Beginning Tips and 23 Ways to Organize Your Genealogy

By Courtney Henderson

Identify some organizational goals then set aside an afternoon and compile all of your genealogy materials. Whether you have one small box or 10 big boxes, no matter. Just pull it all into your working space.

Assess What Genealogy Items You Own

Next, you’re going to assess what you own. This isn’t a detailed assessment, but rather a chance (and for some this may be your first time) to see all of your genealogy papers in one place. Don’t worry about logging everything at this time either. For now, just get a sense of what you own.

Paper-based Items

  • genealogy books
  • boxes of photos
  • a file cabinet filled with un-filed papers
  • digital files you’ve printed
  • e-mails you’ve printed
  • family mementos
  • old scrapbooks
  • photo albums
  • postcards
  • county histories
  • history books
  • research tossed in a box

Digital Items

  • digital files
  • e-mails
  • census records
  • information found on websites
  • important family sites you’ve bookmarked

Organizing Questions to Ask Yourself

The object is to use the “what I own” technique to help decide which areas of your family tree you want to organize first. Also, once you see everything you own, you can start building your priority list of short-term goals.

  • Does your “stuff” fall into just a few categories or many categories?
  • Is most of your material on paper or digital?
  • Are there more photos than anything else?
  • Is there one surname that stands out above the others?
  • Are you drawn to one type of record more than the others?

It’s up to you whether you want to do a very small project first (for example, the surname about which you have the least information) or a large project, like all of your photos. The choice is yours.

Now that you’ve started your organization journey, don’t stop there! Check out Family Tree Magazine‘s free ebook!

23 Secrets to Organize Your Genealogy
Free eBook

This ebook contains six guides from Family Tree Magazine for organizing your family history, including:

  • articles on space-saving strategies
  • organizational habits
  • sample filing systems
  • ideas for how to arrange your genealogy workspace
  • research calendar form
  • biographical outline.
Family Tree Tips: 23 Secrets to Organize Your Genealogy

What’s Inside 23 Secrets to Organize Your Genealogy?

Guide #1: 8 Space-Saving Strategies for Your Genealogy

8 Space-Saving Strategies for Your Genealogy

Whether it’s going paperless or placing family photos in archival albums or storage containers, this graphic diagram will help you make the most of the space in your home office. Download digitized books to reduce the space taken up by large reference materials, set up a filing system for your genealogy, and more.

Guide #2: 9 Habits of Highly Organized Genealogists

9 Habits of Highly Organized Genealogists

Over time, every genealogist has to confront the issue of organization, but the sheer number of ways to organize (and amount of material we collect) can make starting and implementing an organization method intimidating. So we asked our Family Tree Magazine readers to share their best advice and organizational methods to save us from getting buried under mounds of family photos, vital records certificates, census page printouts, family tree charts and other records. We learned a few new tricks from the nine strategies that emerged, and hope you will, too.

Guide #3: Top Two Filing Systems at a Glance

Top Two Genealogy Filing Systems at a Glance

Genealogy filing systems can be as varied as the individuals who employ them—after all, the key to organization success is using the method that works for you. But many genealogists’ schemes are rooted in two tried-and-true systems: filing by surname and record type, or filing by ancestral couple (and their children, or “family group”). Use this guide to compare these two systems to see which one best fits your working style.

Guide #4: 6 Expert Ideas to Organize Your Genealogy Workspace

6 Expert Ideas to Organize Your Genealogy Workspace

Believe it or not, professional genealogists confront the same organizational obstacles as the hobbyist family historian. From tips for arranging your genealogy bookshelf to color-coding suggestions, Family Tree Magazine contributors such as Lisa Louise Cooke and Thomas MacEntee offer their top tricks for keeping research materials orderly.

Guide #5: Research Calendar Form

Family Tree Tips: 23 Secrets to Organize Your Genealogy

Use this Research Calendar to note the records you’ve checked for ancestral clues. Fill out the header with the name of your ancestor, his or her locality, time period and a brief problem statement. You can then list out places, such as websites and libraries, where you’ve carried out searches, making it easier to revisit these sources at a later time.

Guide #6: Biographical Outline Form

Biographical Outline Form

Use this Biographical Outline to record information on your ancestors’ education, military service, marriage, children, illnesses, religious milestones, migrations, residences, jobs, family events, land purchases, court appearances, deaths and burials, etc. Having all of this information stored conveniently in once place will make it easier to create a timeline of your ancestor’s life, as well as help you to better connect and trace their major life events.

Download your free copy of Family Tree Magazine’s 23 Secrets to Organize Your Genealogy and start properly sorting, storing and archiving your family history research today!

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