The Gene Pool: Tips on Organizing Your Research
Some tips on organizing
your genealogy research

The following excerpts were taken from the
NGS Genealogy interest group on Fidonet.

Date: 10-26-94 (18:21)           Number: 528
From: JOANNE RABUN               Refer#: 3171
To: BARBARA GATES                Recvd: NO  
Subj: Genealogical Organization  Conf: (528) GENEALOG_F

CR>While I'm thinking about it, how do your organize your
CR>non-computer information? I'm just curious, because it seems like
CR>I'm already swamped with paperwork (IGI/PAF printouts, census

BG>Reading over your shoulder I caught the above question...girl if you can
BG>figure out a good way to do this, that is simple to keep up with, you
BG>ought to get rich! I sort out my files, then the next day need
BG>something and tear through them again and its back to chaos. I've read
BG>all sorts of methodology but it just doesn't work for me. (floor=synonym
BG>for file cabinet!) I'm serious--any help appreciated!

I, too, was feeling completely overwhelmed by all the mountains of papers surrounding me so I had to come up with a plan! Here is the organizational system that seems to work best for me. Hope it helps.

1. First sort everything by the FAMILY surnames (Binders seem to work best, and I buy those sheet protectors by the case load!)

2. Arrange all FAMILY documents by LOCATION. This neatly breaks everything down into time periods.

3. NUMBER all documents according to Ahnentafel numbering system. (This was suggested at a seminar I attended, but I personally find it to be too time-consuming and too structured! Instead, I have 3 fields available for "custom notes" in the genealogy software I use for each individual. My personal choice for these 3 custom fields is #1 - General Notes, #2 - Time Line (includes sources of info.), #3 - Documents (sources of info. that I physically have acquired and added to my family binders!)

4. In a small roll-around hanging file folder rack next to my computer, I also have temporary "Misc. File Folders" set up for each family (alphabetized) that I can stash all odds-and-ends in until they are given their "permanent" home in the appropriate Family Binder, or the data is entered into my computer, or they are put in the box for paper recycling!

5. My modem messages are also saved electronically according to SURNAMES. The Off-Line Mail Reader I used (SLMR) truncates files (adds new messages to the bottom of an existing file). When I finally realized that I could do this, it really made things MUCH easier to manage!

6. I keep one master computer file for phone numbers of genealogy contacts and resources. Again, I alphabetize according to SURNAMES. I try to keep track of correspondence in this file, but this doesn't always work too well. Have been trying to be diligent about adding a paragraph at the bottom of each letter/package I send out that says what material was sent. I keep all my electronic letters in a directory called "Letters" of course! I name each file using the initials of the person who I am sending to and the date. Example: AS10-94.doc. (Those 8 characters just aren't enough when I try to name my files in DOS!)

7. All printed histories, etc. that I create and would like to be able to share with others are given a Unique "Job" Number. I number them in chronological order and keep a running list. Last night, for instance, I typed up an oral interview with a cousin and gave it Job #0041! I called up my Job Index and plugged in the next number and inserted a description and a date. I have been able to send this "Job Index" to family members to give them an idea of what information I have compiled that they might be interested in. All of these jobs are currently stored in one directory on my computer. They fall neatly into ORDER!

And even though I feel fairly organized, I still have those PILES of papers stacked everywhere!!! But at least I have a PLAN that I feel works pretty well for me and I know exactly where to put a piece of paper when I finally get time to "file"!


Date: 07-04-95 (15:24)          Number: 9876
From: MARY ELLIS                Refer#: NONE
To: JOANNE RABUN                Recvd: NO
Subj: Filing System             Conf: (528) GENEALOG_F

Joanne, PMFJI, but I've been following this thread, and you may want
to consider the following in addition to Caroline's excellent
ideas on organization.

On (03 Jul 95) Joanne Rabun wrote to Caroline Reesor...

JR> I have been thinking about arranging all my files and possibly
JR> my binders according to AHNENTAFEL number. This seems the most logical
JR> filing system. Now that most genealogy software programs can run out
JR> Ahnentafel indexes, it seems like a good way to label documentation so
JR> that it goes with the appropriate ancestor.

That's exactly what I do. I insert a pedigree chart (a hand- written working one) in the front of each binder, on which I've recorded the Ahnentafel number (in red) beside the name of each individual. I then put in the "working" family group sheets which correspond to the individuals on the pedigree chart, with a divider (labelled with the Ahnentafel number) in front of each of the "main" ancestors. Behind the "main" ancestor's family group sheet, I put the family group sheets of his children (except) for the one I'm descended from - he/she has his/her own divided section). I don't necessarily have a separate binder for _each_ pedigree chart - when the binder becomes too full, I just transfer some of the contents to a new one. In the binders where I have multiple pedigree charts, I also insert a divider with the chart number on it (actually, I use pre-printed landscape legal-size ped. charts and have stapled them to the "chart" dividers, then just folded the excess in).I find that works well for me.

As for my documentation, any documents I acquire are simply filed in numerical sequence in separate binders. I find that documents will often apply to several people in my records, which would require making multiple copies for each of those people. When I do a search, I record (in my log) the Document Number and the Search Number, Date of Search, Description and Location of the Source (call no., repository, condition of the source, etc., as well as anything unusual about it such as missing pages, foreign language, Period Covered by the source, Surname or Name, and Results (ws for worksheet if anything is found; nil for nothing). On my research worksheets (I designed my own), I record the Search No., Doc. No., Source, etc. (I have a section on the far right which outlines all the necessary information). I record information from _one_ source for _one_ person or family on each worksheet, which are then filed under the name of the husband after the data is input into my computer. That way, my documents are all filed together, even though a particular piece of paper might apply to 10 individuals, and I can find the document by looking at the worksheet for any given individual.

The only time I file "documents" in my filing cabinet is when they're oversized and apply to only one individual - i.e., some certificates are quite large. So, I put a large brown manila envelope in the same file as the worksheets for that individual and file the documents in it (with their doc. no. on the back), and on the front of the manila envelope I list the contents by Doc. No. and a description of the document. Then, in my document binder, where that particular doc. no. would normally go, I place a notation that "Doc. No. ##" is located in "Name of File". The same applies to "current" documents, such as my and my husband's birth certificates, driver's licenses, etc. I just make a note in the binder that "Doc No. ##" is located in "Person's" wallet, or whereever.

This way, my log, my worksheets and my document binders are cross-referenced to each other. It sounds complicated, but it works for me! Let me know how you make out, and if you have any questions about my system, just holler.

Later, Mary

The Gene Pool | Quaker Corner | Oregon Genealogy | NJ Founders | Ball Room
AmeriSlang | Ye Olde English Sayings | What's the Meaning of This? | Surnames
Research Aids | Gifts from Forefathers | Favorite Websites | What's New | Guide