24    Feb 20080 comments

Organize your research

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While some people may think finding records is the hardest task of a genealogist, my problem is organizing and keeping the projects organized. I am a procrastinator, which translates into piles of papers instead of nice neat labeled file folders.

Here are some tips that I try to follow.

1. Understand how you want to organize your project. There are various methods, and folders can be filed by surname, geographical location, time, generation or branch. Personally, I prefer hanging folders, as these are easier to flip through than manila folders crammed into a drawer or box.

When I used boxes for hanging folders, I used a specific color label for each family and added another to designate the branch. Thus, all TALALAY had a blue label, plus a branch color (yellow, orange, green). All DARDASHTI had an orange label, plus a branch color label. It is easy to see if any files are out of place and to return them to the correct location.

Color coding works with manila folders, hanging files, cardboard boxes, clear plastic containers ... in fact, any storage system. This might not work if the researcher is color-blind!

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When I had more room and could utilize clear plastic stacking containers, I would also label these (on the cover and on the sides). I could look at a stack of the containers and find exactly the one I wanted, by color or name. And, again, if a box went in the wrong stack, the label color made it obvious. I color-coded the tops as well. Why? Think about it - are you sorting many papers, have you spread the boxes out on the floor where only the tops are visible? This makes it easy to see into which box each item paper needs to go.

There are so many materials these days to choose from. If you have space, traditional file cabinets are always useful, but you can use different sizes of stackable clear containers. Label them clearly with one of those label-maker gadgets and you'll always know what's in each one. Some even fit under a bed. Get the boxes in easy-to-handle sizes, so when you must move them, you won't hurt your back! Depending on size, they'll stack under a computer table, in a closet corner, or you can even hang shelves and keep them there. The most important thing is labeling on top and on the sides, so you'll be able to find what you need at a single glance. Color code your labels so you'll know immediately when something is out of place.

For example, I have many TALALAY branches. Taking a cue from many medical offices - which use color-coded filing systems - I may use blue for TALALAY and then a different color for each branch (green, yellow, pink, etc). For the DARDASHTI family, the main color might be orange, and the different branches tagged in other colors. If I see a big patch of blue in a pile of orange, then I know someone (could be me!) has put a TALALAY folder in the wrong place! It's a handy system.

Sorting sessions can be difficult, and the best way is to just do one pile at a time, going through and putting each item in the proper file. Save yourself a lot of repeat work by just placing each in its proper container. I used to sort the piles and then put them in the right place, but that's handling things too much. Once the paper is in its "home" you will be done with it. You will likely have to make additional folders, so make sure you have enough of them, labels (for writing) and rolls of label material for your handy-dandy label maker. You know you've accomplished something when you can see your floor under one pile of papers!

I do have a box in which I throw things I can't file immediately, but I try not to let it get out of hand. When that is full, I have to sit down and file them, otherwise I'll be back to carpeting the floor with paper piles again!

The main problem is keeping up with whatever system you have selected. Don't let it get out of hand again.

As a journalist, I am used to keeping notebooks, and I have several types for different purposes. If I am at a conference and want to take notes on different programs, I'll fill three or four books for that event. If I'm interviewing one member of the family, I'll keep it separate and not include information on another family member.

An important tip is never to write notes on small pieces of paper (unless there's no choice, like the notes I've written on restaurant napkins!) or to write notes about different things on one sheet of paper. The small pieces get lost, so when you get home, tape them to a standard sheet of paper and file in the right place. If you must make notes about different subjects on one sheet of paper, then make as many copies of the paper as there are subjects and place one copy in each relevant file. Today's fax machines are also great at copying and scanning and help make work go quickly.

Also make sure you have archival materials for photographs or historic printed materials.

There are many resources, online and in books, to help with choosing the right system for your project, what sorts of folders, containers, labels, etc. However, once you've purchased the necessary supplies, you must use them. They won't do any good if you leave them empty, surrounded by piles of paper on the floor.

Here is an article with more tips:

Organizing Filing Systems

I look forward to reading your comments.

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