Genealogy Research

How To Organize Genealogy with These 3 Essentials!

Have you been wondering how to organize your genealogy research and files? I’ve got you covered!

Diving into genealogy is like unraveling a historical mystery, each discovery adding depth to our family’s tale. Yet, amid the excitement, you might find yourselves buried in a pile of documents, struggling to recall where a vital piece of information was filed. Yes, the journey to our roots is thrilling, but without a clear organizational strategy, it’s easy to get lost.

For professionals and passionate amateurs alike, mastering how to organize genealogy isn’t just about neatness—it’s about ensuring our findings are trustworthy and accessible. Many fellow enthusiasts echo the same sentiment: they crave a system that brings order to their ancestral pursuits.

We’ll explore 3 (three) essential strategies to streamline your research, ensuring that as you uncover your family’s past, you also lay a structured path for future discoveries.

🤩 Learn how to organize your online bookmarks!

Why Organize Genealogy Anyway?

I love puzzles and delving into genealogy is like piecing together an intricate puzzle without ever seeing the box top! It’s a mystery from beginning to end.

Each fragment of information found, whether it’s a name, date, or historical record, contributes to the larger narrative of our ancestors. But the real challenge? Keeping all these pieces – research notes, record types, digital files and more – organized.

Here’s a deeper look at why creating a genealogy organization system that works for you is essential:

  1. Know Exactly Where Your Ancestors’ Records Are: Just as we wouldn’t want to misplace a valuable possession, it’s crucial to keep these records safe and organized. A structured system ensures that every vital document is readily accessible whenever we need to reference it.
  2. Be an Efficient Genealogy Researcher: With the vast amount of information available in genealogy, having an organized approach is like having a reliable map. It directs our research, allowing us to navigate through the records. Having a personalized system for filing records AND the actual research not only saves time but also ensures that our findings are accurate and comprehensive.
  3. Grow a Sturdy Family Tree: That family tree you are creating is more than just names on a chart; it’s a visual representation of your heritage. By organizing our genealogical data effectively, we can construct a family tree that is both accurate and meaningful, reflecting the true connections and stories of our ancestors.

In essence, the effort invested in organizing genealogy is a testament to our commitment to preserving and understanding our family’s rich history. It ensures that the tales of our ancestors are not only remembered but also presented in a manner befitting their significance.

How To Use 3 Essential Strategies for Organizing Your Genealogy Research

There are three things you need to keep you genealogy research on track, and I bet you don’t have all three. It’s not more records or another subscription database. It’s really much simpler than that.

#1 – Consistent Genealogy File Naming

Consistent file naming is my super power! I thought about how I would likely search for a file in the future, and included those search terms in my file name formats. By creating a “file naming formulas”, I consistently name my genealogy files in the same format. This means I can search and find them much easier in my digital and/or paper files, because I always know which terms I would have used.

The general format I use to name a record is Year + Document Type + First Name + Last Name + Location. [The “+” is not needed between the words. I just added that for clarity.]

For example, I have the 1830 census record for my ancestor Sarah Blanks in Halifax County, VA. As a widow, she appears as a head of household.

1830 Census record for Sarah Blanks

I named this file 1830 Census Sarah Blanks Halifax County.

You may wish to use a different order or add a different piece of information to your file names. That is perfectly okay!

Decide for yourself how you will name your files.

Genealogy Tip: Keep your file format or formula on a sticky note beside you!

#2 – Genealogy Workflow or Habits

Performing genealogy research in the same ordered steps each time you sit down to search for your ancestors ensures you keep your ancestor search on track. Below is a sample workflow I use when I sit down to research my ancestors online.

Page one of a workflow for genealogy research at the computer
Page 2 of the genealogy workflow for computer research

Following these steps each time, I’m less likely to make mistakes, misfile records or documents, or repeat research I’ve already done.

Admit it! We’ve all done that!

You will notice the workflow begins and ends with the research plan! This is not an accident. Keep reading to learn more about those research plans. [They are easy, I promise.]

#3 – A Genealogy Research Plan

A genealogy research plan is like a roadmap for your family history research. Just as you wouldn’t set off on a big trip without knowing your destination, a research plan helps you know what you’re looking for and how to find it. It keeps your research on track.

Here is an example of one I created for a personal research project.

A genealogy research plan does not have to be complicated or elaborate. At it’s simplest, your plan will have your research question on it (i.e. what you want to actually know!), the types of records you want to pursue, and where to find them. By having a clear plan, you stay focused and avoid getting lost or sidetracked with too much information.

🤩 Watch these strategies in action in this video: 3 Key Essentials Your Genealogy NEEDS.


Should I use digital tools or stick to paper for organizing?

Both digital and paper methods have their merits. When possible, I prefer to digitize any records I find for easy searchability and easy backups.

How often should I backup my genealogy data?

Regular backups are crucial. Aim for at least quarterly backups, or after any significant research sessions, using external drives or cloud storage.

Are there any recommended genealogy software programs for organization?

Yes, several popular options include Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree, and RootsMagic. Choose one that aligns with your research needs and preferences.

What’s the best way to store old family photos and documents?

Store them in acid-free sleeves or archival-quality folders to prevent deterioration. Keep them away from direct sunlight, in a cool, dry place. Learn more about photo storage in How To Store Old Family Photographs

🤩 Read more about creating that genealogy research plan!

Conclusion/Final Thoughts: How to Organize Your Genealogy Research

Navigating the intricate paths of our ancestry is both a journey of discovery and a testament to dedication. As genealogy researchers, we understand the thrill of uncovering hidden stories and connecting with our past. Yet, with the wealth of information at our fingertips, staying organized is paramount.

Remember, the stories of our ancestors deserve clarity, precision, and the reverence of proper organization. Each document, photograph, or record is a piece of a larger puzzle waiting to be placed with care. So, as you embark or continue on your genealogical journey, arm yourself with the right tools and strategies.

Watch the 3 organizational strategies outlined above in action in the video 3 Key Essentials Your Genealogy NEEDS.

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  • Maggie (NMN) Decker

    Lisa, I’m grateful for your blog — my favorite! — and a number of others, and I think every novice family researcher should be subscribed to a few.

    Over the past couple of years, I’ve collected many dozens of lessons into my “favorites – genealogy” list as well as into my Gmail storage. Then last week we had RootsTech, so I collected a couple dozen more. Now I have so many lessons on widely varied subjects that I have difficulty finding the one I need when I need it.

    Of all the lessons I’ve seen on gen. organization, I haven’t found any that address my need to organize all this lovely reference material. Can you give me any clues to a tidy approach? Or do you know where else I might look for such guidance? I would want to keep it in my OneDrive if possible, tho I’ll certainly consider advice for alternatives.

    Best regards,
    Maggie Decker

  • colleen Grehan

    Hi Lisa,
    I have been reading bits of your work on line and Pinterest. I am retired, doing family history search with 5 cousins internationally. Well I’m going back to nursing on Monday. Hospital is near the Archives in Cape Town. I am willing to look up things for people over seas for free. I would only ask some one to look up something for me in Sussex UK in exchange if I get a query from there. I have a hunt in Germany too, but difficult. Place name changed over history and wars. Boarders changed. Any way glad to help. Colleen

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