Tips From the Pros: Baby Steps to Organize Your Genealogy

Tips From the Pros: Baby Steps to Organize Your Genealogy

When you hear people talk about organized genealogy and think about your own research, does something like this come to mind? National Archives and Records Administration. Historical Records Survey workers inventory records in New York City, about 1935. It's an uneasy feeling when you don't know whether you already have...

When you hear people talk about organized genealogy and think about your own research, does something like this come to mind?


National Archives and Records Administration. Historical
Records Survey workers inventory records in New York
City, about 1935.

It’s an uneasy feeling when you don’t know whether you already have this or that information (and where you’d look to find out), where you got a particular record or “fact,” or how you’d retrieve files after a computer crash (if you’d even be able to). That must be why “get organized” is at the top of so many genealogy to-do lists for the new year.

Following these tips from professional genealogists (who shared their expertise in the May/June 2014 Family Tree Magazine) won’t solve your organization problems overnight, but they can give you a small way to work toward accomplishing organized genealogy.

  • Keep an updated research to-do list. I follow this advice with a research log in a spreadsheet on Google Drive. I can use my phone or computer to add ideas that come to me while doing other research. When I complete a task, I check it off and enter any findings (and then pat myself on the back).
  • Label paper and digital file folders with a consistent scheme. You could use the surname and a type of record, which helps to make the contents easy to find.
  • Come up with a naming scheme for digitized photos and records, too. For example, lastname-firstname-day-month-year-recordtype.
  • Take a few minutes to file or recycle papers and neaten your desk (or the dining room table) as you wind up a research session. You’ll be able to pick up next time with fewer distractions.
  • Keep a “to file” basket on your desk or a shelf, and schedule regular times to file those papers. I do this with my family’s nongenealogy paperwork, which helps keep papers off the kitchen counter. Most of my genealogy is digital, so I have a “to file” folder on my hard drive (the problem now being the lack of a paper avalanche to remind me to file stuff).
  • Don’t waste money on unnecessary organizational supplies. Before you buy anything, figure out what you need to organize. Declutter and decide how you’ll arrange what’s left. For example, would binders or filing drawers work best? What size bookshelf should house your library? Will you need archival boxes to store old photos? You might already have some of the supplies you need.

But no matter how many bins, drawers and shelves you have, it’s your research practices—not the boxes and binders—that’ll keep you organized.

In Family Tree University’s Organize Your Genealogy in a Week online workshop, taking place Jan. 24-31, you’ll learn the good research habits necessary to keep your information organized and become a more efficient family historian. You’ll also discover tools to help you keep up those organization practices. The video classes and written lessons will teach you how to:

  • organize your genealogy information, paper and digital files, and notes
  • set up and maintain a research log
  • use the cloud to store your files and sync them across all your devices
  • sort through and digitize the family archive of papers, mementos, photos, albums, letters, receipts, etc. that you’ve inherited or amassed over the years
  • use Evernote to manage your research projects

Participants receive full online access to video classes and written lessons (both of which can be downloaded for later viewing), and the exclusive workshop message board. Denise Levenick, the Family Curator and author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes, will be on hand in the forum to answer your organization questions. You can join in whenever it’s convenient for you during the week—no need to log in at any particular time.

See the full Organize Your Genealogy in a Week workshop program and get registered on Family Tree University.

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