Tag Archives: Personal Organization

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


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!

Getting Organized: Paper or Digital?

The first post in this series last week garnered some comments on the post itself or on my Facebook page relating to digitizing your files. Some are completely paper free which is great. Others still like paper. I say there’s no superior system. The only superior system is the one that is working for YOU. So if paper makes more sense to you, then keep your files on paper. If you cannot stand the clutter, then perhaps a digitized system is yours. Personally, I use both.

I grew up in a world before the Internet (it seems so long ago) and I struggle to really connect with my ancestors when “they” (their documents) are entirely digital. My paper system organizes their documents in chronological order so that when I am looking through a person’s binder, I have a visual timeline of their life, at least in terms of the documents they left behind. (We’ll cover this in more detail in a later post.)

Before you can organize paper or digital, you have to decide HOW you’re going to organize. Find a system that makes sense to you. Spend some time thinking about how you think about your ancestors, their documents, accessing their documents, and so on. You’ll want to match your filing in a way that matches how you think about the documents. The possibilities are endless! Here are a few ideas:

  • by surname
  • by location
  • by family line
  • by event (marriages, deaths)
  • alphabetically
  • by document type/repositoryStay Tuned TV
  • chronological order

Or a combination of any of the above.

As I mentioned, I organize my documents in chronological order. It’s more detailed than that, and it is the subject of the next post so stay tuned!

Attempting to be Organized

English: Mount Everest North Face as seen from...Being an “organized genealogist” is like trying to reach enlightenment. It seems like such an unattainable goal, like me climbing Mount Everest. (I’m lucky if I can climb the stairs sometimes!) However, there are many tips and tricks, blogs, books, magazines and people (they call them “professional organizers”) to help you get and stay organized.

A new Facebook community got me thinking about this topic. Susan Peterson started the community “The Organized Genealogist” which allows genealogists the chance to swap ideas, photos, ask/answer questions and get some great tips on organization geared directly at genealogists. People have been sharing their personal systems for organizing everything from their photos, to their files and research to their entire office. You should go and visit. It is a great group to be a part of.

Currently my office is crammed into our guest bedroom. I mean crammed. I have boxes of books stacked in the corner, bins of office supplies stacked up, two bookshelves over-flowing, a card table, a few piles on the floor, two small filing cabinets, a hutch, on top of the hutch… well you can see for yourself:

image-1  imageThere is no way for anyone to use this room! When we have visitors, I have to “clean up” which means put everything into a pile on top of my desk while they are visiting. I’m not saying I mind having visitors, I am saying I mind not having a REAL office.

We have lived in this house for 10 years now, and for the entire time, my dear husband has been “finishing” the basement. Granted, he works a full time job to put food on the table and the roof over our head that houses said basement, however, this summer is the summer of completion! I can count the projects left to complete on one hand: finish the mudding/sanding in one section of the basement (the rest is done), prime that section, paint, carpet, floor/window trim. We did a lot of prep work over the last few weeks to get this ready to finish. We moved a lot of stuff upstaphotoirs (the upstairs is a series of piles right now), we stapled and taped plastic to various sections of the basement where we’d like to keep the dust to a minimum, we bought primer and paint, we have some cash set aside for carpet (I hope it’s enough) and we moved as much out of those two rooms as possible to give clear working space for sanding/painting and carpet.

There are basically two large sections to our basement, one will be family/TV/video-game play area and the other, larger section will be our offices. My husband and I will be getting two of those U-Shaped desks to put together, his and her offices. There will be plenty of room for shelves, I have two large filing cabinets already that were given to me (I love free!) and the basement has really nice large windows that let a surprising amount of light in.

So, this fall look for the “grand opening” of GenealogyPants, LLC home offices! I will keep you updated!