I see blog posts all the time telling people how to organize their genealogy papers and I see people saying, “What a great idea, wish mine were organized.”
Well, if it’s a great idea, why are you fighting me on it? Why don’t you follow the system and get it done already? What are you waiting for? Here is my filing system for my genealogy:
I have two four~drawer filing cabinets. My mother, father, mother-in-law and father-in-law each get a drawer (or two as needed) and a color.
I bought hanging file folders in each of those colors, and using a family tree sheet for each of them created surname folders for each new ancestral line, the paternal ancestor’s surnames.
Then I bought those three ring folders that you can buy for school reports, in the same colors for documents. Page protectors in bulk.
Now take all the documents you have in stacks all over the house, in the laptop bag, in the basement, and divide them into piles based on surname. A third cousin once removed is going to go under the same surname as the common ancestor that you share. We are just getting papers filed, not getting them ready to parade in front of the family. Sort them as quickly as you can. This is not rocket science. Got a deed from your Jones cousins to their brother. Put it in the Jones folder. For now, we just want them filed away and off the desk, chair, floor, cat box….Go ahead and put them in the sheet protectors now. That way they are protected from the elements.
Once you have filed every document, then you can pull out one surname folder and start entering information. Once the document has been entered, then take the three ring folders, and put them in those folders by document type. If you want to record what documents are in the folder, you can create a spread sheet in Excel and print it for the front cover. I use the source number assigned by my genealogy program, The Master Genealogist. And a smiley face sticker to mark documents that have been scanned.
You can work at this pace until you are done, or until you die; whichever comes first. As you find new documents, go ahead and file them by surname. You will get to them. Few of us can afford to travel, so we have more entering, scanning, transcribing time than we do photographing, archives time any way.
But the main thing is get them filed away. Imagine if you went to the doctor and was told your file is around here somewhere as the receptionist fumbled through papers, knocking over stacks and when she finally produced the file, it was covered in last week’s lunch and the papers weren’t organized? You’d find a new doctor’s office and quick. Well, you are the keeper of your family’s history. Don’t future generations deserve for you to be as organized with their past as you’d expect the doctor’s office to be with your file? Notice the doctor files you documents right there while you are standing there. They do not wait until they are scanned. (and yes, they are scanned and filed off site). So make it a priority to see up a simple filing system, and start using it. Don’t like mine? That’s fine, there are many more out there, just Google it.