June 22, 2011
Organizing Those Documents and Photos!
I deliberate. I analyze. I mull over my organizational options: Binders? File folders? Emphasis on digital rather than paper?
Granted things change. I find more documents, or more photographs come my way. I learn more about a specific family member. So my stack of documents and photos becomes even larger.
Often I change my method of organization of my family files based simply on quantity. The more documents, the more room I need. And for that I like file folders in cabinets.
But lately I've been thinking a lot about who will want all this "stuff" in the future. Even the most interested of my children or grandchildren are not likely to want both of my 3x2' filing cabinets with their 6 large drawers stuffed full of papers. Or my extra filing cabinets overflowing with the leftovers.
What to do? I don't want digital as my main method of storage and viewing. It's a great backup but doesn't work for me as my number one organizational method.
With all those constraints in mind I sat down to really think this over. What was my main goal? To ensure that my research into my ancestry is passed on. Okay what were my secondary goals? To create a method of storing my research that had some chance of actually being looked at and read by others. Any other goals? To create a way of keeping my documents that I could easily pick up and see fairly easily what I have and what I am missing.
I realized that to meet these goals I had to keep in mind that it is my direct ancestor lines that will be of the most interest (perhaps the ONLY interest!) to my children or grandchidren. They aren't genealogists. They don't care about siblings. They don't care about doing any research personally. So if I want one of them to become the keeper of the work I've done, I have to pare it down.
Paring it down does not mean I have to discard what I've worked on for the past 30 plus years. But it does mean I have to separate direct ancestors from siblings. It means I need two storage methods and that's when it hit me. I need to keep the "extras", that is the sibling and spousal research that are not direct ancestors in my family tree, in filing cabinets as I've been doing. And I need to start my binder system again.
I need to move my direct ancestors documents, research and photographs and get those into binders. But I need to be strict with myself and ONLY place material about my direct ancestors in those binders. Binders allows anyone to pick one up, glance through it and keep all relevant documents in one place.
Keeping in mind that I'm creating these binders for non-genealogists, I need to keep it simple. No confusing genealogy reports, just a simple chart showing the direct lineage from me back through the years. Add a family group sheet for each direct ancestor and that's it. Then I add the images for census, church records, vital stats, land records and so on. Whatever I have found for each ancestor goes into the binder for that family surname. That includes my scanned and printed photographs for the family.
I realize I could achieve a much nicer (visually) product by creating a family book for each surname but that's just too time-consuming for my immediate needs. Once I have all my documents and photos in a binder, I can begin work on that. But to do this quickly and efficiently, I've decided on binders.
It's almost a complete circle because at one point several years ago I switched from binders to filing cabinets due to the sheer volume of material I'd collected. In the past I've always organized based on what suited ME and my needs, but not with the future in mind. Now I've reached an age and a stage where that's my utmost concern - passing those genealogy records on.
So for the past week I've been sorting and placing documents into binders. One of the perks is that I'm actually finding copies of certificates that I'd forgotten I have! I do have a tendency to get side-tracked and to start incorporating extraneous non-direct ancestor items such as my grandmother's brother's original military records. I have to constantly remind myself that I'm not creating the binders just for me, but for future generations.
I'm thinking I might start a second binder for each family surname and make those strictly for documents and photos that pertain to non-direct individuals (siblings on all generations). That allows me to preserve the documents in an orderly way and if one of my children or grandchildren decide they want everything, it is there for them in labelled binders. If they decide they only want the information on our direct ancestors they'll be able to do so easily.