I posted this in the past, but I'm bumping it back up again because I know there are a lot of knew researcher out there. If you haven't already you'll soon discover that you must stay organized. If not you'll find that you waste more time searching through your own records and notes then looking for new information on your ancestor.
Now it's time to organize all the paperwork you have that pertains to your family history. You will need a file cabinet or files boxes, hanging file folders, and manila or colored folders. There are three ways you can choose to organize your files.
- Surname: You can choose to organized based one each surname in your family. Create a hanging file for the surname and then create a manila folder for each family group, using the head of household's name (and possible birth year if the name repeats).
Location: File everything based on the state then subdivide by county or even city. This maybe useful if you have different surnames from different locations and you do most of your searches based on location.
Document Type: File each record based on the type of record. Keep marriage records together or death records together. Then assign a sequential number to each item and write it on an index at the front of the folder.
Next decide on the system that works best for you. For me I choose to use the surname system, but I took it one step further, by color coding the files. First assign a hanging file for each surname. Next I created a file folder for each family group with in that surname. Last I created a color chart and color coded the folders. My chart looked something like this:
1) Ancestors of James Shannon Crooks (my hubby)
a) Earl Porter Crooks
b) Ruth Ann Ward
c) Sam Clifton Riddle
d) Estelle Connor
2) Ancestors of Amy Christine Woolsey
a) Albert Lee Woolsey
b) Olivia Joyce Jenkins
c) Von Joseph “Rusty” Roe
d) Mary Ellen Hayes
Then I applied my chart to all of my folders. All folders that pertained to my husband family had a thin blue highlight across the top, and for my family it was pink. Then the four ancestors below our name represented our four grandparents and their family lines. So that each file has one color at the top to represent mine or my husband’s line and then the rest of the tab was color coded according to the family line that the file belonged to. I will say this method has worked wonderful for me. When I research I generally stick to one person or one particular family. With this method I can go to my file pull out the family I want to work on and set down at my desk with out spending time digging through stacks of papers. All of my notes are there in the folder. I can also glance over at my file drawer and quickly see all the other surnames that are a part of that family. If I’m going to the library I may take out a few families I hope to find information on and take with me. With this method it is neat, organized, easy to use, and easy to transport.
Now that you have the system that works for you it’s time to start filing. In each file I also made sure to include a family group sheet and at the front of each surname file was a pedigree. However you may not yet have that. First you need to just start filing. As you add more generations and families to your pedigree you will also add more files.
Photo copies; there are certain things like newspaper articles, documents, and scraps of paper that you will want to photo copy as you go. Newspapers will yellow and crumble over time, as will old documents, so it is a good idea to have a photo copy as a back up. Place your originals in an archival safe sheet protector to keep them from unnecessary damage. All those scraps of paper you have been write notes on photo copy them on to 8.5”x11” paper so that your files stay neat and don’t bulge with little sheets of paper, also there is a greater chance of loosing the little pieces of paper rather then the full sheet.
Once you have photo copied and filed all your documents, letters, and notes you will be on your way to a much more organized and less stressful search for your ancestors. The next step is to begin searching. Until then you may want to consider other areas of your desk, office and work space that may need to be organized to make you search more efficient, such as a card file for contact information, holder for pencils, pens and highlighters, all of which you will need, a shelf for books you will buy to improve you methods of searching, and last a few files for articles you will collect about genealogy, areas you are searching, and history for time periods you are searching.
Of course don't forget about your computer either. It's important that you organize your files there as well. I simply have a "genealogy" file under "My Documents." In that file I have a separate file for ever surname that I have digital copies or photos for. You may want to go a step further and put two files inside the surname file, one for photos and one for documents. I have yet to do that step.
I also highly recommend that if you don't already you should get a genealogy software to help you organize your ancestor information. This can be helpful in keeping you organized, quicker searches, not to mention all of the reports you can make and print with software.