Organize Your Genealogy Research

Organize Your Genealogy Research

Organize Your Genealogy Research

The start of a new year is the perfect opportunity to organize your genealogy research. Here are some helpful tips to make this year a more productive one.

Whether you are just starting your research or have been doing it for a while, you must organize your genealogy research. The paper monster can quickly get out of control. This can leave you overwhelmed trying to find a particular document or duplicating your efforts.

Are you a digital person? Or an old-school pen-and-paper researcher? Maybe a bit of both. There are great tools that can help you out.

Genealogy Software: Free and paid versions

Free Version Soft for Genealogy Research

Ancestral Quest – – Ancestral Quest 16 is available in two versions. Ancestral Quest Basic is a free genealogy software with essential features for working with your family tree, including some updated features in accessing FamilySearch Family Tree. The complete Ancestral Quest program adds more abilities and features, making it the complete family history solution

Legacy Family Tree – – Downloading the free version will let you play around with it and decide if you like it before switching.

Family Tree Builder – – “If you’re new to family history, you’ll appreciate how this intuitive program lets you easily grow your family tree with simple navigation, tree-building tools, and integrated Web searching. If you’re already an expert, you can dive into the more advanced features, options for managing data, and a wide variety of charts and reports. The result is a family history that you and your family will treasure for years!”

Roots Magic – – The free software version allowed me to upload my family tree from It also allows you to upload your tree from Family Search. I use this and find it pretty user-friendly.

There are also paid versions of each software and others out there that you can check out. Have fun with it before you buy it. Some interface with online sites such as and Family Search.

Whichever software you choose, check out several to see what suits your personality the most. I have trees on, Family Search, and RootsMagic.  But I also use a hardcopy filing system to organize my genealogy research.

Hardcopy Filing Systems
Organize Your Genealogy Research

If you aren’t careful and diligent about organizing your documents, things can quickly get out of hand. Some of us like to use file folders or a three-ring binder system. Whichever you prefer, stick with one system. You’ll be glad you did.

Most of us probably use a combination of the two. I like to use and Family Search to house my trees. I pay for Ancestry when needed and cancel it when I’m not doing as much research. However, has started charging a cancellation fee.

File folders can be used for each family group. Color code each folder, and use colorful tabs for different family members.  Remember, your relatives will be in two family groups, the one with their parents and the one with their own family.

When printing documents to add to each family group, stick to 8 ½ x 11-inch paper to keep everything consistent. It will make it easier to keep in a folder or a three-ring binder.

Another tip I like is using color-coded 3 x 5 cards to view my family group visually. One color is for the father, one for the mother, and yet another for the kiddos. I write pertinent information on each card about their lives and lay them out when I need a bigger picture. I have recently started attaching the 3 x 5 cards to a posterboard to get a better visual.

When working on an ancestor, work on one at a time. There are certain things you should be looking for when starting.

List of Essential Records

  1. Vital Records: Birth, Death, and Marriage Certificates
  2. Census Reports: America’s census’ began in 1940 and goes back every ten years.
  3. Cemetery Records: Sexton Records, plot deeds, plat maps, funeral records.
  4. Immigration Records
  5. Military Records
  6. Newspapers
  7. Land deeds, probate, and tax records.

These give you a basic understanding of your relatives and how they lived. You can research other records for more information, giving you a good foundation.

Organize as you go!

Organize Your Genealogy Research

Make sure you have various forms when you organize your genealogy research.

First and foremost, a Research Log. These will have the research data and the repository (library, archive, cemetery, or vital record).

Record the call number (manuscript, microfilm, or library call number).

Write down the description of the source, comments, or results. Record the ISBN of the book used in case you wish to be able to locate it somewhere else. Include any miscellaneous information.

Family Group Sheets. These help you record information for a single family, husband, wife, and children.

Research Checklist. This will allow you to make sure you have researched the essential records for each family member, such as the list above.

There are other forms you can download for free or create your own, depending on how you like to work. The main idea is to find a system that makes it easy to continue searching.

Supplies to have on hand

  • Plenty of file folders, color-coded.
  • Color-coded tabs or sticky notes
  • Different colored three-ring binders
  • Acid-free paper
  • Sheet protectors for photos and documents.

There are many archival companies online where you can order specialty supplies to protect photos and documents. Amazon also sells archival supplies.

Once you organize things and feel comfortable with the new system, please write it down! Write down the directions on using your system in case you go months without researching. You will thank yourself later.

Digital Filing

For those who prefer to use a computer system to organize their records, different software can be used. There are word processing and spreadsheet programs that will work. Microsoft, Google Docs, or a note-taking app like Evernote, OneNote, or NoteTaker (NoteBook for Mac) might work for you.

Scanning photos can help preserve them if done digitally. Also, downloading documents, birth, death, and marriage certificates can be stored in different folders and subfolders. Mark them for each surname family and then subfolders for family members.

Either way, you choose to organize your research immediately after each search or trip to the archive. If you have questions about the person, write them down in a notebook for the next time you work on them. 

One other tip here is to back up your files often.

Technology to help you stay organized

Organize Your Genealogy Research by Ancestral Systems, LLC

Clooz is a digital filing system. You can enter information into 100 different templates, and it will help you fill out the forms using documents such as census reports.

They have analysis tools, capabilities to export to your family tree software, over 200 report formats, along with training.

You can sign up for a 2-week trial to play around with it to see if you like it. You can also purchase the license and download it for $49.95. This is a permanent license and not a subscription.

Long Time Researcher

If you have been researching for a while, now would be a great time to update your research. Go over last year and update things that might not have been done in the previous year. Attach those documents to the appropriate person in your tree.

Review your notes and see if there is anything to attend to. Did you get most of your questions answered? If not, write those questions in a new notebook for the new year.

Clear your desk or dedicated place for genealogy. Check your supplies and see what you need to refill. Recheck your digital files and ensure you aren’t missing anything, such as a birth certificate or cemetery record.

A new year is always a great time to reflect and see what you want to accomplish in your ancestry research. Ask yourself if your methods are working for you. Perhaps there is a class you would like to take to learn more, or maybe join your local historical society.

Final Words

Organize Your Genealogy Research

It’s always beneficial to take some time to pause and look back on the previous year, evaluate your accomplishments and challenges, and prepare for the year ahead. It’s crucial to confront any unresolved issues or challenges that may have been overlooked or neglected. Whether in your personal life, career, or relationships, reflecting on your experiences can provide valuable insight and growth opportunities.

As you delve into your personal history and ancestry, it’s essential to recognize the significance of your role as a steward of the present and future generations. You’re a researcher and a caretaker of your family’s stories and traditions, preserving them for future generations. So, take the time to study the past, embrace the present, and plan for the future.

What kind of system do you have? What works for you, or what doesn’t work for you? I would love to hear some of your ideas. Thanks for reading. If you find it helpful, share any family historians you know. Happy meanderings. Slànte Mhath!

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