Tips from the Pros: An Inexpensive Genealogist’s Desk, from George G. Morgan

Many genealogists have difficulty carving out a space in their homes or apartments to work on their research. The kitchen or dining room table is often used as a temporary work area, but this means constantly having to relocate your research–that or eating out a lot. A quick and inexpensive solution is to purchase a pair of two-drawer file cabinets at a thrift shop or garage sale, followed by a five- or six-foot length of oak or pine shelving at least 30″ deep. Use the file cabinets to support the shelving and you have a workspace spanning across the cabinets. You can paint or finish your desk to your liking, add a good lamp, a wire in/out tray, and a pencil cup, and position it in a quiet, out-of-the way area. Make the desk more permanent by drilling holes and bolting the wooden surface to the top of the cabinets. The file cabinets provide immediate storage space for your paperwork and forms, and the desk gives you space to spread out and work without having to frequently pack everything up and move it.

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14 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: An Inexpensive Genealogist’s Desk, from George G. Morgan

  1. As an alternate to pine or oak shelving, a 30″ or 32″x 1 3/8″

    interior door with a hardboard or wood veneer face makes for a

    much smoother finish. The hardboard door can be painted with an

    interior enamel paint, and the wood door can be finished with a

    poly finish.

  2. A very good idea.

    I wish that experts could tell me what the best sequence to adopt in filing information. By name, by Ancestral sequence, date, family, or what and how does one handle updates?

    One type of record is a census with many names on it. How would that fit in, etc., etc.

  3. Excellent idea. As a suggestion instead of using nails or screws to secure board to cabinets you can use wide strips of velcro and the edges. Then if you need to move your new desk it will move a lot easier. I did this with a couple of plastic file cabinets where I used the velcro to hold the cabinets to each other and placed a board on top to make a table.

  4. George you must have looked at my “office” I have 3 cupboards with 2 planks. I have 31/2 meters down one side wall and 2 meters down the other wall at right angles to the first one. And it is still covered with papers.

  5. Great idea
    I have used two old two drawer file cabinets for years with a piece of preformed counter top. Give enough room for the computer, printer and the space to spread things out and lots of drawer space for storage.

  6. works.. Lowes had a very nice three quarter oak plywood that made an excellent top. I enclosed the edges with a moulding also from Lowes. Looks great.

  7. Where is the computer in this arrangement? My husband made a 7 foot desk out of discarded mahogany lab benches, with three seven foot shelves above and three drawers underneath. With computer on the right and printer on the left, I have about three feet for study. My “notes” are in binders, but think they will soon take over the world.

  8. I have used two file cabinets and a door for about 30 years. Just turned it over to the second side as the first was looking worn.

    No need to fasten the door to the files. Once notebooks, computer screen, etc are on the door, it is very hard to move. But it still can be moved as necessary to access cables which drop between the wall and the door/desk top, to recarpet or paint walls, etc.

  9. Good idea to have wire baskets for desk top filing, but I have three,not two.

    They are ‘in’, ‘out’ and ‘shake it all about’ for the
    current problems and brickwalls. The system works,too!

  10. Another variation of the good idea is to get a simple, flat top made up of chipcore and covered with formica. Or, salvage a counter top discarded by someone upgrading to the new “in” materials including granite. Although old, formica is smooth, easy to clean, and very serviceable.

  11. An idea for Garth Banks.

    I use a blank Census form to transcribe all my census records on. I then print the census image on the back of that form. I keep them in a three-ring notebook.

    I made a database named “Census Finds Master” which I list all the names I have in my census records. The columns are Last name, First name, Middle name, Year (census year), Sex, Age, State, County, TWP, View# and Madden Name. The View# is the view Number from the ancestry search. You could use any column name that will serve your purpose!

    I can then sort them in any way I want them displayed. I sort them Last name, First name and Year to see if I’m missing any years of a particular name!

  12. That’s all I’ve used for about twenty years. When I was still in my home, I converted my garage into a home office. I had the door on two-drawer file cabinets; a comfortable chair on wheels in front of it; and behind me, another door on two-drawer file cabinets. It was great! Oh, the lost joys of home!

    In my condo, I have a large bedroom and in one corner, I have a door on top of two, two-drawer file cabinets and two other cabinets full of family folders scattered in convenient places!


  13. This has been my solution for those of us with little space. I have 3 – 3″ Binders. One for Maternal Family, Paternal Family, and what I call Patriarchs & Matriarchs(Husband’s (2) families. I made jackets and put the names alphabetically, then made separate jackets for census records for each family. I used different color card stock and added pictures I thought were fitting for each family. I write in pencil on the census records the name of the family. All documents that I have collected I put in archive safe clear “plastic” sleeves that can be put in the binders. Holes already punched in these sleeves. (Jackets are in these sleeves, makes it easier to turn pages). I do have a shelf in my coat closet for my binders, one time they stayed put for a whole week. I also have old photo’s, bibles, funeral books etc in one tote and regular family photo’s in a separate tote, which can be stacked. My Monitor sits on my tea cart, which has a drawer, my printer sits on the bottom shelf of my teacart. The CPU sits beside this on the floor. Lots of Archive safe things can be found in the photography section of stores. I have one unused dresser drawer that I put notes and e-mails with info in.

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