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Ready, Set, G.O. (Get Organized)


Organization is truly a key to success, especially in family history work. It can help you avoid getting lost in mounds of paperwork, doing the same research over and over again, or missing something that’s hiding right under your nose.

Even if you already have a beautifully organized family history, you still need a place to keep the worksheets, notes, and stories that you have collected over the years. With the advent of the internet, your organization problems have most likely compounded. There is so much more to collect.

It’s More Fun Than You Think

Getting organized may sound like work, but there is something exhilarating about putting things in their place. Here is an email we received following a workshop on organization.

Just thought I would let you know how I am doing on my “homework.” I have my organization kit put together.

Most of the things I already had on hand. I have been de-junking my file cabinets … so that has taken time. I am now in the process of collecting all the genealogy papers floating around the house and putting them in the file and will work on the next step soon. I can’t sleep at night just thinking about getting it all organized. I love organization; it fulfills me!    Linda F.

Wouldn’t you like to experience the great feelings that come from being organized? It’s excellent motivation for moving ahead with your family history work. When you’re ready to begin, follow the steps below to gather and file your family records.

Gather What You Have and Get Ready to Sort

The first step is to round up all of the family records and papers in your possession and put them in a box or folder. Don’t worry at this point about finding additional records. Just bring together what you already have or can quickly gather from others. Even if you can’t locate everything immediately, you now have a central repository and will know where to put those certificates when you do find them.

Use Heritage Collector to help you round up your digital files. Place them in a Sort Folder until you have your Family Folders and Places Folders set up and ready to create collections for your digital documents.

Use the Right Container for the Paper Files You Plan to Archive

The best system you can have is one that’s expandable and also portable. The size of container depends on how much material you have. You can start out with a small one and graduate to a bigger one later, or move on to multiple containers. If you don’t already have one, get a box or plastic container with ridges along the top edges that are designed to hold hanging files. One 14” by 16 ½” is a good beginning size. (Office supply stores are the best place to look.)

With a portable system like this, you can work on family history wherever you want—the living room, bedroom, or even your grandmother’s house. You may also want to get a small file box with a handle and load it with just the folders you need for trips to the library or Family History Center. For digital researchers, carry your digital docs on your computer with you.

Collect Supplies

Collect some basic supplies, for your paper files, and keep them on hand so you don’t have to stop and look for something in the middle of a project.

  • Manila folders and labels
  • Hanging file folders and tab inserts
  • Sheet protectors
  • Acid-free paper
  • Stapler

Create a Roadmap

The next thing you need is a roadmap that follows your family lines. Fill out a family tree or pedigree chart with at least three generations (yourself, parents, and grandparents), including as many details as you have for each couple. With this simple roadmap, you can start building your filing system.

You may already have a software program to use for creating a simple three-generation document to include with your families.

Set Up the Family File

Once you have the container and roadmap, you will also need hanging file folders, manila folders, tabs, and labels. Plan to file alphabetically; it’s a tried-and-true method. Start your family file by attaching A-Z file tabs to the hanging folders.

Set up your Heritage Collector with A-Z folders. Or if you have a large number of families with the same surname, use the family surname for the folder and put your collections inside.

Next, label manila files/collections for each of the couples on your roadmap. List the husband’s name and birth year at the top of the label and his wife’s at the bottom; for example:FamilyFolder


In Heritage Collector, place this same information into the “Description” area for each family collection you create. We will go over this in detail during the presentation, so refer back to the video if you need to.

The dates help identify who’s who, especially if there is more than one person in your family with the same name. As you complete each family collection, place it in the appropriate A-Z folder.

Go through all of the papers you have gathered and file them in the correct family collection. Creat new ones as necessary.

For your documents on paper that need to be scanned and imported into your collections, consider viewing our Easier Scanning for Great Results class, where we go into great detail on this very important activity.

File Paper in a Uniform Size

As you sort through your papers, make sure each item can be filed in a uniform size. Staple or photocopy small notes and papers to 8½” x 11” sheets of archival quality paper. This keeps small items from getting lost.

The older legal-sized (8 ½” x 14”) genealogy charts or records may be folded along one side so that they fit in a standard-sized folder. Old LDS family group records will fit perfectly if you fold along the line on the right side where Temple Ordinance Data starts.

If there are papers that you don’t want to fold but do want to file, make copies to fold, or reduce the size as you photocopy it to fit on the standard size you have chosen to use. Keep the originals somewhere else.

Where to File Children

File everything about children with their parents until they marry; then make collections for their newly created families.

Very Important Documents

Legal papers such as birth certificates and marriage licenses should be copied. Keep the originals in a safety deposit box or some other secure storage device. After copying, file in the appropriate family file folders.

Add a Places File

You will love having access to all the details on places for your families. If using paper, create another A-Z file for places. It’s good to keep this file separate because locations cross over between families. As your family history collection grows, you will acquire maps, pictures, brochures, histories, and other information about the areas you are researching. File these by location so they are easy to access for different projects. With Heritage Collector, it is extremely easy to make duplicate copies of items you also want to store directly in your family file.

Set up the Places file by attaching geographical tabs to hanging folders. Start with the countries and states where your family has lived. Hang these folders in alphabetical order.

In Heritage Collector, you simply create digital folders and the alphabetizing is done automatically for you! Create folders for country names and collections for placement of maps for that country. Then place additional folders as needed for states and smaller jurisdictions. We recommending following the same location hierarchy used in the FamilySearch Catalog. It really makes sense and will help you learn how to use jurisdictions correctly when you are actually doing family history research.

For paper copies you may have, put maps and other information in manila file folders. Label the folders by area beginning with the largest locality first; for example:


File your manila folders in the appropriate country or state hanging folders.

Again, using Heritage Collector for your Places automatically alphabetizes all of your folders and collections.

Have fun getting organized!