I ask this question at every genealogy seminar I present and, without exception, only one or perhaps two people respond that they have filed all the genealogical evidence they have acquired. Itâ€™s easy to locate information, enter it into our genealogy databases, and simply set the materials aside to file later. In my case, I maintain two file folders in a file cabinet. One is labeled â€œGenealogy Data to Be Reviewed and Enteredâ€ and that contains the materials to be scrutinized and, if appropriate, added into the database, complete with source citations, of course. The other folder is labeled â€œGenealogy Materials to Be Filed.â€ These are the materials already entered into the database. Needless to say, if these files are out of sight, they are easily forgotten.
It is essential to get caught up on your filing and to maintain a regular schedule for doing this task. Otherwise, when you want to locate a source document it can become a frustrating game of â€œhide and seek.â€
Develop an Organizational Scheme
Iâ€™ve developed a routine for filing that works for me, and perhaps it will help you as well. I maintain binders for each surname that I am researching. Filed inside are the documentary evidenceâ€“documents and photographsâ€“for each individual alphabetically in forename and middle name sequence. Then, within each personâ€™s group, I file the documents in chronological sequence. I then have an almost biographical version of the documentation of his or her life. Every item is filed in a polypropylene sheet protector. Newspaper items have been photocopied onto acid-free paper to avoid contamination by their acidic content of other materials. At the front of each binder, I file copies of family group sheets for the people of that surname who are filed in the binder.
Your organizational scheme may be different. I know people who file materials in folders in a filing cabinet, either by surname or by geographical location or both. Whatever style that works for you is fine, but make sure you are using acid-free, archival safe storage folders, pages, and containers.
Schedule Time to File
Itâ€™s often difficult to fit filing into a busy schedule, but there are usually some time periods when you are doing something else and can multi-task by filing at the same time. For me, I find that getting ready to file can be what I call â€œidiot work.â€ What I do is take my folder of filing into the living room once a week, along with a box of sheet protectors, a pad of sticky note sheets, and a pencil. I clear off the coffee table, settle down on the floor, and simply start inserting documents and photos into the sheet protectors as I am watching television.
Once Iâ€™ve completed the sheathing process, I take the stack and start sorting by surname. After Iâ€™ve sorted this way, I take each surname stack and arrange the materials in forename sequence, just as they will be filed in my binders. When I finish the stack, I write the surname on a sticky note and slap it on the top of that surname pile and set it aside. I continue the same process until I finish each stack. I then crisscross the stacks alphabetically by surname.
At this point, I either take the whole stack to my office or I bring out a few surname binders at a time. I interfile the new materials chronologically into the binders. As I do so, I pay attention to what I have added and the documents that both precede and follow each one I am filing. I may even take the time to review an individualâ€™s entire chronological collection of documents to see if the new material(s) may have added some vital new clues to track down. If so, I make notes for follow-up research.
You CAN Do This!
Itâ€™s entirely possible that your filing is so far behind that it seems overwhelming. Donâ€™t despair! You really do have power over all that paperwork. First, make sure youâ€™ve decided on a filing scheme. You can then begin with one stack of documents at a time. If you can address filing 25-50 sheets every day or so, you will soon have taken control of the situation and will have a great sense of organizational satisfaction. That will give you the incentive to keep going until the project is done. Once youâ€™re caught up with the backlog, you wonâ€™t want to let it get out of control again. Set a time once a week when you watch a television program, even the evening news, to do your filing. A perfect time to concentrate on filing while watching TV is when the commercials come on.
Once your filing is under control, you will quickly and efficiently be able to locate any document at a momentâ€™s notice. What a feeling!
George Has a New Book!
George has written English Genealogical Research in the Major London Repositories to help researchers who are planning a research trip to England better organize their research time onsite, and to help those researchers working from home to locate the most appropriate repositories to begin their overseas research about British Isles ancestors. The book was published in conjunction with Lulu (http://www.lulu.com). You can learn more about it at:
Visit George’s all-new website at http://ahaseminars.com for information about his company, speaking engagements, and presentation topics. You can also listen to George and Drew Smith’s Genealogy Guys podcast at: http://genealogyguys.com/