Saturday, October 9, 2010

Organizing Genealogy Records

I was recently asked “How do you keep up with all the information you find?” A good, simple genealogy system can make the difference between an excellent researcher and a frazzled, disorganized, pile of unconnected papers. When I first started, I noticed I spent a lot of time searching for records that I already had- that was not only aggravating but it was a huge waste of time.

I went to my local library and checked out some books on organizing your family history records. I also searched online for a simple way to store my notes. I was tired of filing papers in a file so specific that I couldn’t remember the name of the folder where I put it. I needed a way to be able to travel with my files, taking all of them or only a few needed in that location. I didn’t want to have to carry bulky binders or punch holes in all my research. Most importantly, I wanted a system that was cheap to put together and that I could use forever.

Fifteen years later, I use a common system that I think many genealogists are familiar with. I am not claiming that I created this system. It’s just a combination of several ideas I read about that I thought would work best for me. I bought colored file folders and chose one color to represent each of my grandparents’ lines. For example my maternal grandmother’s (my Buffington line) ancestors all have blue folders, her husband’s folders (my Chandler line) are all red. My paternal grandmother (Thompson) has green folders and her husband’s (Ellenburg) folders are all orange. I included my husband’s lines (I combined Wingate & Davis) in yellow folders because I had an extra color in the pack. There is no reason I chose those particular colors to represent each line.

I used file folder labels and wrote each married couple’s name in Sharpie marker and listed both of their ahnentafel number from my pedigree charts. For example my maternal grandfather’s parents’ label (on a red folder) said “WV Chandler & TC Jones, 12/13.” Now because I am a complete dork about my office supplies staying pretty, I laminated the entire set of file folders for durability. It cost a little bit but after extensive use for over 10 years they still look brand new. After laminating I wrote the most basic facts about that married couple and their children. I only wrote down items that I could prove to be true. For example, my “WV Chandler & TC Jones, 12/13” folder front said:

12. Dr. William Vance “Will” CHANDLER- born 13 July 1867 in Greenville Co., SC; Died- 10 August 1952 in Baldwin, Habersham Co., GA; married 7 February 1897 in Hall Co., GA

13. Tallulah Christine “Tina” JONES- born 16 October 1878 in Hall Co., GA; died 21 January 1940 in Baldwin, Habersham Co., GA

i. Mary Christine CHANDLER- born 29 September 1909 in Baldwin, Habersham Co., GA; died 6 September 1911 in Baldwin, Habersham Co., GA

ii. 6. William Pinckney “Billy” CHANDLER- born 29 April 1914 in Baldwin, Habersham Co., GA; died 1 July 1996 in Baldwin, Habersham Co., GA; Married 12 January 1941 in South Carolina
m. 7. Lottie Inez BUFFINGTON- born 12 September 1920 in Gillsville, Hall Co., GA; died 21 April 2007

iii. Julia Nelle CHANDLER- born 29 October 1917 in Baldwin, Habersham Co., GA; died 3 April 1978 in Baldwin, Habersham Co., GA; married ______
m. Leonard Jason Crane

I put all the records I have about Dr. & Mrs. WV Chandler and their children in this folder, with the exception of records pertaining to their son and his wife. Their son Billy and his bride Inez are my maternal grandparents and so they have their own folder (as ahnentafel numbers 6/7) with their own children. I put birth, death and marriage certificates in these folders, as well as important emails from fellow researchers (making sure I list their first and last name, email address and mailing address, and the date of correspondence). I often make several copies of important census records to put a copy in both the parent’s and child’s family folder.

This is a brief summary of my system. This is by no means the only way to organize your files- it’s just the way that works best for me. Try and find one that works best for your needs. Please let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be glad to help you.

A good source for beginners is The Genealogy Sourcebook by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. You can find more information about it here on Google Books:

A free online explanation can be found on at: