Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Paper Files Organization Project

I just can't seem to stay away from organizing. I just finished a huge database cleanup project, and now I've moved on to organizing my paper files. In fact, in my last post, I said I was going to do away with my paper files, except for really old original documents. Well, I've changed my mind. I started reading DearMyrtle's organization checklists and then I watched the Legacy webinar about the Family Roots Organizer System. And my little organization-loving heart just could not bear to part with the paper files. In fact, it decided to create more paper files.

The main convincing argument was one by DearMyrtle: it peaks family members' interest when they have something tangible in their hands to read like a book. Who is going to be interested in my digital filing system? Don't worry. I am still keeping my digital filing system, but I am also keeping the paper files to share with others.

Unlike DearMyrtle, I am using file folders rather than binders to organize my paper files. I find that binders take up too much space, and since we haven't bought a house yet and still live in an apartment, it's much easier to find space for a filing cabinet. The only thing I don't like about file folders is the ability of the papers to get loose. To help with that, I am putting two-hole prongs inside each folder and punching holes in all my documents. Don't worry. There are no original documents that I will be punching holes in.

I am using a variation of the color coding system suggested by the Family Roots Organizer System. All my paternal grandfathers' (Trahan) ancestors will have blue folders; all my paternal grandmothers' (Mertena) ancestors will have green folders; all my maternal grandfathers' (Pemberton) ancestors will have red folders; and all my maternal grandmothers' (Currie) ancestors will have purple folders. Why purple instead of yellow? Yellow is the color suggested, but my grandmother's name was Violet, and she liked the color purple. Plus, I am also using this color coding in RootsMagic, and the yellow text is hard to see.

I already have colored hanging folders for each of the surnames of my 16 great-great-grandparents. I am alphabetizing them by color. For example, all my blues are in alphabetical order, followed by the greens, etc. So far, within my blue folders, I have one manila file folder each for myself, my parents, my two uncles who married, and my paternal grandparents. I am currently working on the folder for my great-grandparents, Bienvenue TRAHAN and Beatrice Marie BONEAUX. In each of the manila folders, I have family group sheets, individual summary reports for husband and wife, discrepancy charts (when necessary), research checklists and to-do lists, and all of their documents, beginning with the marriage record. I also have documents for their children who never married. When I get back into the generation of my great-great-grandparents, I am going to add research logs, research notes, and county/state maps. As I am going through the documents in the paper files, I am scanning them and adding the source citations to my RootsMagic database.

As suggested by the Family Roots Organizer System, I am putting all my direct line manila folders on the folder with the right tab. One variation I am making is the order of the folders. The Family Roots Organizer System suggests to order each couple folder alphabetically using the husband's name, but I'm going to order them in ahnentafel order. Within the Trahan folder, my folder will be first, then my parents' folder, then my grandparents' folder, etc. The siblings of my direct line ancestors will have manila folders behind the folder of the direct line sibling, but they will be on the middle tab and have a blue/green/red/purple dot to easily identify them as collaterals. Any of the documents for children and grandchildren of the siblings will also go in the sibling's manila folder. I think I will use colored paper to divide the manila folder for siblings into sections for their children and grandchildren. I am using the manila folders with left tabs for things such as Pedigree Charts (one for each surname beginning with the youngest direct line ancestor in the line), Research Not Yet Proven, Correspondence, etc.

Once I get manila folders set up for all my couples on the five-generation pedigree chart, then I will finish sorting out all my other paper files. I have four banker's boxes sitting at the end of my spare bed right now, one for each grandparent.

This is where I have my paper files that are currently in surname folders (no couple folders). I also have several binders of paper files filed by type of record rather than surname (not sure what I was thinking with this filing system) that I have not put into the boxes yet. Basically, I am combining two paper filing systems into one new one with very pretty colors. The reason I had two filing systems previously is because I started out with surname and then changed to type of record. I am so ready to be on one paper system.

In the future, I need to decide what to do with my collateral spouse research. For instance, I have done much research on a couple of my aunts' and uncles' sides of the family. For now, I will just leave those files digitized. I do have some paper files for those lines, but I will keep them to the side until I am done organizing my direct line and direct line siblings papers.

Well, I had better get back to organizing, scanning, and citing! If anyone has suggestions for my new system, please share in the comments. Thanks!


  1. Jennifer, you are on the right path. All my files are color coded for over 25 years in file cabinet hidden in an old closet. My working current files are in a small half-size cabinet near my desk.My field work composition books / research logs in a carry - type file box that goes between my car and home so I do not lose them. I never take originals out of house and upload pdfs of my working files to the phone/tablet when I go to library.Learning to use camera at our FHL for putting records online instead of more papers !

  2. That’s a great project to pursue! Nowadays, people are resorting digitizing their paper documents for convenience. It eliminates the hassle of paper clutter and past records being damaged beyond recognition. However, it feels more nostalgic if you could have something to hold while reading such history. It's also better to at least have a backup printed copy for redundancy, and also as a safeguard should the digitize copies get deleted or corrupted accidentally.

    Ruby Badcoe