Genealogy Problem Solver Series

Organise Your Genealogy

Organise Your GenealogyOrganise Your Genealogy. A few years ago I moved countries and circumstances were that I couldn’t take all my genealogy paperwork with me and added to that I had precisely 3 weeks in which to pack up my whole house and decide what was coming with me, what to sell and what to throw out. Making decisions on furniture and clothes was easy and of course all my photograph albums and boxes of loose pictures had to come. My books got pruned out, but almost all my genealogy books came with me (32 boxes of them), they are like old friends so I couldn’t leave them behind.

And then there were my genealogy files and boxes. Two large cupboards of them. I spend most of my 3 weeks deciding what was essential, certificates and old letters of course made the cut, but what about the rest? Well I scanned and I scanned and I scanned and then I shredded and shredded and shredded. And as I shredded the memories came flooding back. Two marvelous trips to Salt Lake City Genealogy Library with the best genealogy friends anyone could wish for. We were welcomed and helped and it didn’t matter a jot that we weren’t church members.  Annual visits back to the UK always involved visits to archives where sometimes I was allowed to handled original documents. This was done with great care and sometimes white gloves. Tours round the English countryside visiting parish churches and walking in ancestors footsteps. I now live back in the UK so I can visit archives much more easily, although with the advent of the internet and companies like FindMyPast and Ancestry this is becoming less and less necessary. The trips to visit ancestral locations is still very important to me and very enjoyable.

So what did that experience teach me? Well it taught me to never, ever just file a note, document or photo away without scanning it first and attaching it to the person concerned on my online family tree and also onto my computer based tree. Scanning late into the night with a looming deadline isn’t a fun occupation I can tell you ! It taught me that when you have a filing system use it and don’t allow yourself to have a box or file that is labeled miscellaneous because that piece of paper isn’t going to emerge from that file or box until you have to move house. And finally whatever system you decide upon make it as simple, but as well labelled as possible.

Here is my system that has evolved over many decades and did save my sanity when I had to do my hurried 12,000 mile move. It is very simple as I find that I soon lose interest in more complicated systems and stop using them – which rather defeats the purpose!

 This page contains affiliate links – see the end of this page or the Disclosure Page for further details.

Organise Your GenealogyOrganise Your Genealogy – Files

I have an envelope file (see image) for every family surname, for every ancestral county and for many of my ancestral villages, towns and cities. The surname or county name or village/town/city name is always written using a felt tip pen on the right hand side of the top of the file. Always writing it in the same place makes searching through the files much easier and quicker. You can get A4 or foolscap sized files, but I use A4 as most photocopiers and printers use A4 paper plus the foolscap files don’t fit in a box so well. I paperclip the papers together for one person and they are filed in the surname file in alphabetical order of their first name.

I keep the surname, county and the village/town/city files in separate boxes. I buy what Organise Your Genealogyare called Banker’s Boxes  and I have learnt that it is best to pay out a little more and buy good quality boxes. The cheaper ones soon collapse and send your files all over the floor ! The difference in price is only a few pence per box. I have included an image  so you can see what type of box I use. All the files are all filed alphabetically within the box.Some families have more documents than others so I simply label them with the family surname and then a number i.e Pottinger 1, Pottinger 2 and so on.

Organise Your Genealogy – Project Planner

These are sometimes called Research Logs and basically they are either a book, sheet of paper or a computer spreadsheet Organise Your Genealogyon which you record what you have looked at and for whom. I have tried various research logs, but ended up making my own sheet up and called it a project planner. It has the name of the ancestor I am researching and their basic information such as birth/baptism, marriages, death/burial. Also their parents, spouse and children names. I then note down what I need to find out about them. I usually limit this to 3 things, as it can be overwhelming if you have more. I then jot down possible documents/websites I might find this information. As I work through the process I note which websites I have checked and the databases I searched so I don’t find myself searching the same thing twice. However as we all know there can be updates to databases and when that happens I re-check them and note that I have done so. I always date when I check a database/website for this reason.

Once I have found all three items I deem the project as finished and I can then throw away the project planner sheet. If I haven’t found everything I will keep the sheet in a ring binder. Filing it alphabetically by surname. Sometimes it is good to “rest” a query and go back to it later and take another look at it with fresh eyes. Also new databases are coming online all the time or you may have the opportunity to visit an archive so these outstanding project planner sheets can be quickly and easily checked to see if you can find what you are seeking in the new database or at the archive. Remember that most archives now have their holdings online so always make a list of documents you want to look at before you arrive at the archive. Most archives let you order a number of documents in advanced so you can make the most of your time there. Of course when the items have been found they are entered onto online trees, computer genealogy programme or wherever you keep your tree.

I have designed a Project Planner which works well for me, if you would like to get a copy and also access charts, forms, guides etc then join the MadAboutGenealogy Mailing List and get exclusive access to My Resource Library. Fill in the form at the end of this post and I’ll send you the password straight away!

Organise Your Genealogy – Keeping your genealogy computer files tidy

It is no good having your papers organised if your computer files are a mess and you can’t find what you have Organise Your Genealogyscanned a few weeks ago. Again I have gone for a simple, easy to use system. I have a main folder called 001 Genealogy in “My Documents” (I use Microsoft Windows – Apple will have something similar). The reason why it has 001 at the beginning is because that makes it the first file at the top of the list as this is the file I use the most. You can see I am genealogy obsessed!

Under 001 Genealogy I have a file for each family surname, under each family surname file I have a further file for each person with their surname first, then first name and year of birth & death if know. So the files look like this

  • oo1 Genealogy
  •           Southwell
  •                  Southwell, Ada 1881 – 1926
  •                  Southwell, George 1851 – 1888
  •                 Southwell, William 1822 – 1856

If I have anything that is general to everyone of that surname then it gets filed under just the Surname file.

In the person’s file I store all the scans of documents for that person, photos and any notes that I have made. In fact everything and anything to do with them. That way I can find everything in one place for that person. Try it – it works a treat and it is so wonderful to be able to find everything in one place.

Organise Your Genealogy – Keeping focused

I wrote a blog post a few months ago on this very subject so click through to it here and learn about “5 Easy Steps for genealogy research – keeping your research on track”. 

Organise Your Genealogy – Old document, fragile items and old photographs

You will have noticed that none of the files and boxes mentioned above are made of archival standard materials. If you are lucky enough to have delicate and/or precious items then I strongly suggest that you purchase acid free tissue for wrapping items and then acid free storage boxes for putting them inThere is a brand of archival standard plastic type sleeves used for photograph storage, they are called Secol envelopes. I haven’t used them for my own photographic collection, I use acid free tissue and store them in acid free boxes, but if you wish to use this method then you can buy them from the manufacturer Secol Ltd. They are used in archives where I have worked so I know they are of a very high quality and that this is an acceptable practice.

Organise Your GenealogyOrganise Your Genealogy – Summary

So that is how I organise my genealogy. As I mentioned above I have found simple is best for me. I prefer to spend my time researching and working on MadAboutGenealogy than operating a complex filing system. It all depends on what you feel comfortable with. The main thing is to chose a system, get your family history organised and keep it that way. There is nothing more daunting than facing a huge pile of papers waiting to be filed!

Genealogy is supposed to be fun and enjoyable so don’t get so disorganised to the extent it becomes a chore. Organise your Genealogy and then you can enjoy your ancestor hunting!

Here is a list of items that help me keep my genealogy under control. To organise your genealogy click on the item to see more information and prices.

Envelope Files

Bankers Boxes

Sharpie Felt Tip Pens

Acid Free Tissue

Acid Free Storage Boxes

Secol Envelopes

If you wish to access my Free Genealogy Resource Library simple fill in your details in the form below and you will get immediate free access.

If Pinterest is of interest to you then you can Follow MadAboutGenealogy by CLICKING HERE

You can now follow MadAboutGenealogy on Google Plus by CLICKING HERE


Disclosure: There are affiliate links on the pages on this website, but these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t put anything on this page that I haven’t verified and/or personally used. I get commissions for purchases made through affiliate links. This is in compliance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s disclosure requirements and is inserted for readers who reside in the United States of America. & are participants in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

By using these links you can help keep MadAboutGenealogy online.

6 thoughts on “Organise Your Genealogy

  1. Yes please! Could I have a copy of your Project Planner. I tutor two beginner classes in genealogy and have been searching for a research planner/to do list that is on the one page. Now I will be able to shows them how to do this. Would I be able to distribute a copy of your planner to each student? Or would you prefer them to sign up to your newsletter and ask for one? I might add, many of the ladies I am tutoring are in their seventies and eighties and ni very little about genealogy at this stage.

    1. Hi Karen, Many thanks for your message, I am creating a Genealogy Resource Library which should be up and running in the next few days. That will have the Project Planner and a whole lot more Genealogy Charts, Worksheets etc in it. They will all be free and accessible to those who subscribe to my mailing list. So if you can wait for a couple of days that would be great. I will send out an email to my mailing list subscribers and it will be advertised on the MadAboutGenealogy website when it goes live. Then your students can join up to the mailing list and get full access plus I will be adding more things on a very regular basis so probably better they join up individually. Your class sounds super, I wish I could visit and meet them all – you are never too old or too young to start your genealogy! Best wishes, Linda

  2. Thanks for an inspiring article. I recently had a crisis with my Genealogy folder (which was fairly well organised) when it was uploaded to i-cloud on the Mac. Files were jumbled and some even disappeared. Now I have to put it all together again and will make use of your method. The lesson from this is to always keep an up to date copy on a hard drive. Apple were little or no help, by the way.

    1. Hi Eileen, I am so pleased you enjoyed the article. What an awful experience with your genealogy folder, I do hope you can retrieve the lost files. One thing I should have added to the article is that I copy my Ancestry files as GEDCOM files on the 1st of each month and keep a copy of those files and my other computer files on a external hard drive which I give to a genealogy friend. I have two external hard drives so when I take the newly downloaded files to her on the 1st of the month I pick up the one the other one so it is ready for me come the 1st of the following month. I do the same for her on the theory that it is unlikely that both our houses will be flooded or burnt down at the same time! Fingers crossed. Best wishes and good luck getting your files sorted. Linda

  3. Hi Linda,

    I love your newsletters they are so helpful 🙂 I would be very grateful if you will send me the Geneaology Project Planner, I have just started getting all my files etc in order and it is going well, but this would be so helpful, I know I repeat searches and it is so frustrating!

    Kind regards

    1. Hi Margaret, I am so pleased you like the MadAboutGenealogy newsletter. Isn’t it annoying when you get half way through a search and start to think it looks familiar!! We’ve all done it and that’s why I designed The Project Planner. I am about to launch the MadAboutGenealogy Resource Library which will have the project planner in it plus charts, worksheets etc. I hope to get it finished tomorrow and a special newsletter sent out with the link and password. It is just going to be exclusive to mailing list subscribers only, I’ll be adding to it as time goes on and it is free!! So watch out for a newsletter in the next 24 – 48 hours. Best wishes Linda

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *