Monday, March 15, 2010

Start off organized!

If I could give just one piece of advice to someone just starting out is get organized early on. I was not organized, and now it is taking me a lot of time and effort to get things that way.

I was originally using only to keep my family tree. (Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love this site. And I wouldn’t have half the information I have if it wasn’t for them.) But now that I want to share my family tree with others and want to print off various reports I have outgrown ancestry as my only source of record keeping. So I find myself finally buying a family tree program (Roots magic), and converting everything into the new system. A big pain let me tell you. It would have been a lot easier to have started out with this program.

As you gather more and more information, you will quickly realize that you will be accumulating a lot of pieces of paper. Even if you tend to do things on the computer, you will still have things you have printed out, or records given to you by family members.

There are lots of possible solutions. Everyone will have their own way to keep track of items but below is just one possible way, and one that I might try.

Start with 4 coloured files. For example: 1 blue, orange, green and red

Each colour will represent 1 of the four family lines starting with your grandparents. Label each of these folders with the surname.

So for me it could be..

Cahill - Red

Shanks - Green

Rowe - Orange

Neil –Blue

This first file will contain all information from your grandparents down to you.

The second file for each colour would be all of your grandparents’ parents’ information, including their siblings. You would label it with whatever reference # system you are using.

The third would be your great grandparents’ information, including their siblings.

And so on.

As you can see, these files could become quite full the further back you go. In this case you would simply subdivide them and label appropriately. But no matter how far back you go, you will be able to tell simply by colour what side of the family you are looking at. This would be particularily useful for me since I have a common surname "DEAN" in 2 different lines of my family tree.

It is recommended that within each of these folders to include a large envelope so you can place any small documents or pictures in them. This will help protect them to some degree, and also help them from getting lost.

It is suggested that these files be used for “inactive” work. So those documents that you are not currently working on. The work you are still working on may be put into binders for easier access. These too need to be organized too, but we’ll discuss ideas for that shortly.

I may try this system, but I am also interested in hearing what works or doesn’t work for other people!


  1. I noticed the surname Cahill in your post. That's my maiden name. My Cahill family is from Co. Kilkenny, Ireland, and those that I know of, relocated in Kane Co., Illinois (some then later moved to Chicago). What about you? Maybe we're related!

  2. HI Julie...I'm sending you an e-mail! :)

  3. I LOVE the color-coded filing system, mine is personalized by my parents and my husband's parents, one color for each line, rather than for each generation. Works for me!