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Spring Cleaning Your Genealogy Files and Workspace

By Ashlee Peck Premium
(Getty Images)

Spring is the perfect time of year to clean up your workspace, and to make sure your research is being properly cared for. Here are some tips, including many from readers, about how to go about “spring cleaning” your genealogy.

Digitize your photos and documents

Not only does digitizing your photos and documents help clean up your office clutter, but it helps ensure that they will be available to your family for generations to come. While photographs are the first thing that comes to mind when most of us thinking about uploading to the cloud, you can actually electronically store so much more than that:

  • Records
  • Documents
  • Audio and video files (perfect for family interviews!)
  • Photos of heirlooms and other physical objects

As you are scanning your items and photographs, organize the hard copies before putting them away.

Cite your sources

For most researchers, source citations aren’t the most exciting part of genealogy. But citing your sources allows others to recreate your research in the future, and makes it possible to retrace your path in the future.

If you’ve been neglecting adding your sources to your research, this is the perfect time of year to go back and add them.

Establish an organization routine

This step will make your next genealogy spring clean a breeze! If you regularly take short chunks of time to file your research, it becomes second nature.

Set up a folder or box on your desk, as well as a folder on your computer hard drive, for items you need to take action on (scan, label, etc.). Next, create a “to file” folder for documents ready to be put away. Once a week or month, schedule time to empty these boxes.

Reader tips

Here are tips from our readers about how they tackle their genealogy spring cleaning checklist.

“I color coded my four grandparents’ lines, so that I can easily grab a folder or whatever as I need it. I used red, yellow, blue and green, so I can easily use colored pens, pencils, binders, stickers, etc., to sort, tag and mark boxes and pages, color-code categories in my Outlook email browser for tasks and contacts, etc.”

– Anita B.

As I find dates pertinent to an ancestor, I enter it into an Excel file. For instance, my grandfather was a chef in Chicago and as I run across correspondence from an employer or information on his draft card, I’ll put the employer’s name and the date he was employed there. I have a file for each relative to update when I find fun facts.

– Luanne N.

A lot of the time when I can’t find a copy of a paper, I just make more copies until I don’t know what the original is. When you make or get the first copy of something, make a small mark on it with a yellow highlighter. It will not show up when you make a black-and-white copy, so you’ll always know which is the original.

– Herbert B.

I have written up a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for my digital files. This way I am saving photos and documents the same way and I’l be able to find them later.

– Tina T.

For future generations and their organization—I am collecting autographs from family members. I take my autograph book with me at family get togethers, reunions, and whenever we have a chance to visit family out of state.

– Marsha L.

I file all documents, photos and other items in chronological order in binders using sheet protectors. Each binder starts with a couple’s marriage and ends with their death. As each of their children marries, a page is inserted directing reader to a new binder starting with the marriage of that child.

– Jan R.

I’ve scanned all of my parents’ and grandparents’ photos to Flickr. That way the photos are safe if my house gets blown away by a tornado. I’ve created “sets” for each grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc. If a family member is interested, I can send the link to the person they’re inquiring about. I have the majority of pictures labeled with who they are and other information.

– Melissa H.

I have a great little multi-sectioned notebook in which I’ve dedicated a section for each family I am researching. I no longer have bits of paper and post-its wandering around my research space. It fits inside my purse so I can bring it with me.

– Sharon S.

As I receive papers, I make a goal to scan them right away. The original then enters my folder that is building up continuously. Once that folder is full, the sorting begins.For digital materials, I have a folder on my computer desktop. There’s nothing like a good movie to sit there and watch while sorting through, documenting information and putting them into their digital folders!

– Sarah S.

I used OneNote to organize all those pieces of information that just don’t fit into the family tree—at least not yet. I have a scribbler called Family History with tabs for each family surname. When I find information that I’m unsure fits, I enter it under the appropriate family tab then on the individual’s page. I make sure I put the source, so when I want to go back to that information I know where I can find it. You can make other scribblers, such as research logs, genealogy general information or anything else you’d like to keep track of.

– Ellen T.

Shut your office door when people arrive. Don’t forget to migrate stuff into your storage room. Close the door fast, before it escapes!

– Carolyn H.

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