Research Guidance tip
Massachusetts Death Index 1841-1910 now online

Organizing Your Paper Files - a Third Approach

Unless your genealogy papers are organized, your research really cannot progress effectively. One of our Legacy users, Connie Spindel, agreed to share her organizational system with us. She calls it her E-Z File System:

My E-Z File System

I have tried 100's (or so it seems) filing systems over the years, and have finally narrowed it down to a very simple and efficient system. It is important to keep it as simple as you can so you will 'stick with it' and as efficient as you can so it will work for you instead of you working for your filing system! I use Legacy software which allows me to include a 'file number of my choosing' for every source. I'm not sure about other software, but think likely most all have this feature....

I have several 2" binders labeled Birth, Death, Marriage, Census, Obit, Photo, Probate, Will, etc.

When I receive a document I follow these steps...

  1. Transcribe the contents of the document into my 'source text'
  2. Add all pertinent source info, repository etc.
  3. Scan the document and add image to my data source file
  4. Give the source document its own unique source number (more of this below)
  5. Cite the source to my database to all appropriate areas.
  6. File my document in the appreciate binder.

Legacy automatically keeps track of my source document file #'s and makes it easy for me to just increase the # to the next in sequence, but this is actually very easy to keep track of even without this included feature of Legacy.

As an example, for the first birth certificate the file # would be 'Birth 1" the next would be 'Birth 2" and so on, and they would both go in the 'Birth' binder in sequence, same routine for Death, Marriage etc. Each getting the next higher available filing # and put into the appropriate binder.

This system provides a quick and easy way to file all documents and no need to make duplicate copies when more than one family is represented in the document (marriage, census etc.) as is necessary in surname or family group files. It doesn't matter if you have a marriage certificate from 1866 or 1966, they are just filed in sequence of when you received them. This eliminates LOTS of headaches!

As a side note: I do make copies of the document (either I print from the scan or from my copy machine) and keep in a BIG binder on my desk, which has dividers for all of the different file types. This binder is what I use to make copies of the documents for other researchers (or send the scans by e-mail) and for quick and easy reference while I'm working, and allows me to keep the original documents in the fire-proof safe (where they are hopefully well-protected).

When I need to prepare a report (for family or fellow researcher) all I have to do is open my genealogy (Legacy) program, see what files are sourced to that individual and write down the file #'s (or easily print out a source report if many individuals will be in the report), pull the document copies from my 'desk binder' and viola' there are ALL of my source documents ready to include in a report and mail away.... (If by e-mail I just include the document scans, filed on my computer the same way as listed above). * Legacy will also include source pictures within the report, but I find many people prefer them to be separate from the reports which makes them easier for them to save to their files.

You might have noticed, above I listed a binder called 'Photos'.... I use it in very much the same way, but add one more little step.... I open the scanned photo in my photo program (I use Adobe Photo Elements) and simply add information (via 'File Info') of those shown in the photo, date photo was taken (or best estimate), who or where the photo came from (my album, fellow researcher, publication etc). This enables the photo to contain all info within the file, yet does not require you to change the photo itself (as in adding text directly to the photo). The info can be printed with the photo as a 'Caption' via 'Printer Options' with most printers if desired. In addition, when adding the photo to Legacy this data is automatically added to the note field :-)... a real timesaver! (Note: Info is NOT added if linking through the Picture Center in Legacy; only if photo is directly linked to person, source etc. Maybe someday Legacy will add this function in Picture Center, but can't say for sure).

One other 'Biggie' I wanted to mention is to ALWAYS use archival quality sleeves (available at your office supply store in boxes of 100 and more, and really cheap on sale :-) for all of your original source documents... even the copy machine copies sent to you by fellow researchers, after all they are 'your' originals and are in need of safekeeping!

More organizational tips

Thanks Connie for sharing your system. Please direct any questions to her. We have also published other systems here. Some good advice - once you have a system that works well for you, stick with it. There's probably not a perfect system for everyone.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

After a long time of having no filing system I have started using the MRIN system suggested by Legacy. I think it's ingenious and simple, although I've had to come up with a budget version of it. No binders. Hanging file folders instead, using only the numbers I need, and making digital copies of everything possible for preservation. Some documents exist as both paper and digital, some as only one or the other. Master sources numbers are cross-referenced to the master source list ID numbers, individual sources cross-referenced to the source citation file ID numbers. If a person's MRIN is 0037 for instance, then their documents are numbered 0037-1, 0037-2, 0037-3, etc.

Everybody's brain is wired somewhat differently. You have to be able to "see" what you're doing. Thanks Geoff!

I love the lineage page when doing research. It gives me the siblings of the individual which helps greatly in the research effort. It gives it to me in a brief form that can easily be printed and referred to often. I would like to know if this list could be expanded to show the maternal side similiar to a pedigree chart but include the siblings for a quick reference. Thanks

Sharon, not yet, but a good idea. It's on our list....

The comments to this entry are closed.