows.

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It’s usually better to choose a combination of computer files, filing cabinet folders and 3-ring binders.

Getting Started

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For organizing paper copies of family records, first make sure you have the organizational supplies you will need, such as: file cabinet or boxes to store files in, file folders and index tabs, manila folders with assorted tabs, pre-printed forms to record data (you can print free forms from your computer family history program), and 3-ring binders with index dividers. Your investment in a good file cabinet will reap many rewards over the years in well-organized and preserved documents, and it’s the easiest way to keep track of your family history papers.

Consider setting up an organizational system as early in your research as possible. If you stay on top of filing your documents as you receive them, it's much easier and less time consuming than if you have to go back through over-flowing files.

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File Your Papers.com - www.fileyourpapers.com
It doesn't take long once you have started your genealogy adventure to collect so much information that it seems hard to handle. Dealing with information overload is handled by systematic organization of materials. If the organization of materials can be easily, quickly, and cheaply organized, and cross-referenced to other aspects of your files, it will free your mind. This will allow you much more time to devote your energy to the research itself and time to analyze your information more effectively. This website offers free online lessons for getting organized using different software programs: Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree, My Trees online, and Personal Ancestral File. Sponsored by Genealogy Research Associates.

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Organizing Your Family Records - www.arkansasresearch.com > Guide to Research
Article describes a system to keep organized including family group sheets, family folders, pedigree charts, research notes, correspondence, and photographs.

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Time For It Now - http://timeforitnow.knotsindeed.com 
Contains a guide entitled In a Pile or a File by Rita Bartholomew to organizing your search and records, including a research folder, research log, and research and correspondence indexes.

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Ancestry.com Learning Center - www.ancestry.com/learn/start/surveying.htm
A series of articles on organizing your data.

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Organizing Your Genealogy - www.familysearch.org > Search > Research Helps
Excellent articles entitled: Organizing Your Genealogy Using Computers and Organizing your Paper Files. Click on Search > Research Helps > Sorted by Title > “O”.

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Clooz.com Filing Cabinet - www.clooz.com  $$$
Clooz is a database for systematically organizing and storing all of the clues to your ancestry that you have been collecting over the years. It’s an electronic filing cabinet that assists you with search and retrieval of important facts you have found during your ancestor hunt, showing you a complete picture of what you have and what you lack. Once you import your information, you can assign documents to each person. Then, a report will show you all the birth and death certificates, wills, deeds, diary entries, or other documents that pertain to each individual. $39.95

Organize Folders
First by Surname

Start by grouping what information you have by family surname (last name). Start a separate index folder for each family. Print out family group sheets from your family history computer program. Print a complete set of your 5-generation family group sheets, or write the names of the parents of each family at the top (using the maiden name for women).

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Create a file folder for each family group using the last name on the label.

Start with yourself and your spouse, and work backward in time, generation by generation, putting the names of each married couple at the top of a page. As you record each piece of information about each of your ancestors, document the sources of the information using your computer family history program in the Notes or Citations section. Use index tabs to divide your folders into sections, with a separate section for each surname.

To start, label one section with your father's last name, one with your mother's maiden name, one for your father's mother's maiden name, and one for your mother's mother's maiden name. As you progress in your research, add more index tabs with new surnames you have found.

Color Code Your Files

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Color coding can be helpful in separating the lines of your 4 grandparents and keeping the lines straight. For example, blue for all ancestors of your father’s father, green for all ancestors of your father’s mother, red for all ancestors of your mother’s father, and yellow for your mother’s mother line. There will be 16 hanging file folders, 4 of each color, for your 16 great great grandparents.

If you want, you can also mark the families on your 5-generation pedigree chart using matching colored highlight pens to use as a map. You can even color coordinate each family group sheet by marking the color on the top of each sheet, and manila folders by putting a colored mark on the tab, if you wish.

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Another idea is to use a particular color for direct line ancestors, and other colors for collateral lines.

Filing Your Documents

After creating hanging file folders by surname and manila folders for each family, you can file all of your documents in the appropriate folder for the family to which it belongs. For example, file your birth certificate in the folder labeled with your and your spouse's names, and your parent’s marriage certificate in the folder labeled with your mother and father's names.

Add the following items to each family folder as you need:
-Pedigree Chart
-Family Group Sheets -including the families of children who are not the direct-line child
-Research Log - to keep a record of your research so you don’t waste time
-Research Notes
-To-Do-List - questions about this family and things to do
-Timeline - a chronology of this family’s life events
-Maps - showing where this family lived
 -New Documents

Later you can set up useful holding files right behind the surname hanging files for storing additional information which pertains to a family, including: photographs, maps, notes, letters, e-mails, documents, abstracts of censuses, deeds, wills, etc.

Using 3-Ring Binders

After organizing your basic file cabinet system with hanging folders, an excellent additional method of organizing is to supplement your system with 3-ring binders for various special needs, such as:
- Working files: copies of pedigree charts, family group sheets
- Other documents and quick-reference aids
- To do list

You can then carry these binders easily with you to the library or family history center for doing research as needed. Once your research is completed, you can enter the information into your computer family history database, document your findings in the Sources section, and make necessary explanations in the Notes section.

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Always keep your originals safe and protected.
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You can keep valuable original documents, family histories, and photographs stored in archival quality sheet protectors in binders filed in folders in your file cabinet.

Organizing Your
e-Mails and Letters

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Family history is a collaborative effort. You often write many emails or letters.
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Keep copies of all your letters and emails in a letter file folder or organized on your computer, and when you receive an answer to a letter, pull your original letter from the file, attach it to the reply, and file both in the appropriate family file folder. Or you can keep your inquiry in the document folder of that particular family where you can refer to it as you are researching that family.

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When writing for information, you should enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Research Notes

As you do research, keep notes about each family (or surname).
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Record the new information on your family group sheets and pedigree charts in your computer database, and record the source for all new information. File each document and all of your notes in the appropriate file folders. (See Crash Course in Family History book page 33 about documenting your information.)

Organizing Your
Personal Library

In today’s world, Internet sites are probably the fastest, easiest-accessible, and most-used reference sources by most people who use the Internet. Your favorite places on the internet really become your own self-made personal Internet library.

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If you are a user of Microsoft's Internet Explorer™ browser, you mark your sites as “favorite places”. (A Web browser is a software application which enables you to display and interact with text, images, videos, music, games and other information typically located on a Web site.) In the Firefox, Google Chrome, and Safari browsers, you are familiar with the term “bookmark.”

Firefox features one-click bookmarking to bookmark, search and organize Web sites quickly and easily. Google Chrome, the new web browser developed by Google, claims to make the web faster, safer, and easier with sophisticated technology. They both allow you to bookmark a web page by just clicking the star icon at the left edge of the address bar and you're done. Apple’s Safari claims to be the fastest and easiest-to-use web browser. One click opens the single-window interface, where you can browse, search, and organize bookmarks.

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The bookmarked collections of Web sites that you have compiled provide you with personal resources and can be organized into categories to fit your needs. Organize your internet library into major subject areas with sub-categories. Major categories might include: art, church, family history, health, investments, music, news, travel, etc., any subject you want for which you create a folder in your bookmark file. Then you can create sub-folders under the main folders if you wish. It’s easy to do. Refer to your browser's Help file for details of how to do this if you need.

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Is your collection of printed books starting to take over your home? If desired, create a database or document detailing your collection of books that helps you organize them. A couple of web sites – www.librarything.com and www.goodreads.com – allows you to maintain a database of your own book collection, enables you to share your collection electronically on a personal website, and connects you with people who read the same things.

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Free Home Library Software - www.pilibrary.com
This software allows you to create as many libraries as you need: Books, journals, magazines, CDs, videos, photographs, digital graphic files (JPGs, GIFs, etc.), audio files (Podcasts, Music), HTML (Internet information), PDF/Textual documents, web sites, etc.

Do What Works
For You

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No one filing system works for everyone. Your family history is a personal thing, and the options for organizing your information are endless. But by developing and using a system to organize all your information and documents, you will have the data you need, where you need it, when you need it. Establish a method for how you handle new information. Find the system that works best for you. Once you’ve established a system, it becomes easier to stay organized. Stay with your system, and all your records will stay organized, making them more valuable to you, and allowing you to use your limited family history time more efficiently.

Get started today to digitize and archive your precious photographs and documents to preserve them for posterity and share them with other family members. Don't wait until a disaster happens to them.

 

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