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Keeping It All Together: Staying Organized

You've had wonderful success in your research. You have a copy of Grandpa Jim's birth certificate, the birth certificates of all eight of his children, and records of the family covering a 40-year period ... Now what do you do with it?


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When I first started my family research I put all the hard-won records I found into a neat pile on a shelf in my office. They were close by, and easy to refer to. But as I enjoyed more and more success, the pile grew larger and larger, and soon became an unwieldy eyesore that threatened to brand me a "pack rat" forever. What's more, trying to find anything in that pile again became an arduous chore. I decided it was time to get organized.

The Tools

Some people start by storing their records in simple file boxes. But I find if they are out of sight, they are "out of mind," and are not particularly easy to refer to. I need them closer at hand. The tools of the trade at my house are:

  • Large, three-ring binders
  • Notebook dividers, some with colored tabs
  • Sheet protectors
  • Legal-size accordion-style storage case

I use large, three-ring binders to store all of my files except for military pension records. Those generally come on legal-size paper with many pages, and are too awkward to store in a binder. For those I have a simple cardboard legal-size file storage case. I have also found that some probate records are better stored here as well. I place any records I store in the notebooks in sheet protectors, to, well . . . protect them.

The System

I keep my research organized into four main family lines — the surnames of my parents, and those of my husband. I organize surnames related to the main four in alphabetical order, and label the notebooks accordingly, on the front and the spine. In my father's family for example — the Wales line — I've discovered 24 surnames related to that name, and now have three binders filled with information on them. I've labeled the binders:

The Wales Line - Book I: Adams - Merrill
The Wales Line - Book II: Ordway - Thayer
The Wales Line - Book III: Veasey - Wales

For the surnames with which I've been particularly successful, further subdivision is needed. I use notebook dividers to separate categories: Genealogy Reports, Pedigree Charts, Vital Records, Census Records, Land Records, Probate Records, Correspondence, Research Logs, Notes.

I've had to modify this system for my husband's line. I've done so much research on the Perkins and Downs lines in his family that I had to set up separate notebooks just for general research notes on them. The actual records are stored in the surname binders, in keeping with the rest of my system, in books I and II of "The Brownell Line."

The more research you do, the more you may have to modify your system to keep it all straight. But whatever system you choose, be diligent about maintaining it. I now have ten notebooks in the bookcase in my office, filled with information that is easy for me to refer back to when needed. But I also have a growing pile of new information — still sitting on a shelf in my office.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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