Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Organizing Genealogy Papers

As I prepared for my genealogy road trip to Kansas, I wanted to organize my paperwork so I could share it with my relatives. I have thought a lot about going digital, but I am a very visual person and find that I work better with actual papers. But, how should I organize them?

My filing system
I decided to use hanging files, rather than notebooks, because it was both faster and cheaper. Also, I liked how tidy it looked. 

My filing system
I created a hanging file for each couple who were my direct ancestors. And, I color coded them. The blue files are my dad's paternal line and the green folders (in the back) are my dad's maternal line. I searched for great looking colored hanging files but didn't find anything I really liked and they were quite a bit more expensive.

At the front of each couple's folder, I put a family group sheet. Then, I put all of the paperwork I have for them and for their children. When their child who is my direct ancestor married, the paperwork from that point on goes into the new couple's folder. I made copies of the originals that I had (photos, letters, birth certificates I'd sent off for, etc.) and left the originals at home. One problem with hanging files is that things can fall out and get lost! However, my family was able to easily pull entire files to make copies for themselves.

One of many notebooks compiled by Cheryl V. of
Beulah (Peters) Brewer's research
As far as the papers that my family had to share with me, it was incredible! My grand aunt, Beulah (Peters) Brewer, had done work for several decades. She passed away several years ago, but a family friend & former librarian, Cheryl V, continues to go through the enormous task of organizing Beulah's papers and adding to the research herself. She has created about 10 of these 3-inch binders and still has more to go. A few of the books are about one surname, but others are about just one couple and their children. The notebook pictured is for Beulah's parents, Emil Peters & Myrtle Mae (Coppenbarger) Peters. 

I love how she has designed the covers! There is a brief history of the family and a map showing where they lived. Inside, all of the pages are in protective sleeves and she has created her own tabs using a heavy duty tape. The tabs are primarily for the children of the couple with paperwork for this couple and their children behind the tabs.

As I went through each of these notebooks, I set up a little photography studio. I usually worked in my hotel room in the morning and positioned the pages where there wasn't a glare. I used my iPad and took photos of each page. When there were actual photos, I took those out of the sleeves to photograph better. And, for more important papers and photos, I used the copy machine at my aunt & uncles house.

I am still a little overwhelmed with the fact that I came home with over 900 images! I'm trying to decide how to integrate all of these new documents, photos & facts into my own tree. Once I figure out how I'm going to accomplish it, I will be quite busy!

I'm also reconsidering switching to binders as it was an easy way for me to look through hundreds of images while the hanging files are more challenging. My aunt & uncle bring these binders to our family reunions so family members can page through them. It's a great way to share all of this work!

Do we share common ancestors? I'd love to talk! Please leave a comment or write me at drleeds@sbcglobal.net


  1. Dana, What a challenge with all of those images. While I like the idea of notebooks, the hanging folders make a lot of sense to me, since you may have just a few papers for one couple and they are then easy to find. Enjoy the journey. Karen

    1. Thanks, Karen. It is a challenge and I'm still struggling with the 'right' decision. But the 'right' decision is to get them in some type of organized format so I can use them and continue my research! Best wishes!


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