Color-coded Genealogy Research Filing System, Part 2: Setting Up the System (Steps 1-4)

10-17-2014 8-09-32 PMBy Barry J. Ewell

There are thirteen steps for setting up the color-coded filing system. The system is time-tested and proven to be the organization resource that will grow with you as you expand your research.

Color-coded Genealogy Research Filing System

This system sets up file folders for the families on your pedigree lines and also shows you how to file information about cousins and other relatives. Pedigree charts and corresponding family group folders are divided into four colors, based on the lines of your four grandparents. Dividing your pedigree by color helps make it clear which line a family belongs to. For each family on your pedigree, a family file folder holds documents and a copy of that family’s group record. Don’t think you have to do all the steps outlined in one day. Pace yourself. Check each step off as you do it. This system will keep your genealogy records organized for your own benefit and to hand on to your posterity.

Step 1. Gather supplies for your filing system. This system works best if you gather together the following basic supplies:

  • Two file boxes with lids. The boxes need to be strong, preferably made of plastic, and with inner ridges or grooves for hanging letter-size hanging files.
  • Hanging files, colored. Letter-size hanging files in blue, green, red, and yellow. They come with 1/3 and 1/5 cut slots, which has to do with the size of the plastic tab. Choose the 1/5 cut, which works best with this system. Hanging files keep the manila folders from slipping down in the file box.
  • Hanging files, standard green. Letter-size hanging files in generic standard green color, 1/5 cut.
  • Manila folders. 1/3 cut tabs assorted, with reinforced tops to last through heavy use. Start with fifty folders.
  • Pens. Pen with an ultra-fine point, felt tip and permanent black ink.
  • Highlighters. Highlighters colored light blue, light green, yellow, and pink (don’t use red because it is too dark). Colored pencils also work.
  • Labels for file folders. Labels with blue, green, red, and yellow strips along the top and permanent adhesive on the back.
  • Dots. Dots colored blue, green, red, and yellow. These are not usually available with permanent adhesive, but the non- permanent adhesive will work just fine for this.
  • Prong bases, clips, punch. If you want to clip papers into manila folders, these tools are useful. The two-hole punch is the one you need.
  • Acid-free paper. Paper that is acid free extends the life of your notes. Good quality photocopy paper is almost always acid free, but be sure to check the packaging.
  • Other file boxes. For expanding your files, as needed.
  • Carrying case. Letter-size carrying case with a handle, to take with you when researching.

Tip: What type of highlighters should I use? I would recommend that you find the type of markers you use to highlight in a book because they won’t absorb through your paper and make a mess.

Tip: Why am I buying boxes when I have a filing cabinet? You can use a filing cabinet if you want, but I have found it very convenient to use boxes. I can pick up the box and take it over by my computer or put it on the dining room table when I’m working with my research and stay organized.

Step 2. Put pedigree charts of your lineage at the front of your file box. Label the tab of a standard green hanging file “Pedigree Charts.” Put a copy or printout of your pedigree charts, starting with your¬self, in the file. Hang the file in the front of the file box. This set of your pedigree charts will act as a map for your family files. PAF Companion and Legacy will print pedigree charts in the four colors—blue, green, red, and yellow. Add more charts as you find the information.

Step 3. Study the Circled Five-Generation Pedigree Chart. Study the Circled Five-Generation Pedigree Chart. It is a crucial key to understanding how the color-coding of family files works in the filing system using the five-generation pedigree chart. Each of the circles on the chart represents a family, and each circle has a color. In the steps that follow, you will learn to use those colors to set up your filing system.

See Figure 1 and Figure 2 for an example of five generations converted to a color-coded system.

Color-coded Genealogy Filing System-Figure 1



Color-coded Genealogy Filing System-Figure 2

Color-codedGenealogyFilingSystem-Figure02Circle or highlight pedigree chart by color

Tip: Do I really need to use a five-generation chart? Experience has shown that this system is set up most easily based on a five-generation chart. The four-generation chart does not work and confuses people. As your research progresses, you will be able to expand this system and go way beyond the five-generation chart.

Tip: Can I use the same five-generation chart for myself and my spouse’s line? When I set up my system, I used a five-generation pedigree chart for my direct ancestors and a separate one for my wife and her ancestors. It is possible to start with one of your children as #1 on the chart. However, then you only have two colors for the husband’s lines and two for the wife’s lines. I prefer the advantage of having the four colors for my own four grandparents.

Tip: Who should be in the #1 position on the pedigree chart? The real purpose of the filing system is to help you do genealogy research, and if you are really going to concentrate on doing your own lines, you probably want to start with yourself as #1. It will make using the color-coded system easy to follow when you are sorting the blue, green, red, and yellow sections for your four grandparents. Because I was working with two pedigree charts, I put myself as #1 for my family line and my wife was #1 for her family line.

Step 4. Separate the lines of your four grandparents by color. Print a copy of your own five-generation pedigree chart from genealogy software, or print out and then manually fill in a blank form, starting with yourself as #1. You are the first generation; your sixteen great-great-grandparents are the fifth generation. Using the Example of Five Generations Converted to a Color-coded Filing System (available for download on my website) as a guide, draw colored circles around each family on your five-generation pedigree chart. Color-code the lines as follows:

  • Blue: Circle all families who are ancestors of your father’s father in blue.
  • Green: Circle all families who are ancestors of your father’s mother in green.
  • Red: Circle all families who are ancestors of your mother’s father in red.
  • Yellow: Circle all families who are ancestors of your mother’s mother in yellow.

Allow me to explain in further detail how to relate the chart to your own pedigree chart. I have created the following exercise to walk you through mapping your pedigree chart into blue, green, red, and yellow. Look at your pedigree chart. Notice the numbers that are associated with different names. You are #1, your father is #2, and your mother is number #3. I will refer to these numbers throughout the exercise.

  1. Start with the blue highlighter. Place a blue line under your name (#1), your father’s name (#2), and your grandfather’s name (#4). Put the blue highlighter away and open the green.
  2. Highlight your father’s mother (#5) with green. Now pick up the blue and put a circle around the number 4/5 family (your father’s parents). Are you beginning to see how this works? The grandmother introduces the green family line, but it is a blue family. Why is it blue? In this filing system, we file information under the name of the father. It is blue because the father in this situation is highlighted with blue.
  3. Let’s now use the pink highlighter for red (if you actually use a red highlighter, it will block out the name. Draw a pink line under your mother’s name (#3) and your mother’s father (#6).
  4. Now we are ready for the yellow highlighter. Underline your mother’s mother (#7) with the yellow marker. She introduces the yellow line.
  5. Take your pink highlighter again and draw a circle around the number 6/7 family (your mother’s parents). This family unit will be red because the father is red.
  6. Pick up the blue highlighter again and draw a circle around your family unit (such as yourself #1, father #2, and mother #3). With the blue still in your hand, circle the family units of numbers 8/9, 16/17, and 18/19. Your father and all his ancestors as far back as you discover them will be blue.
  7. Take the green highlighter and circle the family units of 10/11, 20/21, and 22/23. Your father’s mother and all her ancestors will be green.

Use the pink highlighter to circle the family units of 12/13, 24/25, and 26/27. Your mother’s father and all his ancestors will be red.

You have now filled out your own personal five-generation pedigree chart and circled each family. In the steps that follow, you are going to see just how important the chart really is. It is the map to the rest of your genealogy research. I recommend purchasing a sheet protector and putting your circled five-generation chart back to back with the sample chart.

When I finished this exercise for the first time, I understood the logic of the color system—me as the child with blue for my father and his parents; green for my father’s mother and her parents; red for my mother and her parents; yellow for my mother’s mother and her parents. As I get information, I have colors in my mind attached to the names of the people that I am working with, and with those colors, I can quickly remember where to put it and where to find it, and it gives me a sense of direction that I didn’t have before.

Tip: What if I can’t do everything exactly as explained? I’ve found that it’s important to not get too bogged down by the details. If you run into a snag and you can’t do it exactly the way the instructions say, do the best you can with what you have. Feel free to experiment. Try it and see if it works. Nothing that you do is going to be set in stone. You can redo it if you need to, and if you find something works, great; if you find that it doesn’t, you can go back and make changes.

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