My (New) Best System for Organizing a Genealogy Project

February 1, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Posted in How to Organize Your Genealogy Research | Leave a comment
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A Genealogy Source Index Example
A Genealogy Source Index Example

I am one of those genealogists that goes both ways – paper and electronic records.

As much as I enjoy the digital world, I can’t let go of good, old-fashioned paper records for several reasons.  Paper is portable.  Paper is still really easy to annotate.  Paper is easy to spread across the dining room table to look at everything all at once.

Ah, but as wonderful as paper is, it poses a challenge to organize effectively so that it doesn’t take over your genealogy space, and you can find what you need with minimal cursing.  I’ve tried folders.  I’ve tried 3-ring binders.  I’ve tried according files.  And I’ve never been satisfied with the solution.  Until now.

The Secret to My New Found Organizational Success

I have to tell you I’m rather tickled at this new system, which works really well for me.  Maybe you’ll find an idea here that will help you, too.

Here’s the system.

Let’s say I’m working on a particular person, family, family cluster or regional subject.  It really doesn’t matter the scope or nature of the project for the system to work.  I start in on my research, and I’ve collected several paper sources.  On each source, I’ve attached my Post It with the source information.

Source Index – The next step is to create a source index.  Have you ever made copies of a book or other source, then gone back to it and wondered why you have this record?  Or better yet what families does it or does it not pertain to?  I certainly have – repeatedly to the same source.  So to solve this, I use a large Post-It Note (4×6 ish with lines (lines not necessary), and make a list of the topics (usually family names) and they pages they are referenced in the source!  Viola!  Instant visibility to the work.  Additionally, at the bottom of the Source Index, I list all of the family names (or topics) that I’ve checked in this source and are not listed.  Next to these topics I put a null sign.  Personally, I think it is research nirvana to check the index and quickly discover that I’ve been down this road before and didn’t find anything.  Amazing!  Organization.

Project Folder – Now the system doesn’t stop there.  Imagine having collected a dozen paper records related to your project.  Normally, I would put each in a folder with the name of the source and it would be lost to me.  Now, I use these nifty 9x12ish plastic. envelope-like folders that I found at Office Max.  I put each source, with its Post-it with source information, and its Source Index (see above picture) in the folder, horizontally, so the long edge is facing the opening.  Additionally, the folders have CD pockets.  I know have a place to securely put my NARA CDs with pension records!

Now, you may ask, how do you know what’s in the folder?

Source Tabs – Again at Office Max, I found the most wonderful tabs-you-can-write-on.  I’ll admit they are a tad pricey, but they are reusable, and worth their weight in gold in time and frustration saved.  I take a tab and place it on the long-edge of each source (laying horizontally in the Project Folder), and write the name of the source on it.  Then when I look in the folder, I have a default “index” one source on each tab, of everything I have the the folder.  TOO Easy!

Folder Labels – With all of my work in hand, the last thing I want to do is lose it by leaving it behind at the library or archives.  So, I took a tip from a lecture I heard a few years ago, and printed return label- like labels with all of my contact information on them.  Each label has my name, address, phone, email, etc.  I put one of these labels on all of my personal books – and my project folders.

A couple last thoughts  We know plastic is not good for any original documents, and we never want to take our precious originals out of the house.  So, for this purpose I make copies of anything delicate, and include the copy in the project folder.  And for the sake of ease and distinction, I put a simple notebook paper cover sheet in front of the folder with the name of the research project.  That way I don’t have to fish through folders to figure out which project is which!  (not that I’m ever working on more that one project at a time!)

There you go.  The insights into my latest, best research organization system.  If you try anything you heard about here, let me know how it works.  And I’ll let you know if I come up with a new latest, best organization system.

Happy Researching


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