1. Keep it simple. The number one rule.
2. Think about what you need to organize. Set up a system and write it down. Do what works for you. We all think differently and our families are different. There are no perfect answers.
3. I file the media that comes to me. Digital is filed on the computer and paper in notebooks. So far I am not making any attempt to scan everything or print everything.
4. I use the same major categories for notebooks, computer files and my email folders.
5. My major categories are:
a. Ancestors (everything that is related to people in my tree)
b. DNA (I keep everything about DNA separate from Ancestor records)
c. Toolbox (a name coined by Thomas MacEntee to cover everything about how to do genealogy)
d. DNA Toolbox
6. Paper-based Ancestor information is commonly filed in notebooks or color-coded hanging folders. One method is by surname then record type. Or by type of document and then surname which keeps all death certificates together, and so on. I do everything by surname.
7. Adopt a naming scheme for your computer folders and files.
a. For Ancestor folders I use Ahnentafel numbers. These are the numbers for each person on your pedigree chart.
b. For my folders I use Ahnentafel-number mans-last-name womans-last-name. Ex: 002 Hearn Danzer.
c. For files I use last-name first-name birth-year document-name date. Ex: HEARN Alexander b1919 letter from dad 2005_05_25. Use underscores instead of spaces or periods.
d. Make the file names independent of the folder so you can move them. That is, just because a file is in the Smith folder, don’t leave Smith out of the file name.
8. My goal is to move everything related to Ancestors to my desktop software RootsMagic, including documents, stories, photos, to do lists, notes, correspondence, timelines, etc.
9. One drawback for notebooks is that you cannot use regular dividers. The special size archival dividers are way too expensive. I get around this by putting an index page in the front of my notebooks if needed.
10. Use archival safe, acid free supplies. This includes sheet protectors, folders, photo boxes and artifact boxes. Sheet protectors are available at Costco, not at Office Depot. Others would need to be ordered online as far as I know.
11. Common instructions for women are to file them with their father until they are married and then with their spouse. I would file them independently when they become a head of household.
12. Keep a correspondence log. Lots of time is wasted if you are contacted and spend time researching a relationship you have already done before. Also people get irritated when you contact them a second time because you didn’t keep track.
13. Learn to use metadata to add authors, tags and comments to images.
14. Make a backup plan. Thomas MacEntee promotes a 3-2-1 backup method, using3 backups, 2 different types of media (external drive, flash drive, cloud) and one offsite location. Remember if your PC is wiped out by natural disaster, it is likely your external drive is gone too. Also remember that a personal online family tree at Ancestry.com or MyHeritage is also a cloud location.
15. Use a research log. State your objective or question. List possible sources. Record your results. It is important to know where you didn’t find what you were looking for. Also keep a list of all alternate spellings handy. The research log can be online or on paper. There are paper forms and online spreadsheets to use. This will help you stay focused.
16. Develop habits and routines. Keep a list of things to do at another time. If you find something interesting, don’t get distracted. Write it down for another time.
17. Whatever else you do, keep a password list. I can’t say this often enough.
18. Your kids aren’t going to want notebooks or a filing cabinet of files. They will want everything electronic and easily accessible. If you are making keepsake gifts for your family, consider whether they can be updated as you find more and more information.
There are many blogs about organizing genealogy so you can google exactly what you are looking for. Here are two resources that are general in nature:
Lisa Lisson has written a number of organizing articles. Start with this overview: http://lisalisson.com/2018/01/02/organize-genealogy-research/
At the bottom of her first article there are links to “genealogy in 20 minutes a day”, how to create a genealogy research plan, using a timeline, photo organization and other topics.
Here’s a free 14-page collection of organizing articles you can download from Family Tree Magazine: https://www.familytreemagazine.com/freebie/family-tree-tips-23-secrets-organize-genealogy/
And here is a link that tells you how to add metadata to an image, that is comments and tags and more.