Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sorting Saturday -- Getting Genealogy papers organized!

I have been researching my family genealogy since the early 1990’s.  As you can imagine I have gathered a mountain of documents, photographs and other family memorabilia.  All of which requires organization of some kind.  Over the years I have had many, many filing systems, but none was ever quite sufficient for my needs and data retrieval.

Last year I converted to a color coded system for all my paper hard copy records and let me tell you………….what a HUGE difference it has made in my genealogical research!!  I can now easily find data I need when I need it and I can easily and quickly file any new data and documents I discover.  I also have a computer filing system which I will discuss in a later post.

The purpose of this step by step post is to explain how my paper system works in hopes that it could help other genealogy hobbyist to get their paper documents and data into a streamlined organization system.

Step One: Assign colors

I assigned a color to each of my four grandparents, my step-father’s family, and each of my husband’s four grandparents.

v   My Maternal Grandfather is Blue
v  My Maternal Grandmother is Red
v  My Paternal Grandfather is Green
v  My Paternal Grandmother is Yellow
v  My Step-father is Cream
v  My husband’s Maternal Grandfather is Purple
v  My husband’s Maternal Grandmother is Burgundy
v  My Husband’s Paternal Grandfather is Dark Blue
v  My husband’s Paternal Grandmother is Aqua

Step Two: Gather Supplies

v  You will need colored file folders and colored hanging file folders in each of the colors you have chosen to represent your ancestors.
v  Large plastic file storage box
v  File Folder Labels.  You can purchase labels with a colored line across the top in Red, Yellow, Blue & Green. Or simply use plain white labels.
v  One binder for each of your color coded ancestors. I prefer the binders where you can slip a paper in the cover and spine.  If you are color coding just your four grandparents, then you will only need four binders.  Because I have color coded my step-family and my In-Laws I have a total of nine binders.
v  Binder dividers with clear non-colored tabs. One 8-10 sheet set for each of your binders.
v  Colored circle labels.  Both large and small. You can purchase packages of primary colors (Red, Blue, Yellow & Green), our purchase just plain white circle labels and color in yourself. I did this with the other colors I chose to represent my step-family and in-laws.
v  Sharpie pens in all the colors you have chosen to represent your ancestors.
v  Pencil and blue/black pen
v  Stapler
v  Genealogy forms: Individual Record Sheet, Pedigree Charts, Family Group Record Sheets
v  Colored construction/card stock paper (optional)
v  Index cards (size of your choice)
v  Index card storage box
v  Alphabetical dividers for the index card storage box

Step Three: Assemble File Folder Box 

  NOTE: For simplicity in explaining this step I will assume you have chosen one color for each of your four grandparents (Your Primary Ancestors). Blue, Red, Yellow, Green

v  Start by putting the hanging folders into your box keeping like colors together
v  Starting with the colored file folders you have chosen to represent your Maternal Grandfather; place a label onto each file folder.
v  Write the name of your Maternal Grandfather on one folder and place into your box.  Write the name in a Last, First Middle format.
v  Continue writing the names of each ancestor connected to you through your Maternal Grandfather on each of the folders in the color representing you Maternal Grandfather.
v  Continue the above steps for each of your other three grandparents until you have a folder for each known ancestor.

Step Four: Fill your folders

v  Starting with your Maternal Grandfather’s file; staple an Individual Record Sheet to the inside left cover of the folder
v  Fill out the Individual Record Sheet with detailed information about your Maternal Grandfather.
v  Using your colored circle labels; place a colored sticker on ALL documents you have pertaining to your Maternal Grandfather (birth record, census records, marriage records ect).  I place the sticker in the lower right corner of all documents. If you don’t want the sticker on the front of the document, place it on the back. 
v  Place all the documents into the folder with your Maternal Grandfather’s name
v  You will continue this process for each ancestor who you have created a file folder for being sure to place an appropriate colored circle on each document before placing it into a file folder.

Step Five: Assemble your Ancestor Binders

v  Using your colored card Stock/construction paper, make a cover and spin label for each of your four binders using the colors you have chosen for each of your four grandparents.  You can also create a cover using a word processing program on your computer. 
v  Place one set of binder dividers into each binder
v  Label each divider with a surname connected to you through your Primary Ancestor.  For example the surnames connected to me through my Maternal Grandfather are Bestor, Cyrier, Savoie, Hubbard, Chartier, and Force.  I place the labels in my binder in order by generation. Therefore the Surname at the beginning is my Grandfather’s, then his parents, then their parents and so on.
v  In each Surname labeled section place your Family Group Record sheets.  I make two copies of each family record so I have one filed under the husbands Surname and one filed under the wife’s surname. I highlight with a yellow highlighter which person it is filed under (Husband or Wife). Within each section I file alphabetically by first name, then middle.
v  In each Surname section I have a running Document Log for each ancestor in that surname.  This allows me to quickly see what documents I have for an individual and what ones I still need to do research on.
v  Within each Surname section I have a subsection labeled “Maps” This is where I place all maps pertaining to the locations of residence for that surname.
o   I write on each map the first and last names of the ancestor it belongs to

Step Six: Assemble your Index Cards 

Note: I keep my index card file box next to my computer for easy access when I’m researching online.

v  On the top line of each index card write the full name of your ancestors (one card per ancestor) in a LAST, First, Middle format
v  On the index card, write that ancestors’ vital information: Birth date and Location; Death Date and Location; Marriage date and Location. Parents names, Spouses name, children’s names, siblings names; Burial information; Occupation ect. Use both sides of the index card.
v  In the upper right corner of each card place a color coded sticker indicating which Primary Ancestor connects you to the ancestor named on the card.  For my four grandparents I was lucky enough to find index cards with a colored strip on the top that matched the colors I had chosen for each of them. 
v  File alphabetically in your index card storage box by Surname-----First name----- Middle Name

As I stated above, I started using this system about a year ago after years of using various other filing systems… document type, by surname ect, and truly LOVE my color code system.  I am able to quickly find information and I know immediately how each ancestor is connected to me with a simple glance.  I will never file my paper genealogy documents any other way!!


  1. Great organization post! I also use colour for my binders, file folders, and paperwork because I'm a visual learner and I can see at-a-glance which branch of my family I'm handling at the moment.

  2. I am interested in how you use the index cards. How do they help you research your family?

  3. Just wanted to say thank you! You have helped me keep the flow of my research going. I was starting to feel overwhelmed and I was searching for a way to organize it that wasn't overwhelming and I wouldn't loose my place. The index card plus color code system is perfect! Genius!