There are as many ways to organize your genealogy files and documents as there are surname variations. When I first started acquiring more information and photocopies of documents (many years ago) I used file folders - one for my father's side and one for my mother's.
I quickly realized that method wasn't working. My files were becoming too cumbersome and it was too hard to figure out what I had or what I needed.
Still believing that file folders were the method for me, I created one file folder for each surname - McGinnis, King, Dawson, Downey, Peer, Vollick etc for my dad's side and Fuller, Simpson, Page, Stead etc for my mom's. I colour coded the folders - pink for maternal lines, and blue for paternal. It worked well. For a short time. Soon I was lost - I had done so much research that I could no longer remember my lines easily. That meant I couldn't remember where Emily Sutton fit. What file folder was she in? Her husband's? Who was her husband? I had too many names and ancestors to remember.
So I switched to binders. One binder for each surname. In the front of each binder was a page with a cross-referencing system for every ancestor. I could at least look at the first page of every binder to see where Emily Sutton or another barely-remembered ancestor fit.
Soon my binder collection outgrew my bookshelves. And I grew weary of taking down each of the 30 plus binders one at a time to check for a name.
Yes you guessed it, I went back to file folders. I bought more filing cabinets. I filled one wall of my computer room. But for some lines I was searching all branches, that is, all siblings of my direct ancestors on every generation. That meant that soon I had to give one entire filing cabinet drawer to just one family name. So my PEER and VOLLICK and McGINNIS files soon had one drawer each. Inside I labelled file folders with titles PEER-Census, PEER-Land, PEER-B/M/D. All documents and notes for that specific family of PEER went into their respective folders. That worked well for many years.
But recently I realized it was not working for me anymore. It was too difficult to easily check such things as what census records I was missing for each person. I know I could keep a research log or a list by ancestor of what I have and what I need. But that proved to be just way too much extra work for me and didn't seem to answer my requirements either.
My next brief attempt at reorganization involved buying hanging file folder cases. Inside each I put 6 file folders. They were labelled by individual name - Peer, Jacob - DOCUMENTS; Peer, Jacob - NOTES and Peer, Jacob - SCANNED. That allowed me to sort by person by documents, notes and whether or not I had scanned the documents. I love this method. But there's a huge problem! I have too many ancestors. I seriously do.
I've been researching for over 30 years. I've done a lot of work on my lines. I've found ancestors back to the early 1600s on several of my Dad's side. And let's not even get into my Mother's ENGLISH side! English records go back a long long way. With diligent research you can find a lot of ancestors going back a very long way.
Since I haven't got a room big enough to put all those hanging file folders (think 40 ft x 40 ft might be big enough), this method isn't going to work for all my lines. Especially since I'm very keen on searching all siblings on all generations. Phew. Why do I search siblings? Because you never know what details you might find about your direct by looking for a sibling's marriage or death or obituary etc.
So I'm in a bit of a mess. I have my research partially in hanging file folders. I have some in my filing cabinets. I have a few in binders. My next step is to sit down and think long and hard about how to organize thousands and thousands of pieces of paper in a way that suits me and my work habits.
That's a challenge.
I also need a good cross-referencing system so I can find a specific ancestor easily.
I need to decide where a female ancestor goes - with her father and mother? With her husband? With both, that is, with her parents until she marries, then with her husband?
I'm leaning towards going back to binders so that I can toss documents (photocopies) into plastic sleeves (perhaps one per individual) and put a list of what's in each sleeve on the top. That would allow me to quickly see what documents I have for each person and what I'm missing.
I'll tackle that after Christmas I think! If you're in the same boat as I am, just remember that whatever method of genealogy organization you choose has to suit you and no one else. Wish me luck!