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"A Guide to Organizing Paper Genealogy Files" 1997

Revised Edition now in Progress

Table of Contents of Revised Edition

32 page booklet - [as of August 30, 1997]

- Illustrated - 8 x 11

Paper Copies will be available for $9.50 to cover the cost of printing and postage.

Booklet Cover
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My reasons for creating this booklet

Even though the computer is the best place and the most useful tool in organizing the data and files we accumulate in doing genealogy research, the need or desire for paper files arises. The reasons may be for on-site research away from a computer, or most importantly is what I call "Show & Tell." The work involved in amassing this type of information needs to be rewarded, if only by boosting our own ego. To "Show & Tell" at family gatherings, family reunions, genealogical society meetings, and many other occassions can be a big boost to an ego. In an effort to do on-site research, a quick reference can also be a big help. Exchanging information with another individual researching the same lines (without a computer), is another way paper files can be of importance.

I do not intend to discredit anyone else's method; my only intent is to provide another method. I had many frustrating tries at organizing the data we were accumulating and most of them became too cumbersome or seemed to be duplicating too much of the same data.

There are many software programs that are good. The one you are using can be used in creating most of the paper files that you need, so this article is primarily concerned with organizing that vast amount of paper.

Any names used in this guide are for illustration purposes only, and not of any real person, living or dead, or of any fictional characters either.

This system should be adaptable to using either 3-ring binders with tabbed dividers or file folders. Whichever works for the individual user will be appropriate.

The heart of this method uses a typical family tree numbering system, with a few minor variations and additions; and can be changed to sort / organize whatever data is available at any given time.

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Wayne's System

To summarize the numbering sequence:

1 = You

2 = Your Father

3 = Your Mother

4 = Your paternal Grandfather

5 = Your paternal Grandmother

6 = Your maternal Grandfather

7 = Your maternal Grandmother

8 = Your paternal Great-grandfather on your Father’s side

9 = Your paternal Great-grandmother on your Father’s side

10 = Your paternal Great-grandfather on your Father’s Mother’s side

11 = Your paternal Great-grandmother on your Father’s Mother’s side

12 = Your maternal Great-grandfather on your Mother’s Father’s side

13 = Your maternal Great-grandmother on your Mother’s Father’s side

14 = Your maternal Great-grandfather on your Mother’s Mother’s side

15 = Your maternal Great-grandmother on your Mother’s Mother’s side


The files will then be arranged. Further organization can be accomplished by using different color folders or dividers to separate Paternal and Maternal lineages. Of course colored labels on the folders or dividers works equally well.

Using different colors will let you disassemble and reassemble the files into any given line at any time, depending on whatever “family surname” that you are performing “Show & Tell”. The numbering system allows rearranging them into the original order easily.

By storing these files with the numbers in descending order, it allows us to assign a number to all offspring as well as placing the oldest people to the front of the file or binder. Actually the eldest passed the surname down the line. We do this by separating the generations with “-” and giving each individual a number in the order of their birth. (i.e. 48-1) In the cases where there are multiple marriages we insert a lower case letter after the number, (i.e. 48a, 48b, 48c, etc.)

96a-1 96a-1-1 96a-1-2 96a-1-2-1 96a-2 96a-2-1
96b-1 96b-1-1 96b-2 96b-3 96b-3-1 96b-3-1-1
I usually use a family group sheet as the primary page for each person, then add pages as necessary with notes, Photographs, and anything else that I may come across pertaining to this individual. Speaking of Photographs, I like to scan pictures and print them on regular paper for this file. Two reasons for this are: One that it is not as bulky and, Two: that it lessens the chance of the original photo becoming damaged when transporting and handling these files.

In situations, such as ours, when a husband and wife are both working together researching their respective family histories; additional colors can be used. To still use the above numbering system, it is easiest to insert a capital letter in front of the number. In our case, we use the first letter of the surname it pertains to. If the surnames happen to start with the same letter, then either the alphabet, or any letter choice you wish may be used.

A 48 B 48 C 48 D 48
The same type of folder / divider system works as well also to store documentation and resources for our information. The headings on the tabs will depend on what type of documents that are being stored. We use 3-ring binders with page protectors to store this type of information. It can always be expanded by using multiple binders. At the present I use one binder for "Census Records" and the dividers are labeled by the pertinent states. In each state section I store the records in alphabetical order by surname and in numerical order by year. (i.e. A surname- 1850 Tennessee / A surname-1860 Tennessee / B surname- 1850 Tennessee / B surname-1860 Tennessee)

Another binder is divided in the following categories :

Baptismal Records - for any type of record that is not a "certificate"

Baptismal Certificates

Birth Records - for birth index info, birth announcements, etc.

Birth Certificates

Death Records - any record that is not a "certificate" or "obituary"

Death Certificates

Obituaries - usually photocopied from newspapers

Diplomas - any type of "diploma"

These documents are stored in alphabetical order. When any section contains many documents, the insertion of alphabetized dividers is a real handy addition. In the situation where I feel it is necessary, such as a woman with one or more married names along with her maiden name; I insert the document in the section of the name that is on it, and in the other locations, I insert a page with a note on it. (i.e. see Maiden Name-Birth Certificate)

For my own purposes I use a family group sheet as the main page for each individual and subsequent pages as necessary for any other information I have for this individual. On this family group sheet I list any documentation. Usually I print a self-adhesive label with the necessary items on it and attach to the page.

I personally like using 3-ring binders of the clear overlay type. This allows for personalizing the binder, as if maybe a “Coat-of-Arms” on the front and the spline labeled with whatever surname or data is kept there. I like using a different font and color for each surname to make each one distinct. This helps with the “Ego Trip” during those times of “Show & Tell.” Which , of course, is the real main reason for maintaining and organizing Paper Genealogy Files anyway.

I also use plastic page protectors that are open only on the top. This permits removing the page without disturbing the rest. It also allows multitudes of other people to handle and look through, while you “Show & Tell”, without damaging the contents. Dividers can also be inserted in page protectors to allow the tab to protrude properly. Inserting dividers into page protectors is done by notching the page protector just enough for the tab. Extra wide binders (not thicker) can usually be found at an office supply store. Most department stores only carry a line suitable for schoolwork. Again for my preference : I prefer using 1 inch or 2 inch binders for ease of handling.

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Marie's System

"A Research Reference Guide"

As we continued our research, our paper files became crowded and cumbersome. This was not a problem for “Show & Tell”, but became burdensome while doing on-site research, especially at some research facilities, libraries, and archives. Memory also did not serve us as well as we would have hoped. Marie continued to mention that we needed some type of easier way to refresh our memory while doing this type of research. After much discussion and false starts we finally came up with a variation of the following system. As time progressed this also became a “Show & Tell” item.

The modifications were made for this purpose. Even though not necessary we included a smaller 1 inch thick 5” x 8” clear overlay 3-ring binder. This binder was also decorated with a front of our own design. On the splines (we use two binders) we labeled them Marie’s Lineage and Wayne’s Lineage; simple but effective. For pages I used unruled 5” x 8” Index Cards.

In the binder first I placed as many pages as necessary with a simple family tree chart containing only the names of the people in our direct family line.

On the following pages I only printed the portions of the tree that contained a name. These pages I numbered Tree 1, Tree 2, Tree 3, etc.

Next I made a “CONTENTS” page. Actually I started it at the beginning but did not do much with it until the rest of the book was well on it’s way. The Contents page consisted of the lineage number followed by the person’s name. When I needed additional pages for an individual, I simply added a letter. (i.e. 8A, 8B, 8C) For a couple of the people I needed a ”notes” for clarification notations or possibly additional research that was needed.

The numbered pages were a variation on a family group sheet, one of the later modifications was the insertion of scanned pictures. This modification naturally was for “Show & Tell” use really.

Sample Page

		DOE, John Allen			48
		   (son of James Lee Doe & Jane Smith){ 96 & 97 }
		aka = "Johnny"
		Born : May 27, 1814
		Died : June 20, 1875

		Occupation : Dry Goods Merchant

		Married : Elizabeth "Beth" Hammer { 49 }
				June 1, 1835
			Known Issue :
		1. (M) Adam Abner Doe 1836-1840
		2. (F) Becky E. Doe  1838-1911
			spouse : Thomas M. Needle
		3. (M) Caleb Joe Doe 1839-1899
			spouse : Sarah Jane Punch
		4. (F) Twin  Delila Mary Doe 1841-1920
		5. (F) Twin  Mary Delila Doe 1841-1917

1850 Census of Tennessee-McNairy Co. 1860 Census of Tennessee-McNairy Co. 1870 Census of Kentucky-Graves Co. 1880 Census of Illinois-Perry Co. 1995 Photo of Tombstone

On these pages I try to list as much pertinent information as I can without crowding the page too much. Near the bottom I list the documentation and research resources, as a guide when doing on-site research.

Next we need an “INDEX.” The number of pages needed depends on how voluminous the list may be. I include every individual named anywhere in the foregoing pages along with the page number they are located on. Where women are the individuals, We usually list them in the index under all names they have been throughout their life. The index is made on a 2-column spreadsheet as the pages are developed, and finally sorted alphabetically. To group letter or multiple letter groups on any given index page is determined by the number of individuals listed. Be careful to also list any spelling variations that you may run across while doing the original research; as this can be mighty useful when in the field continuing "Digging Up Your Roots".

Sample Index Page

		Doe, Adam Abner				48
		Doe, Becky E.				48
		Doe, Caleb Joe				12, 24, 25, 48, 49
		Doe, Delila Mary			48
		Doe, Elizabeth "Beth" (nee Hammer)	24, 48, 49, 98, 99
		Doe, James Lee				48, 96, 97
		Doe, Jane (nee Smith)			48, 96, 97,
		Doe, John Allen				24, 48, 49, 96, 97
		Doe, Mary Delila			48
		Doe, Sarah Jane (nee Punch)		12, 24, 25, 50, 51
Hammer, Elizabeth "Beth" 24, 48, 49, 98, 99
Needle, Becky E. (nee Doe) 48 Needle, Thomas M. 48
Punch, Sarah Jane 12, 24, 25, 50, 51
Smith, Jane 48, 96, 97,

To the back behind the Index, I placed several pages of descriptive information, such as an encyclopedia excerpt about a particular Revolutionary War battle that one ancestor was in. Another page about a County History, where some ancestors were involved in the development of the area.

The pages in this 5” x 8” Guide were printed on one side only to facilitate the ease of making notations and references while doing on-site research, etc.

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Continuing or Expanding

The sample page has brought up another possible “glitch” in using any type of organizing system. This being, if you hadn’t caught it, the spouse of # 48-2 Becky E. Doe; Thomas M. Needle could be assigned a reference number of 48-2sp. This will work to assign a reference number to each individual in this guide and also provide a reference number in working with a database or other program.

If your research has progressed to the point that you are including other relatives of Thomas M. Needle, I would suggest that this is the point where another file is created. Possibly an “N” or “Needle” file. To be able to avoid confusion, I would like to also suggest that a cross-reference chart be initiated at this time. 48-2sp would cross-reference to be the same as N 1. The “N” number assigned to him of course would depend on which direction the Needle lineage is taking you.

Inserting a descriptive page as to what you are doing and why could be a great way to “liven up” your paper files for another reader. Posterity may not understand as to why you decided to branch out in that direction, so below is a sample of what I am mentioning.

The family of Thomas M. Needle, who married a brother of my 2nd Great-grandfather, and their descendants lived close by our ancestors. Being friends and neighbors throughout many years, attending the same churches and schools causes our family history to not seem complete without the inclusion of the Needle family lineage along side ours.

A cross reference chart, in all probability, will not be a very long list. A copy of this cross-reference chart could possibly be inserted in several different locations without much difficulty.

On the issue of “livening up” your presentations I am including a suggestion or two. If any ancestor or person has an interesting background, placing this information with their respective family group sheet, can remove some of the boredom of only having names and dates. A brief descriptive phrase or page can also help be a break. If an ancestor was a Pony Express rider, then a short explanation of what the Pony Express was would also be a nice insertion.

The reason I mention the above items was that I suppose I consider the main reasons for paper files is “Show & Tell.” I in no way intend to distract from the importance of preserving all of this information as insurance against any type of ‘disaster’ or passing on to posterity their “Family History.”

The vast differences between family trees and because each researcher’s work is unique, modifications will likely be needed. This guide along with most any other guide is subject to alterations, corrections, and modifications, therefore, a supplement may be published at a later date.

Any comments and suggestions will be appreciated.
E-mail this author

Best Wishes and Good Luck with Your Research and Presentations.

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We will try to answer any questions that anyone wishes to Contact Us about

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A Revised edition is in Progress.

More detailed

Enhanced with pictures

Improved with subjects similar to the following list will be addressed.

? - Is a folder/divider created for every individual.

? - How to list illegitimate relationships.

? - How to list "same sex" relationships.

? - How to list children of a previous marriage/relationship.

? - What happens with the descendants of relatives that married.

? - How is a "Cross-Reference" list or file used.

? - The use of database fields and records.

! - Research Hints

Table of Contents of Revised Edition

Basic System
The Family
Reference Guide
Continuing or Expanding
Research Hints
Transcribing Old Letters, etc.

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32 page booklet - [as of August 30, 1997]

- Illustrated - 8 x 11

Paper Copies will be available for $9.50 to cover the cost of printing and postage.

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