Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Organizing The Paper Mountain (Part 1)

As genealogists, we collect a lot of data and with all of that data comes lots of paper.  At first the paper flow is manageable, but the paper monster quickly takes control.  So how do you tame the paper monster and get back in control?

Over the next week or so, I will be doing a series of posts that will help you gain control of the paper.  If you follow my advice then at the end of this series, you will have gained control of the paper monster.  Each post will have an easy to follow step-by-step approach to solving the paper chaos.  

Step One
The first step to solving any problem is to admit that you have a problem.  The excuse that you have "organized chaos" is not going to work here.  Don't feel bad either - this is an incredibly common problem that  every genealogist eventually faces.

Step Two
Before you can begin the process of organization, you have to establish a plan.  So to help you define what your plan is, here are some questions to consider:

  • How do you think of your ancestors?  Do you think about them in terms of surname, couples, or record types?  Your answer to this question will determine how you will divide your paperwork.
  • Do you like file folders and a filing cabinet or do you prefer binders and dividers?  Each method has benefits and disadvantages, so it is really a matter of preference.
Step Three
With your plan now in place, it is time to start separating all of your papers into piles.  This will probably take some time and lots of space - so get comfy on the floor or at the kitchen table and get busy.  The way the piles are organized is based upon how you think about your ancestors.  So organize your papers by surname, record type, or couple.

Today you're closer to your goal of conquering the paper beast.  In the next post, I will discuss buying your organizational supplies and go into more detail about the various options in organizing the paper work.

If you have any specific questions, thoughts, or comments then please leave me a comment or send me an email.  I am always open to any suggestions, comments, or questions.


Deb said...

I really liked your idea of using the method of How Do You Think of Your Ancestor's! I never thought about it in that way, especially to organized/file your papers.

Personally I think of my relatives by sets of grandparents & then secondary by couples....if that makes sense. Thanks for the tip Elyse....I'll definitely be using it in my own filing/organizing practices. As you know, trying to find what suits you best is mind boggling at first. Then for some reason, at some point & time, it just "clicks" & all makes sense.

Again, thanks! Deb

Gini said...

I love this Elyse, you always get me into the organizing mood, I love to be organized but at times really need that push. Actually I was already starting this process but this helps alot.

I always think of my ancestors in Surnames. I have chosen the binder method and love it. It's just the papers that have stacked up recently (in the last year). So I am ready to attack the paper mountain! Thanks for getting all motivated again!

Elyse said...

Deb - Thinking of your ancestors first by grandparents is completely normal. I know a lot of people do things like this and they color code using this method.
Gini - I'm glad that this article is pushing you to organize. I think a big problem is that people approach organizing as a one-time only thing, when it really is a long process and a continuous commitment.

Katrina said...

Elyse - your question "How do you think of your ancestors?" is really important and one that I've never seen other organization guides start with. I do colour-coded folders, but I think of all my ancestors individually -- so each folder belongs to one person, not a couple or family unit.

Taylorstales-Genealogy said...

Great suggestions! I am conducting a workshop in February for the New Lenox Public Library's genealogy club. I will most certainly refer people to your blog postings. Thank you friend!

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Anonymous said...

Hi Elyse,

I agree with others; 'How Do You Think of Your Ancestor's?' is an excellent starting point to organizing your data. I have vacillated over different methods through the years, but now, thanks to you, I have a clearer understanding of how I should go about this task. Thank you!

BTW, I'll be 'borrowing' your line in my upcoming mini genealogy workshop here in Santa Fe.

"Guided by the Ancestors"

Debbie said...

added this post to my STUMBLEUPON and it came up as MY DISCOVERING..meaning I am the first to stumble it ...I think this is always exciting , not only for me, but helps you as well!

BTW...am working on my own comments on all three parts by way of SideWiki ...