Posted by Jennifer Holik on September 14, 2017 in Guest Bloggers

Talking to myself…..Wait, I had an Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) about a WWII man who was killed in Bari, Italy, when the Germans bombed the harbor. Who was that file about? Where did I stick that file in my computer? Why isn’t it listed in my Excel spreadsheet? Why can’t I find this file?!

Have you ever experienced this during the course of your research on a family or military project? I was preparing to write my article for this month, had a topic picked out, and began a search for the IDPF to use with the article. Guess what? I couldn’t find it.

Now, if we only look at my WWII IDPFs, I have more than what the average family historian has because I have been researching these files for several years for the programs I teach and books I write. I also receive them through client projects. I have several hundred of these files and at one point started an Excel sheet to track each one because each contains something different. Tracking wasn’t consistent though and now I can’t find the file or remember whose file it was.

Whether you are researching one person, all the members of your community who served in the war, or a unit, ask yourself, “How am I organizing these materials so I can find them again easily?” Here are 5 Tips to help you get organized.

Tip 1: Organize Your Digital Files

My personal digital military files are organized by military branch then by unit. I have separate file folders for each. Within each unit folder I have additional folders for records. These are may be broken out by the following. This list does not contain every way I organize files but will give you an idea with which to start organizing yours.

  • Where I obtained the files—National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), National Archives at College Park, Library, etc.)
  • Type of record—Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF), IDPF, Morning Report, General Orders, Unit Journals, After Action Reports, etc.
  • Photos
  • Newspapers
  • Notes

There are also file folders for new files that I have not had time to sort into the appropriate folder.

My client folders, which are similar to an individual researcher’s files are usually broken out differently.

  • Client Documents and Notes (these are things received from the client)
  • NPRC records (then often with folders for specific records)
  • Unit Records (then often with folders for specific records)
  • IDPF
  • OMPF
  • Newspapers
  • Research Reports

Other folders are added as required for the specific client.

Breaking things out this way helps keep me organized digitally. Important!! Have a back-up plan for your digital materials.

Tip 2: Organize Your Paper Files

Paper files can be organized in a similar fashion using paper folders or binders. I scan every file that comes across my desk. This allows me to have access all the time to my files on my computer or the cloud. I back up my files regularly.

If you choose not to scan and only use the paper copies, consider a digital tracking system so you know where the information is stored offline.

Tip 3: Track the Information and Files

Excel is one way to track your files. Some people prefer to create Word documents or use Evernote or OneNote to track and organize research and materials. Create a system that works best for you.

To track the IDPFs I have, I started an Excel spreadsheet, which as I mentioned I haven’t kept up. In this spreadsheet, I track many details, which may include the following:

  • Name
  • Service number
  • Unit
  • Enlistment date and place
  • Death date and place
  • Cause of death
  • Notes as to what the file contains
  • Discrepancies found

Your research may be on one individual rather than many. The same concept can be used. Perhaps instead of all those fields, yours are the major records you examine. A good example of this is for Company Morning Reports. When you receive many of these, creating a table is a good way to track the information and view the service history of your soldier. Your spreadsheet may contain:

  • Date
  • Unit
  • Station (location)
  • Information on the soldier or airman
  • Record of Events
  • Your thoughts, comments, notes on discrepancies against other records, etc.

Tip 4: Write the Story

Writing the story is, I feel, the most important part of the research and documentation process. Through writing we discover the holes, inconsistencies, questions, and healing that comes from the story. Stories can also be shared with family members or other researchers. Reading about someone’s life or military service is more interesting and more likely to be read by those who do not conduct research, than handing them a bunch of records. Stories grab our hearts and minds.

Tip 5: Share Your Research and Stories

There are many ways we can share our research and stories.

  • Add this information to your Ancestry family tree.
  • Create a memorial page on Fold3.
  • Share with others on message boards.
  • Share with your family members.
  • Share with WWII researchers and foundations that preserve the memories of our soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines.
  • Share your information and work with your community on military archives, services, or commemorations.

There are many ways to organize materials and share the information. What is discussed here is the tip of the iceberg. For myself, I’ll be slowly working through all my IDPFs and updating my Excel file with details. Then the next time I seek a file for an article, I know where it is.

What other organizational tips do you have? What system works best for you? Please share with our readers. One system and process does not work for everyone.

Jennifer Holik

Jennifer Holik is an international WWII researcher, speaker, and author of the only authoritative books on the market, “Stories from the World War II Battlefield,” which teach individuals how to research WWII service across any branch. She can be found at her website The World War II Research and Writing Center or on Facebook.

9 Comments

  1. Dewey Ray Wilkins

    That’s really interesting but my problem is I don’t know who my dad’s family was I know my dad’s name from his grandmother but they never told me anything else show me a picture so I don’t know anything about my father or my dad’s dad Grandpa and grandmother or anything on the welcome side so I wouldn’t know how to research something from the war if you don’t know anybody’s name because my father didn’t serve in the war

  2. Tom Boyer

    What suggestions for finding military records burned at the personnel record center? I have WWI grandfather I would like to know about his service. I have his application for a VA headstone. Would the VA have military record info?

    • Hi Tom. There are other records we can get if you’ve been told they all burned. If you are interested in a research project, feel free to check out my website and email me or visit the website listed in my profile. We find a lot of information every day for people who were told “all the records burned.”
      Jennifer Holik

  3. Joan Falk

    I can’t find my ancestry account when I use my email it shows over the years I have opened five accounts, but the one I actually use is not there. Please help

    • Member Services Social Support Team

      @Joan Hi there, we’d be happy to help you with this. Feel free to give us a call on 1-800-262-3787 and we can assist you in locating the correct account.

  4. Angela Bryant Bell

    For years, family members and I have been looking for ancestors maiden name, brick wall, we tried everything that was suggestive to us. Ancestor has three last names according to Ancestry. Com. I was told to pick one family. This was upsetting to our family. We posted did everything, still brick wall, so we decided that we are going to cancel our subscription. We took DNA test, no one has information.

  5. Royal Magnus

    Lovely comments , but confused with threats of law suits for any unpaid viewing. I’M HONEST GUY…just opened one picture and world of pics. and text ffel

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