Keeping your genealogy research organized can be tricky, even challenging, especially once you’ve amassed a large amount of research on many different family lines. When you get copies of old documents or are given family heirlooms for safekeeping (which is often the case when you are the family genealogist) the issue of properly and safely storing these precious artifacts also comes up. The good news is that organizing and storing your genealogy research doesn’t have to be complicated at all. Here are some organizing and storage tips you can use that will ensure you can always find what you need when you need it or just want to look at it.
Organizing Digital Records
You are bound to accumulate a lot of digital records in your genealogy research. So much genealogy is done online these days, and access to scanned copies of original documents is plentiful, with more digital records being added to the Internet all the time. Here’s a simple and effective way of keeping track of it all, right on your computer’s desktop.
First, create a new folder and label it something general, like “Genealogy Research.” If you’re working on research for your family and someone else’s, like your spouse, make two folders, and label one as your genealogy research and the other as the other person’s genealogy research.
Within the folder, create subfolders for each family line you’re working on. Just label these sub-folders with the surname of the family.
Your sub-folders will have sub-folders, too. What you will include in these sub-sub folders depends on what type of digital documents you are collecting. For example, each individual family subfolder could have sub-folders for things like:
- Marriage records
- Birth records
- Newspaper records
- Photographs and videos
- Death records
- Military records
- Land records
- Census records
- Family Bible records
- Personal correspondence
- Miscellaneous records (for things that can’t easily be categorized)
Just put the appropriate digital records into their appropriate sub-folders within the sub-folders for the family to which they pertain. You will always be able to find the right record for the right family with this method.
Organizing Physical Records
You will also build quite a collection of physical records through your genealogy searches. You will order copies of vital records, find or be sent photographs of ancestors, and come across a variety of papers pertaining to your ancestors (usually either directly from them of from other relatives). You’ve got to organize these and keep them protected so they won’t deteriorate over time.
The best method to do this is to use three-ring binders and archival-safe sheet protectors. As with your computer desktop folders, you will have a binder for every family line you’re working on. It’s helpful if you print out a cover page and a spine label for the binders. Get the binders that have plastic pockets on the front, back, and sides, and you can put the labels, which will have the family surnames on them, in the front and spines of the binders. When you put your binders on a bookshelf (or shelves), you will easily be able to see at a glance which family binder you’re selecting.
Put any physical documents you collect into archival-safe sheet protectors. Buy some sticky labels and put them on the front lower corner of the sheet protector and write what the document is on the label. Then, organize the documents in your binders by type. Put all death certificates together, all marriage certificates together, all birth certificates together, all photographs together, and so on. Your documents will be protected and easy to find and identify when you (or future generations) need them.
Storing Family Heirlooms and Artifacts
When storing family heirlooms and artifacts, the same principles apply as organizing digital and physical documents. First, make sure the heirlooms that require some special type of protection for proper storage get it. Then, organize heirlooms by family line. A good way to do this is to get a deep plastic storage container with a snap-on lid. Put a label with the family’s surname on the lid. Then put all heirlooms pertaining to that family in the container with the family’s surname on it. Do this for all lines for which you have artifacts and heirlooms that won’t go in binders.
Try to arrange things in each container so it’s as neat as possible, and keep breakables wrapped in tissue paper or newspaper to protect them during moves. If you have a lot of artifacts for one family line, you may have to use more than one storage container. Label each container with the family name and an A, B, C, and so on, so you know there is more than one container for that family.
If something is too big to go in the container, put it in its own box or bag, label it appropriately, and store it near the containers for the family to which it belongs.
Ultimately, organizing and storing your genealogy is a matter of organization. It is easiest when things are organized according to family, and then by type of document or artifact. Do this, and you will never lose anything important from your genealogical research, and future generations will have an easy time finding what they need from your “library.”