Thursday, April 23, 2009

Organizing Your Physical Genealogy Files

Since my most recent post was on organizing your digital genealogy files, I thought it would be appropriate to include some information on organizing your physical genealogy files. There's a good chance you'll eventually want to digitize your physical genealogy files at some point, if you haven't already. It saves a lot of physical space, makes it easier to share your files with others, and helps you preserve your originals in better condition since you won't have to handle them as frequently. However, you'll still have a need to organize and store your certificates, photos and heirlooms for preservation purposes and to be able to find them later. For any individual you research, you can potentially end up with a lot of files, such as birth and death certificates, census records or abstracts, obituaries, wills, and even correspondence with other researchers.

First, you'll want to decide on a filing/organization system that works for you. There is no one right way here. Choose a method that works for you, and that you'll actually use. There are almost as many possible methods as there are individuals. Since I can't delineate all of them, I'll mention the most common options, and give an example of each. You can scour the Internet later for other examples of filing systems.

Some of the most common ways to organize your files are in file folders or binders. These are usually then subdivided or organized according to surname, couple or family, ancestral line, or record type.

If you decide to use a file folder system, you might have a banker's box or file cabinet drawer that you use. You might purchase four different colors of hanging file folders, one for each of your grandparents (this method organization is ancestral line). Then, in each ancestral line, you might have individual manila folders for each couple and their children in that line.

I'll use my own filing system as another example. I use post-type binders that can be purchased at any office supply store. I have one binder for each of my grandparents. (I also use the ancestral line system.) Then, in each binder, I have tabs that separate types of records. For example, I have dividers that are labeled Birth Records, Marriage Records, Death Records, Other Records, Census Records, and Biography/History Records. If my binders get too full, I can separate out each grandparent's line into a separate binder for each record type, etc.

Whatever filing system you decide on, you'll find that you'll have to make some changes to it as you start to use it and discover what works for you and what doesn't. In addition, as your numbers of records grow, you'll have to continue to subdivide records to keep your system organized and make it easy for you to quickly find what you need. In addition, I keep a master records index list on my computer. In this list, I identify every single record I have, the names and identification numbers (from my genealogy software) of the individuals on the record, what the record type is, and which binder it is located in. This makes it easy for me to search for a name in my index and quickly find what records I have and where they are at.

Although genealogists follow standards for research, documentation, etc., the digital and physical filing systems we each use do not have to follow a certain protocol. The most important thing is keeping yourself organized so you can maximize your efforts and research time, and doing it in a way that works for you.


TCasteel said...

I like the idea of color coding file folder sets by ancestral lines. I use the hanging file folders and have them labelled by surname or location - I am thinking I will use highlighter markers on the labels to give a visual on the lineage the surname is tied too. Thank you.

realbeale said...

My mother was the family historian and completed 2 or 3 family genealogy books when she passed. I inherited 5 bins of primary research. Any advice on what I should keep and how to organize it?

Ruby said...

I agree with what you wrote, Jessica. Converting some physical documents to data makes organization easier and more convenient. Your way of organizing your documents is very effective indeed, and it's impossible to miss out on important files. What a superb work!

Ruby Badcoe @ Williams Data Management