Elsewhere on the site, we’ve discussed some good things to think about, as you get ready to organize your family tree research. Once you’re ready to start, these tips will help you get going.
First, understand that there is no great magic wand you can wave to make years of papers go away. Fortunately, you don’t have to organize it all in one day, either. If you feel overwhelmed because you have so many documents to sort through, start with a small stack at a time or have a buddy help you go through them.
Organize your files in a manner that works best for the way YOU think about your research. Combine binders and folders to create something that works with how you want to find your information.
Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, wrote, “Begin with the end in mind.” Plan for what you’re trying to accomplish, the space you have to work with, and don’t waste money buying filing accessories you may not use.
If you use sheet protectors, make sure you have good quality archival type on hand for the most important documents. Regular pages you’ve copied or printed don’t always need to be in the best type but for those important documents that you want to last, the extra money spent is well worth it.
Write on the back of photos! You may remember where and when that vacation photo was taken and I bet your grandmother did, too, so she didn’t write on the back of hers. For best results, use photo safe ink pens and have your favorite photos printed on good quality paper at the store. This is another activity that’s great to have a buddy (friend or family member) help out with.
Speaking of photos, while we all love our digital images, will our “jpg’s” of 2016 even be viewable on whatever devices your descendants will be using? During my own time doing genealogy research, digital media have evolved from 8-inch floppies to 3.5-inch high-density disks to CDs to DVDs to USB flash drives to “the cloud.” Think about the future of your research as well as your use of it today.
Speaking of technology, try to make it work for you with your electronic versions. You can use the search capabilities on your computer to find “lost” documents and emails, but it helps if you start with a naming system that you can easily remember. Make backups of your research and your documents so that none of your hard work will get lost. You don’t have to do this frequently but don’t forget to update it every once in a while, either.