Very soon after you start working on your family tree, you will realize that you have accumulated mounds of papers. What can you do with them?
Naturally, you will want to safeguard your documents and still be able to locate them when needed. There is no right or wrong filing system. There are two distinct filing systems that are most common; one is the paper system and the other is the digital system. This article is about the paper system.
The popular genealogy organization system is binders and file folders. Binders standardize your records into a regular-size format and can be set up by surname. The outside of the binder should have the surname as a minimum. Within the binder, use colored dividers to separate individuals. The dividers should have the first name of the individuals in alphabetical order; and all documents pertaining to that person should be in chronological order within that section. Use archive-safe (acid-free) sheet protectors to protect your documents. As your documents grow, you may want to divide the material into more than one binder. For ease in distinguishing between binders with the same surname, add additional information to the outside label of the binder, such as locations and/or date ranges.
Another frequently used system is the file cabinet and file folders. File folders are easy to handle, portable and will hold papers of different shapes and sizes. When you have accumulated a large number of documents, the file folder is the most flexible and expandable. In this example, you would also set the file folder by surname. You can choose to have a separate folder for each individual by surname or separate by family surname.
Since your information is being kept in a file cabinet, it is most beneficial to use different colors for each ancestral line. For instance, you can assign a color like red, green, orange, or blue for each of your grandparents. This can be accomplished by either purchasing four colors of file folders or by using regular manila folders and adding a strip of wide color tape to the top of the file folder. Then the folders can be filed in alphabetical order, and you can identify which ancestral line each name/folder pertains to by the color of the folder or tape.
Another method of filing is by event. Many people find it easier and report this method reduces copying time and cost. To place all the items for a specific subject or event together, file folders are set up for all census records, birth certificates, death certificates, etc.
For the contents of the file folder or binder, consider a Family Group Sheet, an Ancestor Chart for five generations, a Research Calendar and a Biographical Outline of the Life of the Individual. Most of the forms are standard forms for genealogy research, but the Biographical Outline form can list birth, education, military service, marriage, illnesses, religious information, migrations, residents, family events, jobs, land purchases, court appearances, death and burial, newspaper articles, etc.
There are a number of filing methods to choose from. Only you can decide which meets your needs. It is best to keep your system simple and easy to follow. Most family genealogists use a combination of all the above methods. If you use more than one method, prepare a table of contents and place it at the beginning of each type or method used.
Organizing your files will help you to keep track of your progress and make it easier to pick up where you left off the next time you have a few minutes to work on your family tree.
Your Story column publishes on third Sundays. If you have a question for the Augusta Genealogical Society, e-mail it, with “Ancestor Search” in the subject line, to AugustaGeneSociety@comcast.net.