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Binders, Notebooks or Folders? - Organizing Your Genealogy Files

Taming the Paper Monster


My study is not a model of organization - just ask my husband! Piles of copies of old records, printouts from genealogy Web sites, and letters from fellow genealogy researchers are sitting in piles on the desk, in boxes, and even on the floor. Some are even mixed in with bills and my children's school papers. Not that they are completely disorganized - if you ask me for something specific, I can probably find it. But it definitely isn't a filing system that I would recommend as efficient!

Does this sound familiar? Are you as engulfed in papers as I am? Believe it or not, the solution is as simple as finding an organizational system that suits your needs and research habits, and then making it work. I know, it's not exactly as simple as it sounds (or why am I not practicing what I preach?), but it is doable and will ultimately help to keep you from spinning your wheels and duplicating research.

Which Filing System is Best?
Ask a group of genealogists how they organize their files, and you're likely to get as many different answers as genealogists. There are a number of popular genealogy organization systems, including binders, notebooks, files, etc., but there truly is no individual system which is "best" or "correct." We all think and behave differently, so ultimately the most important consideration in setting up your filing system is that it must fit your personal style. The best organization system is always the one that you will use.

Taming the Paper Monster
As your genealogy project progresses you'll find that you have numerous paper documents to file for each individual that you research - birth records, census records, newspaper articles, wills, correspondence with fellow researchers, Web site printouts, etc. The trick is to develop a filing system that will enable to easily lay your fingers on any of these documents at any time.

Commonly used genealogical filing systems include:

  • By Surname - All papers for an indivdual surname are filed together.

  • By Couple or Family - All papers related to a husband and wife or family unit are filed together.

  • By Family Line - All papers related to a specific family line are filed together. Many genealogists begin by starting with four such ancestral lines - one for each of their grandparents.

  • By Event - All papers related to a specific event type (i.e. birth, marriage, census, etc.) are filed together.

Beginning with any of the four systems mentioned above, you could then further organize your papers into the following categories:

  • By Location - Papers are first grouped by one of the four genealogy filing systems listed above, and then further broken down by country, state, county, or town to reflect your ancestor's migration. For example, if you chose the Surname Method, you would first group all CRISP ancestors together, and then further break the piles down into the England CRISPs, the North Carolina CRISPs, and the Tennessee CRISPs.

  • By Record Type - Papers are first grouped by one of the four genealogy filing systems listed above, and then further broken down by record type (i.e. birth records, census records, wills, etc.).

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