Now, Where Did I Put That……………………?

It use to be much worse than this. I will admit I do have one box on the floor of records that have to be looked into and researched.

It use to be much worse than this. I will admit I do have one box on the floor of records that have to be looked into and researched.

What you see shown above is part of my workspace. It was much worse. In fact over the last few years it has gotten much better. Instead of boxes and file drawers full of papers and records surrounded by hills of paper about to collapse this is all that is left. Well mostly. I would like to try and explain how I have formed my genealogy file system. I would like to say at the start of this explanation that my system is not the best nor is it a bad one. It is a system that works for me and may also work for you in whole or in part. But in any case we all need a system that we can work with so we can get on with discovering our family history.

I keep both a digital and paper record. I know many people use mostly digital and very little paper, but I have decided against that. No one can say how we will be keeping our digital records twenty-five years from now. Look what has come and gone or is on the way out. Microfilm, fiche, floppy disk, recordable disk, and flash drives. Audio and visual recordings have the same history of what has come and gone. Paper, however, has been around for hundreds of years and will last much longer than any digital recording I can think of. Digital records, are neat and take up very little room. Paper can also be organized neatly and the room it takes can be managed. The picture below shows two of my three binders that hold over 500 family records. I will soon start a census binder as I have not done much with filing those records.

Two of my binders I use to store family records. Notice that each record has a number given to it. You can see them in the lower left hand corner. These numbers are used to keep track of the records and who they go to.

Two of my binders I use to store family records. Notice that each record has a number given to it. You can see them in the lower left hand corner. These numbers are used to keep track of the records and who they go to.

I do not keep a paper binder for each family. I simply give each record a number and file it away in numerical order. Since I work on both my family lines and those of my wife, this helps keep the number of binders to a minimum. I use an Excel spreadsheet and enter each number into that file. Next I put in what type of record or Document that goes with the number. Then I enter the family name and or the family members that are named on the document. This makes it very easy to search who goes with each record. For example, if I want to know which records belong to the Moore family, I put Moore into the find option, and it will bring me to each Moore file. I then can go to the binder and look over the record. I also have started to scan the records into a file which will do the same. These are also saved to a cloud by a service that I use.

I use the Family Tree Maker 2014 from ancestry.com. I tell you this not as a recommendation (however I do like it) but to let you know what I use to record my family tree. When I enter a source into the program, the first item is the number given to that record. So once more it relates right back to the paper file and my binders. I find this is also best for me as I work on my family history book. I can find the records I need and can give them the proper citation. I also find this shows where I need to improve my documentation, so I can be as sure as possible I have the correct facts.

This is File number 209. This shows the birth of my Great Uncle Harry, with my Great Grandparents Bessie Barney and Abner Bonnett. The number 209 makes it very easy to look up as it follows this record either on paper or digital.

This is File number 209. This shows the birth of my Great Uncle Harry, with my Great Grandparents Bessie Barney and Abner Bonnett. The number 209 makes it very easy to look up as it follows this record either on paper or digital.

This is a print out of  the Excel spreadsheet that I use. The first column is the record number given to that record. Next what type of record is it. Then I show the names given in the record. All of this can be searched in the program and used very quickly.

This is a print out of the Excel spreadsheet that I use. The first column is the record number given to that record. Next what type of record is it. Then I show the names given in the record. All of this can be searched in the program and used very quickly.

This has been a short explanation of my genealogy filing system. I would like to hear from you on your system and how you keep it all organized. Also, if you have any comments, suggestions or questions please note them. I look forward to hearing from you.

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37 Responses to Now, Where Did I Put That……………………?

  1. Sheryl says:

    I also think that it is very important to keep hard copies (as well as digital copies) of key information. Multiple formats can help reduce the risk of losing important materials across time. I have a file cabinet filled with my family history materials.

  2. It is wonderful to see that others live as I do..:) If you disrupt the pile, you lose things..anyway, a neat desk is a sign of madness..or at least that is the story that I am telling πŸ™‚

  3. pastsmith says:

    That first photo looks remarkably like my genealogy corner…when did you get in to take a photo of it?!

  4. Anabel Marsh says:

    The top picture reminds me of my husband’s desk – but he always seems to know where everything is so I guess you do too. Your described system sounds meticulous. As a librarian, I utterly approve – order in all things!

  5. gpcox says:

    That top photo is a picture of MY desk — and you know it!!!!! O_o

  6. Thanks for sharing your system. You’ve given me some good ideas. My work space has its share of chaos. Mostly organized chaos!

  7. Looks like many of us have the same desk.

  8. Your desk and your system seem completely opposite – one looks scattered, the other fastidiously organized. I am anxious to show this to my husband to explain and justify my disheveled workspace as well as my organized files. I have both paper and digital. Paper is in plastic bins with pocket files organized by family and name – wish I could post a picture here. Digital is in files according to family name, then individual name, but also includes additional files for subjects like companies owned, historic buildings, etc. Much is cross referenced and duplicated in other files because its easy to do so and takes no extra physical space. I loved digitizing and spend more time organizing that because it can be shared so easily. I have put much on CDs and DVDs and sent information all over the country to different relatives hoping someone will carry it through the years. I agree that transferring and updating technology is imperative. I scanned and organized much of what my mother has, but the amount of paper she owns is overwhelming and I don’t know what will happen to it when she passes. This is a wonderful and helpful post. I hope others share their ideas – I’ll be back to check.

  9. chmjr2 says:

    Thanks for your great comment. I am certain it is not the system we use that is important. What is important is that we use a system that we like and will keep up. I agree that digitizing records are important. This does make them so easy to share and I must do more of that. I also hope people share their ideas and suggestions. If they do we all will benefit from this.

  10. Amy says:

    Now I feel really terrible! I am not nearly as organized. Most everything is digital except for the few records I’ve ordered in hard copy because they weren’t available online. I have all the hard copy documents in two big expanding files arranged by family name, not individual. My digital stuff is also all arranged by family name only. The individual documents have the person’s name in the name of the file. I can’t imagine being as meticulous as you are!! I am impressed. πŸ™‚

    • chmjr2 says:

      Sounds like you have a good system. I just kept away from files by family name. When in paper form they just take up more room than I can spare. While my system may be meticulous it is rather simple to do. Thanks for your comments.

  11. Pancho says:

    Very impressive. I have a mish-mash of digital and paper records, but you’ve inspired me to get my act together and really manage the paper ones. The spreadsheet is a great idea, because you’re quite right that the space adds up quickly if you try to store everything by family.

    • chmjr2 says:

      I am glad I was able to give you a few ideas. The best system is one that we like and will use. So as you work on it make it yours. Let me know how you make out and any suggestions you may have as a result of your work.

  12. Jim McKeever says:

    Never mind the “clutter,” you are organized, Charles! You have a system that works for you, and will work for the next generation(s). I, too, worry about our reliance on digital forms for the reasons you stated. (Anyone have a floppy disk reader handy?) Where will our blogs be in 100 years? Anywhere but in the ether? But paper is paper. Not forever, but if you have the acid-free variety, it will last centuries if you keep it protected. I’m happy for you and your descendants, Charles. You are doing the heavy lifting that will be much appreciated generations hence.

    • chmjr2 says:

      I use only acid free paper and archival sheets. Any office supply store has these at low cost. I hope you are right and these records last a few hundred years. Oh yes I do have a floppy disk reader.

  13. Anna Hibbard says:

    Thanks for sharing!! I have been doing online research for over a year and would like to start documenting my findings by paper as well. Your binder system, combined with a Excel Spreadsheet sounds simple and efficient.

  14. Miss Donna says:

    What a familiar scene! I’m returning to my research after quite a long hiatus. I will always keep my paper files. I use Legacy Family Tree as my database and Clooz as my document management app. But I’m learning a system using Evernote to maintain my digital files. We’ll see how it transpires.

  15. My desk also looks like a clone of yours! I do regular clean ups but it always reverts back within a week. I have a lot of work to do with organising my files. I found your post very interesting as I have been trying to investigate different methods people use so I can get ideas about what might work for me. I have not seen your organising method in quite that format before and it certainly challenges some conventional methods. It has given me some food for thought and encourages me that perhaps I might be more flexible in my own solutions. Thank you!

    • chmjr2 says:

      I hope I did help you a little and not confused you more. My method is a simple one but it has worked well for me. I am sure some of the professionals would find much lacking in it. But I needed a system that I could understand and keep it up to date as I go along. Thanks so much for reading my blog and your comments.

  16. kakingsbury says:

    Thanks for sharing the idea of each document – regardless of family name being numbered in sequence and keeping an excel spread sheet to locate particular records. I have so many names that my first approach of binders for each name is getting a bit cumbersome.

  17. olwenjonklaas says:

    Never mind the mess – you have your own space to work in! I share my work space, so can’t afford to spread out like that. I did start out keeping hard copies catalogued pretty much like yours but could see that over time I was going to have a lot of paperwork that we just didn’t have the space to store and could see it getting thrown out when I’m dead – the amount would be overwhelming to inherit. I also found some documents weren’t as easy to read when printed out. At the moment I’m in the starting phase of a reorganisation, so your post has given me some more inspiration about methods. I’m also considering that start over project…

  18. Brooksong says:

    This is so helpful o me as I’m just getting started with my family resource. Also a big believer in the value of paper as I think it might outlast other storage methods. But I also try to back things up digitally using several methods to hedge my bets. Thanks for a great post.

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