I just took a webinar about organizing your genealogy research, something that I know is challenging for everyone doing genealogy. I think it is even more challenging in the digital world because I’m never sure whether I should be saving paper AND digital copies OR one OR the other. The webinar did not answer that question but it did have a few good points that I thought I would share.
The first point that I liked was to pick one type of material to organize and focus on it. In other words organize your paper or your books or your digital records or your photographs. Don’t start and try to do them ALL at the same time. You’ll never get anything done.
Once you have identified your area of focus do an inventory. What materials do you have? Put together a list or a spreadsheet. When you know the extent of what you have it becomes easier to “see” an organizing system that makes sense to you.
The next step is then to decide how to organize. I like to organize by surnames. Some options might include color coding by family name, develop a numbering system, or organizing families on a timeline by starting with the oldest family member you can find (ancestors of John Q. Smith), etc.
The speaker talked about a numbering system and even though I have never done that, I liked the concept. Her point was that if you develop an index of the numbering system, it becomes very easy to find the person you want whereas if you try to simply use last names, it can become hard to find the person you want because so many individuals carried family names down through generations.
The speaker also did address the paper/digital issue a bit. She suggested that however you organize one should be the same process you use for the other. That way you aren’t trying to keep two different methods of organization in your head.
Finally, she emphasized the need to store original materials away from outside walls (the fluctuation in temperature is much less on inside walls in your house); keep newspaper stored away from other types of paper because the acid in newspaper can leach into other types of paper; and finally, schedule one day on a regular basis to maintain your genealogy materials.
I hope these are helpful tips – happy research!