Not an actual representation of my desk–but close!
Can any of my fellow genealogists out there in the blogosphere suggest a simple but effective filing system so that I know what I have and where I can find it? How do you keep track of the paper records and sources you find in your research?
When I decided to get serious about doing genealogical and family history research, it seemed to me that a logical place to start was with an inventory of all the information I already had. I have a yellow folder labeled “Genealogy” that holds random scraps, tidbits, and snippets of information that I had acquired over the years from goodness knows where: copies of old letters, newspaper clippings, printouts from useful websites, handwritten notes, hard copies of e-mails, and even information of uncertain origin and provenance that people had given me. I have no idea how to organize this stuff to make the best use of it. Believe it or not, I used to be a cataloging librarian, but cataloging this material according to library standards seems like overkill for what I have in mind. I simply want to know what I have and where it is.
I’ve considered a couple of options already: a separate file for papers pertaining to each person in my family tree database; or a separate file for each type of document I have, including wills, letters, e-mails, web pages, notes, etc. The types of documents would essentially create a system of categories that I could use to organize my files.
At first, I thought a person-based system of files might be the way to go, but then I realized that as my research continues and I find out about more relatives and ancestors and acquire more documents about them, my files could become huge. Shamele Jordon, host of the Genealogy on Demand podcast and blog favors a simple type of category system instead. There’s much merit in this suggestion, but I’m not sure what categories to use. I suppose I can only start with the ones I have.
For lack of a better idea and until I make a final decision, I simply numbered each document, put all the documents back in the yellow folder, and created a numbered, annotated list of documents. I know that’s probably not standard or recommended genealogical or archival practice, but I had to start somewhere. Consider it a rookie mistake. If my old cataloging instructor from library school knew that I did that, she’d probably demand my degree back!

If you have discovered or developed a simple but useful filing system for paper documents, please let me know. Leave a comment or send me an e-mail. I’d love to have the benefit of your thinking and experience. Until next time!