Getting Organized: Choose a System

First and foremost, you need to decide on YOUR system. Figure out what is going to work best for you. Do you think about your ancestors’ documents:

  • chronologically
  • by surname
  • by document type
  • by family group
  • alphabetically
  • by location
  • by event

There are many ways you can organize your papers. All that really matters is that it makes sense to you, that it is organized, that it preserves your documents, and you can find what you need in a reasonable amount of time.

I think of my ancestors in terms of the timeline of their life. I organize my files (both paper and digitally) chronologically by couple. I’m going to address my paper files first, we’ll look at my digital system in a later post. As I’ve expressed before, I’m a very tactile person. I like to read, organize, and think about my research on paper. It just makes more sense to me. So, I organize my research in binders. Each binder contains:

  • a family group sheet for the couple and their children
  • all of the documents for that couple’s life
  • separate section for each of the children (except for the one child I’m descended through), their documents in chronological order
  • a document timeline (like a table of contents that gets updated after I add new documents) – see image below

doctimeline

A question I usually get is: what about the husband or wife, where do their documents go? In my system, they go with their husband/wife, and not with their parents. I put an indicator page where they should go with a note to “see X binder.”

A few logistics: I typically use 1″ binders. However, there are some families I’ve done an absolute ton of work on that I have 2″ or 3″ binders for. There are some families that I have not done that much on yet; several generations of those families might be in one binder. I also use those white binders with plastic covers that allow you to slip paper down into. So, the front of the binder has the family group sheet, and I utilize the binder spine to label the binder for which couple (birth and death dates) and their children. I also note on the spine something like “except William Long, see Binder X” or something like that to tell me at a glance which binder I need.

The next post will have more photos of my actual binders and discuss some other organizational logistics as it relates to paper.

Thanks for reading!

6 thoughts on “Getting Organized: Choose a System

  1. Do you mean chronologically within one surname line? Or per person? Or do you start with your own personal events and work backward in time through all the events about your family?

    1. I mean within one family group (a couple). Each couple has their own binder along with their children except for my direct line ancestor (they’ll be in their own binder.) When I started researching, I did work from myself back. It’s always good to work from the known to the unknown.

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