Organizing Records

There are many ways to log paper and digital records. Each person develops his or her own system. Some people print paper copies of all sources they find, but many are moving to digital storage. If you choose that route, be sure you have backups (not all in one place) of your documents/pictures to ensure their survival. Even if you do go primarily digitally, you’ll still have some photos & paper documents.  Some tips for organizing your records:

  • Keep it simple
  • Be consistent
  • Make it convenient and accessible
  • And finally, the most important pointer, don’t think you’ll do it later, organize as you go!

Two organizational methods:

1.  One Family = One File Folder (Father’s name)

  • Put a family group record in the front. You can also add a research log, so you remember what you’ve done with you come back to it. Some put a document number space on their research log and then number each document accordingly. (Be sure to write the name, first and last and birth date as well on all documents.)
  • Since most are all part of two families, their birth family and the family they begin with marriage, many people put childhood documents under the father, then upon marriage they start a new folder (or put documents under husband).

2.  Notebooks

  • Some use loose-leaf notebooks (3 ring binders) to organize their materials. You can put sensitive records in page protectors. Documents can be filed by name, or by the “one family = one folder” using the husband’s name.
  • There are books written on this topic and a Google search could turn up other ideas. Just be sure to use something that works for you. Keep in mind that if you are using a genealogy program on your computer and importing documents & pictures to your tree, if you move files, the program will have difficulty finding them. Thus consistency is very important, particularly in your organization when saving documents to your hard drive.


Include citations on all printed documents so they can be found again. This is more difficult to do with digital documents. Most digital documents that have been saved to your online tree are sourced there when you save them to your tree automatically – so don’t forget to export your tree into a gedcom file and keep backups!

Things to include in all citations:

  • Who created the record
  •  Full title
  •  Scope, collection, series
  •  Section of record searched
  •  Repository – if you can link the original record, that’s helpful, but Ancestry or FamilySearch works too.

My preferences:

I’ve tried various systems over the years and wish I’d spent more time getting things set up in the beginning. I’ve had to redo things over the years and it’s been a headache! Better to start with a well thought system in place!

I primarily use digital storage. I have a genealogy folder with two subfolders inside, one for my father’s family and one for my mother’s. All pictures/documents are named by Last name, first name, birth date, short document description (i.e. Paston, George, 1835 – death record or Paston, George, 1835 – 1880 census).

For paper documents, I’ve settled on a notebook. I place documents alphabetically by individual name (not all under husband). I use the woman’s maiden name for all document naming. I write the last name, first name, birth date on each document along the top right side margin.

I do have some precious documents in an old briefcase that is quickly assessable in case of a fire so I could grab it quickly if I had time. Those documents have all been digitally copied and a paper copy is also in the binder.

Please contact me if you have any questions!