Timely Genealogy Organization Tips

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When it comes to organizing your genealogy research, the piles of paper can add up quickly, even if you prefer to work digitally. So how to manage those stacks of vital records, census schedules, old photos, and various notes and research over the years?
The answer: one step at a time.
The key to organization is to remember that you control it, it doesn’t control you. The best way to do that is to set a goal for each step, one that has a limit. Time limits are easiest, so grab a stopwatch or set the timer on your phone, and work a little at a time.
Try this: take a 10-minute break after every 30 minutes. Figure out what you want to accomplish in that 30 minutes, and that way, once you’ve completed it, you’ll enjoy a sense of accomplishment. Even if you don’t, you can walk away after 30 minutes without guilt, because you’re making progress.

 5 steps to genealogy organization

1. Make an inventory.

Create a list or set of stacks of your paperwork. What do you have? Where does it currently live? Bonus: you may find while you’re doing this that you start to see patterns, holes in your research, and inspiration for new research crop up during this process.

2. Determine the organization system that best works for you.

Try to keep it as simple as possible.


Determining your organization system might take a bit of self-reflection. Are you consistently organized or is your office a bit messy? How often do you work on your research? And what are your needs? You’ll also want to factor in space, access, preservation and funds.

3. Sort your work into your organization system.

This is where that timer will really come in handy. You can tackle this a variety of ways, but here are some possible solutions to accomplishing items in your time frame:


  • by branch/family (maternal and paternal)
  • by surname
  • by person
  • by record
  • by research question or log

4. Keep narrowing down your goal.

Narrow your goal until you have a target you can easily achieve.

5. Keep a research log or to-do list.

Track your research as you go to write down steps and things you may want to investigate. Don’t let yourself get sidetracked. Write it down, then you can revisit it later. Facebook reader Jennifer Till advises, “Resist the urge to write on random scraps of paper -get a notebook with some kind of binding and carry it with you for all those random research thoughts.”

We asked, you answered!

Over on Facebook, we asked for your favorite organization tips: Here are two great responses!
Genealogy Organization Tip
Robert Davis:
For each direct ancestor and their siblings I have two files. The first contains photos, census records, and anything that is confirmed as belonging to that person. The second file is unconfirmed information. Anything that may belong but have found nothing to definitively say ‘yes, that is them’.
Jennifer Till:
  • Put it all in one room
  • Write the family name in block letters in sharpie pen on binder spine
  • Don’t have too many binders
  • Pick a binder color for each family name/line and stick to it
  • Keep your organizing as simple as possible Back up on-line and off-line research
  • Resist the urge to write on random scraps of paper -get a notebook with some kind of binding and carry it with you for all those random research thoughts
  • Source source source source
Bonus tip: Think about scanning all of your original documents into digital format. You shouldn’t abandon precious original documents, but with digital systems:
  • you can easily organize all of your genealogy on your computer
  • you can easily share information on CDs or DVDs
  • you don’t have to handle fragile original documents

All of these tips apply to digital versions as well as paper versions of your work. And we love hearing from you, so send us your favorite organization and genealogy tips.