10 Tips for Genealogy Spring Cleaning

By Diane Haddad

Sweeping, mopping, dusting … I could do without that kind of spring cleaning. When you already sweep the kitchen floor twice a day (I have two toddlers and a shed-happy dog), you don’t get excited about deep-cleaning.

But genealogy spring cleaning: Now that’s a different story. Looking through my research, labeling folders, filing documents and giving files consistent names sounds like heaven.

Whether or not it sounds heavenly to you, the tips readers sent for our Genealogy Spring Cleaning Contest will help you get—and keep—your research organized. Here are the winning tips and some of my other favorites (we’re compiling a free download with categorized additional tips from the contest, and we’re also planning on featuring some in a Family Tree Magazine article).

  • Anita Boynton, who won our grand prize, will get a free registration to the Family Tree University Organize Your Genealogy online course. She says: “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.”

Our two runners-up each received our How to Archive Family Keepsakes e-book by Denise Levenick.

  • Luanne Newman’s tip helps her keep an ongoing timeline of ancestral residences: “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.
  • Herbert Boring has a tip for keeping track of master copies of records and forms, “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.”

A few other tips that resonated with me are:

  • 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 Telesca
  • 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 Landry
  • 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 Rogge
  • I’ve scanned all of my parents’ and grandparents’ photos to Flickr. It only costs about $25 a year, and 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 Hull
  • 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 Sommier
  • 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 Stout
  • 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 Thompson-Jennings

And Carolyn Hoard has the honor of submitting the funniest tip. I have a feeling most genealogists can relate: “Shut your office door when people arrive. Don’t forget to migrate stuff into your storage room. Close the door fast, before it escapes!”