Genealogy research can be a fascinating journey, but it can also be overwhelming, especially when it comes to organizing all of the information you’re collecting. That’s why it’s important to have a system in place to keep your research organized and accessible.
Here are some tips on how to organize your genealogy research, including step-by-step file organization, note-taking, and digital tools that can help.
File Organization in General
A good file organization system makes it easy to find and access the files you need, when you need them. It also helps to protect your files from loss or damage.
There are a number of different ways to organize your files. The best system for you will depend on the types of files you have and how you use them.
Here is where you can get started:
- Choose a filing system. There are two main types of filing systems: paper and digital. If you prefer to work with paper, you can use binders, folders, or file boxes. If you prefer to work digitally, you can use a genealogy software program or cloud storage service.
- Organize your files by surname. This is the most common and effective way to organize your genealogy files. Create a file for each surname that you’re researching, and then file your documents within those folders chronologically.
- Create subfolders for different types of documents. Within each surname folder, you may want to create subfolders for different types of documents, such as birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, census records, military records, and family photos.
- Label your files clearly. Be sure to label your files clearly and accurately with the name of the person(s) in the file, the type of document, and the date. This will help you to quickly find the files you need when you need them.
Step-By-Step Digital File Organization for Genealogy
Step 1: Choose a File Storage Location
The first step is to choose a file storage location for your genealogy research. This could be on your local computer, an external hard drive, or a cloud storage service like Google Drive or iCloud.
If you choose to store your files on your local computer, be sure to create a dedicated folder for your genealogy research. This will make it easier to find your files when you need them.
If you choose to store your files on an external hard drive or a cloud storage service, be sure to create a backup of your files. This will help to protect them from loss or damage.
Step 2: Create a Main Folder for Your Genealogy Research
Once you have chosen a file storage location, create a main folder for your genealogy research. Name it something like “Genealogy Research” or “Family Tree.”
Step 3: Create Subfolders within the Main Folder to Organize Your Files by Surname
Within the main folder, create subfolders to organize your files by surname. For example, you might have subfolders for “Smith,” “Jones,” and “Williams.”
Step 4: Within Each Surname Folder, Create Subfolders for Different Types of Documents
Within each surname folder, create subfolders for different types of documents. For example, you might have subfolders for “Birth Certificates,” “Death Certificates,” “Marriage Certificates,” and “Census Records.”
Step 5: Save Your Digital Genealogy Files within the Appropriate Subfolders
Once you have created your subfolders, save your digital genealogy files within the appropriate subfolders. Be sure to use clear and descriptive file names. For example, you might name a file “John Smith Birth Certificate.pdf.”
Step 6: Back Up Your Genealogy Files Regularly
It is important to back up your genealogy files regularly to protect them from loss or damage. You can back up your files to an external hard drive, a cloud storage service, or both.
Step 7: Use a Genealogy Software Program or Cloud Storage Service to Organize Your Files
There are a number of genealogy software programs and cloud storage services that can help you to organize your genealogy files. These programs and services can help you to create a family tree, store your documents, and generate reports.
Tip: Some genealogy software like Legacy Family Tree assigns each person in your tree an RIN number. When I create an individual’s genealogy folder on my computer, I add the corresponding RIN number from the software.
Example: Last name_First Name_Middle Name_RIN
This gives you the ability to search by name or number instead of looking through your file list each time you need to find that folder. This also helps when you have more than one person by the same name.
Step 8: Use a Consistent File Naming Convention
It is helpful to use a consistent file naming convention when organizing your genealogy files. This will make it easier to find your files when you need them.
A common file naming convention is to use the following format:
For example, you might name a file “Smith_John_BirthCertificate_1880.pdf.”
Step 9: Review Your File Organization Regularly
It is a good idea to review your file organization regularly to make sure that it is still working for you. You may need to create new subfolders or rename files as you collect more information.
- Use a numbering system for relatives. This can be helpful for keeping track of large families or for identifying individuals with the same name.
- Use a consistent citation format. This will make it easier to keep track of your sources and to generate reports.
- Share your research with others. This can be a great way to get feedback and to collaborate with other researchers.
- Have fun! Genealogy research can be a rewarding experience. Enjoy the process of learning more about your family history.
Take notes on everything you find. As you’re researching your family history, be sure to take notes on everything you find, including the source of the information. This will help you to keep track of your research and to avoid duplicating your efforts.
Use a consistent note-taking format. This will make it easier to review your notes at a later date. Be sure to include the following information in your notes:
- The name of the person(s) you’re researching
- The date of the document
- The type of document
- The source of the information
- Any other relevant information
There are a number of digital tools that can help you to organize your genealogy research. Here are a few suggestions:
- Genealogy software programs. Genealogy software programs can help you to create and manage your family tree, organize your research documents, and generate reports. Some popular genealogy software programs include Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker, Ancestry.com Family Tree Maker, and RootsMagic.
- Cloud storage services. Cloud storage services allow you to store your research documents online, so that you can access them from anywhere. Some popular cloud storage services include Google Drive, iCloud, and Dropbox.
- Scanning software. If you have a lot of paper documents, you may want to consider scanning them and saving them digitally. This will make it easier to organize and access your documents, and it will also help to preserve them.
Tips and Strategies for Staying Organized
- Create a research plan. Before you start researching your family history, it’s helpful to create a research plan. This will help you to stay focused and to avoid getting overwhelmed. Your research plan should include a list of the people you want to research, the types of documents you want to find, and the places you want to look.
- Set aside time for research. It’s important to set aside time each week or month for genealogy research. This will help you to make progress and to stay on track.
- Review your research regularly. It’s a good idea to review your research regularly to make sure that it’s organized and that you’re making progress. This is also a good time to add new information and to update your research plan.
Organizing your genealogy research is important for staying on track and making progress. By following the tips above, you can create a system that works for you and helps you to reach your research goals.
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