The Great Organization Dilemma

I’m at the point where I’ve spent years researching two branches of my family history. List most researchers, I’ve collected what feels like a ton of paper material: birth, death, and marriage certificate, copies of church registers, census records, letters, stories, photographs, and more. While I’ve already scanned everything and keep it in labeled folders on my computer, the paper material remains…scattered.

My office features archival boxes stacked with material by family, but also piles and piles of material that hasn’t been sorted.

How do you organize all of your paper records? Boxes, file folders, something else? How do you label it all so you can easily find what you’re looking for? I feel like this is a huge hurdle, but there’s got to be someone who has successfully organized all this paper.


7 thoughts on “The Great Organization Dilemma

  1. You might find some pertinent organizational ideas in several posts (starting exactly 1 yr ago 7/28/2016) in his blog, Rootsmithing: from Drew Smith, genealogy lecturer, college librarian, co-host of The Genealogy Guys podcast, and author of the recent book, Organize Your Genealogy: Strategies and Solutions for Every Researcher ( We all struggle with organization and feel like we’re drowning in paper! I really think I just need a plain, good, old-fashioned secretary!

  2. I’m bad enough at managing the photos and other ephemera I have. Almost all of the documents I’ve collected are electronic — mostly via Scotland’s People. I’m almost dreading doing more work on my son’s NZ ancestors because that would mean engaging with paper records.

    • I do a lot of work online, but I print out everything so there’s a backup. I actually love paper records, especially old documents, but keeping them organized is a nightmare.

      • I don’t have any old documents; just newly printed copies of bdm certs, etc. My extended family has traditionally been ruthless with “old stuff.” 🙂

    • Thank you! I love that your method of organization is straightforward. Keeping the excel spreadsheet and numbering each item makes perfect sense. I like that you’re not trying to group things by family – something that has stymied me since many records reference more than one person or family.

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