To begin, you'll need to make a trip to your local office-supply store to pick up a few essentials. Grab a packet or two of index cards—4 x 6-inch ones allow to put more notes on each card. Next pick up about a half dozen three-ring binders. While most of them can be basic black, look for one or two in bright colors for taking your research on the road. And don't forget dividers for your binders—you'll need one for each family name. And to store paper notes, deeds, or other odd-shapes documents, look for some pocketed pages to put into your binders. To help organize your note cards and binders, select small and large self-adhesive colored dots. Lastly, grab a box of one-third tab manila file folders. Now you're all set, for the time being.
It's important when starting out to create a filing system that works for you. Today, most family genealogists use computers, but don't depend on just your computer for filing family information. You'll need to file originals and copies of documents, too. Above all, as you
acquire documents, notes, records, forms, and correspondence, you'll need to keep them all accessible for quick reference, enabling you to retrieve records when you need them and replace them in the right folder when you're through.
Each binder includes all the information for one family name. Within it, arrange the surnames alphabetically using the dividers for all generations of that name. Then color-code the binder with a colored dot. Be sure to place dots of the same color on the dividers. Here, you'll file your family group sheets, notes about each family under that surname, and other documents that you may need while researching.
To help direct you to the right binder and divider for a particular family group, create an alphabetical card index of all surnames that appear on your genealogical charts. Each card should contain the surname, lineage, and pertinent information such as dates and locations, plus the color coding dot of the binder in which that surname appears.
You'll use file folders to hold backup documents, such as copies of family documents, marriage and death certificates, and papers pertaining to a specific person or family. Divide these also by family name, writing in uppercase letters on the tab. As you proceed with your research, you may want to add other classifications.
As you research your ancestors, you'll come across handwritten documents. Transcribe these as soon as possible—either by hand or into your wordprocessor—then clip your transcription to the original. If you wait to do this, you'll waste precious time trying to decipher them when you need the information. If possible, transcribe all the documents from the same location since you'll have become family with the format and handwriting used. Also, create abstracts of these documents which you can add to the family divisions in your binders.
Keep all the records pertaining to a family, including all their children, in the parents' folder. And leave the records of all the children in that folder until each marries, at which time you'll transfer their records in a folder for their own family.
In any good filing system, it's imperative to cross-reference your information so that you always know where to find any given item. Design a system that's logical and easy to use. This applies to your computer files, also. In order to tie them into any of your paper records, make sure to include the filenames of files referring to particular families in each binder. And in your computer, itself, create a master folder plus subfolders for each family. If possible, place it on a second hard drive or a portable external hard drive to prevent loss of information through a computer crash. When a system crashes, only the files on the main or C: drive are lost. Those on extra or external hard drives remain intact.
Lastly, you'll want to create special brightly-colored binders and folders to take with you on research trips. Colored ones make them easier to spot and less likely to get picked up by someone else. Insert the families you'll be researching by removing them from their appropriate binder, along with their color-coded divider.
Also, compile a research To-Do List, showing what information you need and for whom, by reviewing information you already have. In fact, in the front of each folder, jot down notes about what you need as you come across it in your genealogy work. This makes it easy to create your travel To Do Lists later. Along with your checklist, include two copies of standard genealogical forms—pedigree, family group, vital records, and research log—plus copies of genealogical charts on which you can make notes.
After returning home, you should transfer the new information to your computer and to your family group sheets as soon as possible, then refile the family section that you took with you in its specific binder by using your color coded dots.
With all the hard work you'll do researching information, you don't want to lose it. Make backup copies of everything and never take originals of documents or notes with you when doing research elsewhere.