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
- 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
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 5. Put sixteen hanging files into your box. Place four blue, four green, four red, and four yellow hanging files in your box, in that order.
Step 6. Label the colored hanging files with your family surnames. Label each colored hanging file with the surname of one of your sixteen great-great-grandparents. There will be four surnames in each color. Use the sixteen surnames that go down the right side of your five-generation pedigree chart to know which surnames to put within each color.
Place all the tabs on the left side of the colored hanging files.
Write one surname on each hanging file tab (plastic tabs come with the colored hanging files). Use a permanent, black-ink, ultra- fine-point pen for writing names. Rather than write the names by hand, I chose to print labels from my computer with color-coded labels.
Hang the files in alphabetical order within a color. Put the blues alphabetically in one group, the greens in another, the reds in a third, and the yellows in a fourth group, so you can separate out one color group into a new box if the original box gets too full with all your documents and research.
It’s okay if you don’t know the last name of some of your sixteen great-great-grandparents. Label as many of the files as you can and leave the other blank-tabbed files in the box for future use.
Tip: Where are my great-great-grandparents located on the five- generation chart? Your great-great-grandparents are the people who are listed with the numbers 16 to 31 on your five-generation pedigree chart. For example, the surnames for my blue files will come from the lines 16, 17, 18, and 19 (for me, those names are Ewell, Weech, Thompson, and Frisby). The surnames for the green files will come from lines 20, 21, 22, and 23 (Jolley, Spriggs, Boyter, Niell). The surnames for the red files will come from lines 24, 25, 26, and 27 (Jones, Dahle, Jones, Bevan). The surnames for yellow files will come from the lines 28, 29, 30, and 31(Dearing, Parkin, Hickman, Carrel).
Tip: Why are the tabs placed on the left side? Putting surnames on the left-hand side is something that developed over time by people using the system. The files on the left are the surname hanging files for the pedigree charts. It’s the front piece of the surnames that go behind that particular folder. So if it’s the Ewell folder, it’s going to have Ewell pedigree charts in the front folder, and it’s going to have Ewell families behind it. It makes it very easy to quickly locate these files. In the steps that follow, you will learn about the positioning of the other files.
Tip: What surname do you use on the label if you find it spelled multiple ways? In one of my family lines I have the German name, Diehl. I have five different ways that name can be spelled, and I have tried writing on my tab all of those variations—Diehl/Deal/Dill/ Deel/Dehl. That was a hassle, so I chose to use the most common spelling that was used in the United States—Diehl. I then placed a note in the file explaining my decision along with a list of the various spellings.
Step 7. Put a highlighted copy of your five-generation pedigree chart in each of the colored folders. Print sixteen more copies of your five-generation pedigree chart, with you as #1 on the chart. On one of the pedigree charts, high¬light the names of all persons with the same surname, using the color assigned to that surname. File the highlighted pedigree chart in its surname hanging file.
Repeat the process of highlighting a surname line and filing the pedigree chart in its surname hanging file for each of the sixteen surnames. These charts will be used as guides or maps for each of the surname folders. Highlighting the surname on the pedigree chart makes it quick and easy to see how that surname fits into your complete family pedigree.
Tip: What if your research goes one or more generations beyond the five-generations? You may want to print all the pedigree charts for one surname, starting from the first person with that surname on your five-generation pedigree chart. Staple together and file these pedigree charts in the front hanging file of that surname, together with the highlighted five-generation pedigree chart.
Tip: What if I have two persons with the same grandparent on my pedigree lines? (This situation happens when cousins marry.) If two persons on your pedigree lines prove to have the same grandparent, put a note in one of their files saying that that particular line will be continued in the file of the other person. Name the other person, so the charts are easy to find. From then on, just follow the one pedigree line because they will be identical.
Step 8. Set up a manila file folder for each family on your five-generation pedigree chart. This is a really exciting moment in the creation of your filing system. You are now going to identify and pick out each family as a unit. Each family gets their own manila folder in which you can begin to organize your research. Start by printing or writing a family group record for each of the families on your five-generation pedigree chart.
If you can identify all of these families, including the parents of your great-great-grandmothers, you will be setting up a total of twenty-three manila family folders. These third great- grandparents will not be on the five-generation pedigree chart. You will have to go to the next chart to find their names.
Once the system is set up, you can add additional family folders as you find more information.
Using your five-generation pedigree chart as a guide, decide what color each of the families should be filed under. Mark the color on the top of the family group record or print with PAF, Roots- Magic, or Legacy. Set up manila folders for each of the families by putting a colored label on the file folder tab. Match the label color to the color of each family group record. Be sure to use labels with permanent adhesive. The manila folders of parents should all be right-tabbed folders. Fold left-tabbed manila folders inside-out to make them right-tabbed, as needed.
- The surnames of the husband and wife followed by their first names.
- A small “b.” (for “birth”) and the year of their birth.
If one of them was married more than once, label which marriage this is—for example, “m2” would denote this as the second marriage.
The label only gives enough information to identify this family. Other information about them can be found on their family group record in the file folder.
Tip: Why do I want to set up family file folders for the parents of my great-great-grandmothers now? If you are going to have a family file folder for each of the sixteen surnames in the fifth generation on your five-generation pedigree chart, you are going to have to find the names of the parents of your great-great-grandmothers. Then set up file folders for these eight families. Your eight great-great- grandmothers will appear as daughters in these families. If you want to, you can do the same for your eight great-great-grandfathers now. If you also do the parents of your eight great-great-grandfathers, you will have a total of thirty-one family file folders in your system.
Tip: Where do I find the information to make family file folders for the parents of my great-great-grandmothers? To find the parents of your great-great-grandmothers (numbers 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29 and 31 on your pedigree chart), go to the pedigree charts you printed and filed in the standard green hanging file at the front of your box. If you have the information about the sixth generation in your data¬base program already, find the pedigree chart that shows the sixth generation for a great-great-grandmother. That pedigree chart will give you the names of the parents of that great-great-grandmother.
Step 9. File the manila family folders. Put a new colored hanging folder behind each surname hanging file, matching the color of that surname. Place the manila family folders in these newly added hanging folders. Group the manila family folders by color and then by surname—all the “red” Smith’s together, all the “yellow” Jones families together, and so on. You can now arrange the family folders in alphabetical order by the husband’s first name or by the generation.
Tip: How do you manage patronymics? For those of you who have Scandinavian, Asian, Polynesian, or American Indian ancestry—any situation where the surname changes every generation—it can be a challenge. In this situation, I prefer to file family members by location. In other words, these people tended to live for generations in the same parish and on the same farm, and I have found it easiest to keep them by generation going back, by location. Another option you may consider is to file each of the families by the name that they’re known by in alphabetical order and then by date. I encourage you to look at the various options in patronymic filing and realize that it is possible to keep track of these people either by location or alphabetically and by date. See my website for more details about patronymics.
Tip: How do you organize the files by generation? I chose to organize my family files by generation. Folder 1 would be the first generation, the second folder would be the second generation and so forth. I will align the family folder labels on the right side of the container. The following is an example of the first five generational family folders behind the Ewell surname (blue folders):
Five-Generation Family Folders
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