Thursday, January 31, 2013

Keeping Your Genealogy Documents Organized

There are lots of programs out there to help you keep your genealogical data in order. To keep my tree in order I maintain a family tree on Even if my membership to lapses from time to time they continue to maintain my tree as one of their sources; that way other researchers can see if they can connect to my research.

That is the tree though. How do you organize your documentation. If you are creating a tree full of data (names, dates of birth, dates of death, dates of marriages, various locations, etc.) you should be supporting that data with documentation; papers or electronic records. If you are not building a collection of such sources you are doing yourself and the genealogical community a great disservice. You must collect resources!

When you do collect sources, how do you maintain them?

I used to have this great system. Every document I obtained I made a copy of it for each family member named within it. I would then file it away in a folder for each individual. For example, I made 3 copies of my own birth certificate; I filed one in a folder for me, one for my father, and one for my mother. The system worked wonderfully. If you asked me about my dad, I would just bust out his folder and every document I had that mentioned him was right there. Great! Fabulous! 

The downfall of this system was the fact that it was so cumbersome. It would grow exponentially every year. It is one thing to have 3 copies of a birth certificate in 3 folders but consider, if you will, a will.

I have one will in my collection that is 14 pages long and names 28 relatives. In my old system that would result in 392 pages of paper. Think about census records; they name whole households which is not too weighty if you have 3 family members in a household but what about those families that consisted of 10, 11, 12, 13 children. Watch out photocopier!

So now I have another system in place; one that has significantly streamlined my collection. I developed an MS Access database in a graduate class I took. This database has changed my research life!

The database allows me to keep 1 copy of each document and link it to as many people as necessary. Each document is given a unique identification numbers and simply filed in the order in which I acquire them. Each individual is also given a unique identification number which allows me to pull up a list of all the documents a specific individual.

If you're a genealogy researcher I would love to hear how you keep your information and documentation in order.


  1. I am in desperate need of a system like your database, April! Do you have a scanned copy & a hard copy of each document? I'm so woefully behind in scanning that I just keep putting it off - can I hire you to do it for me? :)

  2. I could use the money but sincerely, Cousin Mary, I'd be happy to share with you my database. I can give you a copy and teach you how to use it. It's easy. And it really has saved my life!!...or at least the records of my dead peoples lives.

    No, I have not digitized every document I have nor have I printed out every electronic document I own. It's a never ending process. My goal, though is to have a digitized copy and paper copy of each document I own.

    But when next we get together consider bringing your laptop and I'll give you my database design.