Starting out organized is easier than getting organized later on. It didn’t take long before my own research became weighed down with pedigree charts, family group records, to-do lists, research logs, documents, notes, and research tools. I was robbing myself of the precious research time because I spent hours looking for what I knew I had and duplicating research I had already done. When I became organized, I was able to
- Know exactly what information I had for each ancestor,
- Have a complete list of information I was missing for each ancestor,
- Know exactly what resources I had checked and results of my research,
- Know every book I had ever searched,
- Remember who I had contacted and the response I had received, and
- Easily file new research findings.
Choose an organization system that genealogists use. Several popular organization systems exist for genealogy. Research these systems and use the one that fits your style and that you will actually use.
My recommendation. I have evaluated, started, and subsequently abandoned several filing systems. I took a class from Mary E. V. Hill on a filing system, and I reorganized my genealogy using her color-coded filing system. It is extremely flexible—the more ancestors you find, the more expandable and flexible the system becomes. It can be multi-generational and strictly linear at the same time. The system is simple to set up, simple to maintain, well organized, and inexpensive. It is easy to understand for the researcher and the mildly interested relatives alike. I can find anything in just a few seconds.
I have used the concepts to organize my paper files, computer files, and oral and personal history files. I would like to share with you the step-by-step instructions for helping you become organized using the color-coded genealogy research filling system.
Color-coded Genealogy Research Filing System
- Part 1: Getting Started
- Part 2: Setting Up the System (Steps 1-4)
- Part 3: Setting Up the System (Steps 5-9)
- Part 4: Setting Up the System (Steps 10-13)
- Part 5: Using the Filing System for Patronymics
- View overview video
The following four steps will help you begin to organize your family records and documents.
Step 1. Gather items that have genealogical information. Place a box in the middle of the floor or somewhere that will catch your attention. Start gathering together items you already have that give genealogical information—documents, newspaper clippings, pictures, letters, and so forth. This is not the time to decide what does or does not have value to you as a genealogist. Whatever you find around the house, place it in the box.
Step 2. Fill in a pedigree chart. Write down your name and the names of your parents and grandparents. Include birth, marriage, and death dates and places if you know them. Take special note of the four surnames that you listed on the pedigree from both sets of your grandparents. You will use these surnames in Step 3. For example, the names of my parents and grandparents are:
Father: James Ewell
Father’s parents: Arthur Ewell and Robera Jolley
Mother: Mary Jones
Mother’s parents: Ora Jones and Vera Dearing
I used the surnames of Ewell, Jolley, Jones, and Dearing in step 3.
Step 3. Separate the items found in Step 1 into boxes labeled with those four surnames. It’s now time to temporarily divide the items you found in Step 1 into four separate boxes, each labeled with one of the surnames (last names) of your grandparents. I like to use containers that are the size of apple boxes. Sort what you have gathered, putting items belonging to the family or ancestors of one of the surnames into the container labeled with that surname.
Step 4. Create and expand pedigree charts and family group records.
Look at the items in each container and see if you have information about births, marriages, and deaths of your ancestors. Using the information you find, add new names, dates, and places to your pedigree chart. Make family group records for each family on your pedigree chart. If you use a computer genealogy program, such as PAF, RootsMagic, or Legacy, enter your family information into the program. Don’t worry if you can’t fill in all the names and dates. Just start with what you know.
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