Organizing Your Paper Files - Second Lesson
April 29, 2006
It doesn't take long once you have started your genealogy adventure to collect so much information that it seems hard to handle. Dealing with information overload is handled through systematic organization of materials.
Most researchers have tried numerous systems for organizing. There is not one system that works for everyone. We will feature several systems in this newsletter. The first lesson was published in Legacy News in February 2006 and can be read here. If you have a method that works well for you, please let us know.
One of our dedicated Legacy users, Mary Brenzel, offered to share the system she uses. Please direct any questions directly to her:
First, you may wish to view/print the pictures of my “records” file box showing an overall view and a more close-up view of some of the hanging folder labels. In addition, I’ve included pictures of 2 sample documents. View them here:
Each document type is sorted by location and type, with a few exceptions. Because of the ability to place labels on the hanging folders in a variety of positions, I’ve aligned the labels for the same document types. For example –
In the above example, there are no marriage records for Macomb County, Michigan so there is no label in that location. This leaves it open for if / when they might be found and added to the files.
Records for countries are stored first, followed by U.S. States. All of this is alphabetical. For example, Devon, England is before Lancashire, England which is before Somerset, England. France would be after England and then Germany. Connecticut is before Florida; Macomb County, Michigan is before Oakland County, Michigan.
From front to back, my file box is organized like this –
ENGLAND, BATH (with folders for the different document types)
FLORIDA, PALM BEACH
NEW YORK, ERIE
NEW YORK, NIAGARA
RHODE ISLAND, KENT
All of my documents, whether prints of census pages from Ancestry.com or certified copies of vital records are stored in archival safe and acid free sheet protectors. I use a label maker to label each document, placing the label on the upper right of the sheet protector. The sheet protectors are placed in the appropriate file folder with the 3-holes at the top, keeping the labels visible for easy retrieval.
Now for the actual document labels. I will give you examples for each of the types I currently have organized with the file folder labels first.
ENG DEVON BIR 001
ENG DEVON BIR 002
ENG DEVON BAP 001
ENG DEVON BAP 002
ENG DEVON MAR 001
ENG DEVON MAR 002
ENG DEVON DEA 001
ENG DEVON DEA 002
ENG DEVON CEN 001
ENG DEVON CEN 002
MI MACOMB MIL 001
MI MACOMB MIL 002
At this time, I have only 1 exception to the above system. That is the Social Security Death Index. All of those records are filed together regardless of where the number was issued, where the person last resided or died. These documents are labeled as SSDI 001, SSDI 002, etc.
Lastly, here’s how I use it in Legacy. I use the document label as the FILE ID value in the Source Detail when I source the data, except that the country or state is spelled out. For example, my grandmother was born in Devon, England. The document for her birth record is ENG DEVON BIR 001 as shown in one of my pictures. The last attachment shows the source detail screen for her birth in Legacy. The FILE ID is ENGLAND DEVON BIR 001.
The beauty of this system is that multiple people can have the same document referenced on Source Details for different types of data in Legacy. I can cite 2 examples. 1) I have multiple census images with multiple families on the page. All members of all families on the page would get the same FILE ID assigned on the Source Detail for the Census Event. 2) My grandparents’ marriage record from the Catholic Church is labeled as NY ERIE MAR 002. That FILE ID is on their marriage source detail is NEW YORK ERIE MAR 002. The witnesses to the marriage are members of the family. A “witness” event is entered for each of the witnesses with the same sourcing information and NY ERIE MAR 002.
Lastly, the documents within the folders do not have to be stored in a particular order. As you get a new one, once it is recorded in Legacy, it can be filed away at the back of the file folder for that location / document type behind all of the others of its type.
This is all really quite simple. I hope that you are able to understand it. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.
Thanks Mary for sharing your experiences with all of us!
This sounds like a pretty practical system that I will definately consider.
Posted by: Heather Stovold | April 29, 2006 at 06:52 PM
This system does sound very practical and useful, however, I would like to know what is the best method that is used for photocopies of records. For exammple, when I first started, I got a quantity of records from a family member by photo copy of the orginal such as birth cetiricate, marriage, etc. Would these be handled the same way? or would it be useful to use a software program such as Clooz, ByGones, or Custodian to keep these - thuse they would be scanned. Also, when traveling to a research site - library, famly history center, would it not be benefical to have the record scanned and on the laptop? Seems to me that it would be useful to have that as a reference, then I understand that the actual record is in the file back home.
Posted by: Dick Davis | April 30, 2006 at 05:07 AM
This sounds terrific! I've been looking for a simple way to file my papers so that I can find them when needed. I color code my families by surname, and with this it will be very easy to find any certain paper. for color codeing I use 4 different color papers a different color for each grandparents side. Makes it easier for me to find which family belongs to which side. Especially when you have same surnames on both sides like: SMITH
Posted by: Diane LONGFIELD | April 30, 2006 at 11:08 AM
This does indeed sound like a great system. Thanks for sharing it with us Mary. I too have been looking to simplify my filing system. I only wish I could find a system as good as yours that is better for the "Show and Tell" of my family research. I think the MRIN system is a little better suited for my needs. However, it is nice to have people like you who are willing to share their systems with us. Thanks again!
Posted by: Carrie Parramore | May 01, 2006 at 10:44 AM
Folks, folks, folks, do investigate CLOOZ at www.clooz.com It is a genealogical document organization software which solved all my filing problems. It links your people to documents thus obviating the need for endless copies and the ponderous system of filing by family. Version 2 (just about to be released) is even compatible with Legacy.
I have no connection with CLOOZ, other than being a dedicated user of it.
Posted by: David Williams | May 02, 2006 at 01:31 PM
I use this system for hardcopy (paper) copies stored in a file box as shown in the photos that Geoff included. In addition, I use the same names that are placed on the sheet protectors for any electronic versions of the same records. For example, a page from the 1920 census for North Tonawanda, Niagara County, NY is in my file box with a label of NY NIAGARA CEN 001. The electronic copy of that same page as downloaded from Ancestry.com is called NY NIAGARA CEN 001.jpg. I hope that this alleviates some confusion.
Posted by: Mary Brenzel | May 02, 2006 at 07:33 PM