Organize Genealogy Data

How To Organize Genealogy Data

Are all of your research notes, printouts, letters, and records getting out of hand? If yes then you will need to put them into order. It is important to organize genealogy data so that you have a clear plan to research your ancestors.

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It can be quite difficult to track each ancestor as you conduct your fact-finding mission. This is especially true if your research has become chaotic, and is all over the place.

The quest to organize your genealogy files may be quite daunting for you.

Why organize my genealogy research?

Keeping your records in order will mean that you can find information quickly and easily.

And you will also be able to see what records that you are missing and need to search for.

Setting yourself goals, creating projects, and setting up a paper and digital organizational system are all ways that you can get your files in order.

Doing so will allow you to perform more thorough and rewarding research.

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Benefits of Organized Genealogy Research

With an increasing amount of information at your fingertips, you can become quite overwhelmed with what you have amassed.

I have already highlighted two reasons why you should organize your research. But let’s look at all of the benefits of this strategy.

Reasons to organize your work:

  • More efficient use of your time and money to research your family history.
  • Have a clear research plan to know what you want to find next.
  • Find a particular ancestor immediately, so that you can continue to research them.
  • Discover what areas of information are missing from your research.
  • You may have received a family archive that you want to sort out and store.
  • Can keep a list of resources so you know where to go for more information.
  • Keep a record of your correspondence so you know who to ask for help.

If there is a reason that I may have missed then please feel free to comment below. I would love to hear your reason for organizing your work.


Filing System That’s Right For You

Now that you know the many benefits of conducting organized research let’s see what system may work for you. There are different systems that you can use and I will cover them below.

Let me point out now and say that the system that I use may not be right for you.

It is though important to remain consistent with your chosen system as you continue your genealogy journey.

If you have checked out the rest of my blog you will see that I discuss many types of data. These can include vital documents, such as birth, death, and marriage records.

There are also other sources such as baptisms, obituaries, newspaper articles, marriage banns, letters, wills, probates, military records, census records, and more besides.

You will see that there are many different sources of information that you can use for your genealogy research. And you will need to file them away accordingly.

Different filing systems

1. Surname

Records are ordered and stored for every surname found in your family tree. Surnames could be alphabetically filed, or as they appear in your family tree.

2. Family

Records for each family group are put together. This can include records for the wife, even before she married into the family.

3. Family name

Records relating to a particular family name are grouped together. This is my personal system where each person can be found in chronological order, i.e. going back through the generations.

4. Event type

File records regarding what the document is. For example, you can put all birth certificates together, followed by marriage, then death, and so on.

Names for people within this system will appear alphabetically. This may not suit your needs but at least you will be able to find what you are looking for easily.

5. Location

With this method, you can use any one of the above systems, and then separate the records with regards to location.

6. Record type

Use any one of the first four methods and then break it down with regard to what records you have.

What’s my method?

I use the Family name system for storing my data within binders. I also used this system for my computer archive.

Similar to my binders, on my computer I have a folder for each family name. Each folder I work backward through time, one generation at a time.

And I keep to the same order of documents.


Binders, Folders, or Digitally

Firstly, I will admit that you will probably use all three of these storage methods. I will explain further.

Binders

These are a great addition to your stationery toolkit. You can file your records within binders and place them neatly on a bookshelf.

This saves you from sifting through piles of paper that are stacked up on your desk. The other benefit of using binders is that you can take your research with you wherever you need to go.

In my opinion, three-ring binders are better than the normal two-ring version. This is because your papers will not sag within binders that have the three rings.

If you do not want to hole-punch your documents then you can always put them into polypropylene pockets. If you are like me then you will probably need to have hundreds of pockets. So, it would be better to buy them in bulk, i.e. packs of 100.

It is also a good idea to separate the different generations of your family with extra-wide divider tabs. When working with pockets you will find that usual divider tabs won’t be visible along the edge of the page.

That’s because the pockets will obviously be wider within the binder. So you will need to buy the extra-wide versions.

Folders

The traditional manila folders in a filing cabinet are a good way to store all your papers. Unfortunately, when you first begin you will be unsure how much research that you will conduct.

In hindsight, you may purchase a filing cabinet too small, and maybe too few folders for your need. You may therefore need to scale up.

This is why I use binders to store all my documents. But you can still use portable folders to take any notes with you wherever you need to go.

Digitally

You can store all of your genealogy data in many different ways digitally. For me, I store all of the records, documents, letters, newspaper articles, etc. within folders on my computer.

I like to have both a physical copy and a digital copy. It is always safe to have multiple copies.

You could choose to backup your research on portable flash drives, hard drives, or even in the cloud. If it suits you then you could periodically backup on CDs or DVDs.


Color Coordination

To organize your research better, and to find things quicker you could choose to color your binders or folders. I personally only use two different colors for my binders.

I use red-colored binders for the paternal line of my family. The color red was chosen because “Couch” is the Cornish for red.

I then used white binders for the maternal line. Yep, pretty boring, but at least it works. Actually, I did want to use yellow as it is my mother’s favorite color but that color wasn’t available.

You could increase the number of colors depending on the scope of your genealogy research. So, you could work with four different colors. And maybe even scale up again.

For four colors, for example, red for my paternal grandfather, green for paternal grandmother, white for maternal grandfather, and blue for maternal grandfather.

Whatever colors you choose are fine.


Further Help

Within this guide, I have only discussed how you can organize your genealogy data. But you can also put your photo collection into order as well.

For this reason please check out my How To Archive Family Photos post. My How-To guide covers the whole process of preserving and archiving your old family photographs.

Please check out Roots to Branches where you will find the Tips for Organizing Genealogy Research guide. There you will find tips on organizing your records, folders, and computer files as well.

Please watch this

I would also like to share with you the following 20-minute video from Ancestry. They provide some great tips for you to organize your family history records.

Credit: Ancestry


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I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how-to organize genealogy data. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.

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