• Kim

How To Organize Old Family Records

Title Image: How To Organize Old Family Records

My Problem And How I Solved It:

I will be the first to tell you that some parts of my home are organizationally challenged. Let's just say, I never have a lack of personal material to work on, but it often stays just where it is due to a lack of time. Since my teenage years, I have been fascinated by my family's history, and over the years I have accumulated a substantial number of documents, photos, and scribbled notes. I had it all stored in a large wicker basket under my desk, which seemed to be a great place to keep and access these items - that is, until I started wondering just how safe they really were. The basket is below a skylight and in a room with lots of natural lighting. So, I started thinking about what could happen to my papers with the sun streaming in and, heaven forbid, what if the skylight leaked?

My (Very Simple) Solution:

So I looked around my house and came up with the perfect (at least perfect for now) solution. Costco often carries a set of 5 stacking containers for paper storage, and for a while I couldn't resist buying a set whenever I would see one...because I am just a little addicted to storage containers. The last set I bought was still waiting to be used, so I brought them to my office and started the process of going through all of the papers.

Large basket where I previously kept genealogy materials

Beginning the sorting of papers and photos

The Process:

I spread my papers out on the floor and started dividing them up as to surname. I only went out 1 to 2 generations of surnames so as to conserve boxes.

A Fun Fact - Did you know that every person has 16 great-great-grandparents? And by the time we get back to 6x-grandparents we have 256 of them?

Anyway, I decided to stop at the grandparent level and keep any paperwork for surnames beyond those in the box of the lineage they follow. I used to be a great one for complicating every project I undertook, and that often made projects become out of control and dragging out forever. But I worked hard to keep this simple and I'm so glad I did. I ended up with 6 boxes of papers and photos (I went one generation further in 2 of the larger lines) and I am very happy with the end result.

Starting to fill the containers (with our dog peeking in)

A few notes:

  • These containers are archival, so they are safe for this storage. They have hinged, attached lids with snap closures. I did a little research and found them at Walmart and Amazon, in addition to Costco, where I bought mine. Costco has the best price but I'm not sure if they still carry the same storage boxes. (I have attached links to similar storage containers from Amazon and Walmart, below the post)

  • I will be storing these in a closet, up off the floor, as soon as I make room (by purging some items) in my craft room closet. I also placed another, opaque container on top of this stack for now so that the light can't get through the plastic lid.

  • Besides storing the hard copies of all of these papers, I am in the process of scanning or photographing everything to store in my RootsMagic computer program. I also have my family tree on ancestry and have added many of these items to the correlating person in my tree. It's important to store records in multiple places in case of a disaster. Many a picture or important record has been destroyed in days gone by. This is why tracing genealogy can sometimes be such a challenge.

  • Now that these records are organized they are much more likely to actually get looked at and used. How much easier it is to tell a story about an ancestor to my grandchildren or another relative when I can take out the correct box and easily find everything I have on paper to show them.

  • I also have a notebook in Dropbox for each surname, with a separate file for each surname in mine and my husband's family trees. I don't limit the number of surnames in my Dropbox files. Someday, I may write about my whole file organization system in Dropbox.

  • I also keep a running log of my genealogy research so that I can always pick up right where I left off.

If you would like full access to my resource library, where (among other helpful resources) you'll find a printable 4-Step Organizing Process page. This printable is useful for planning and tracking your organizing progress, whether you're working on old family papers or something else. Click here to gain access to the resource library.

Coming Up Soon:

I can hardly wait to tell you the story of a mystery about one of my ancestors that I may never have been able to solve if I hadn't been in the process of organizing my family tree records. If you're interested in family tree organization, keep watching, as it's on the way.

There is truly some great history waiting to be discovered in everyone's family!

All filled and labelled with surnames

Where To Buy Similar Containers: