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August 25, 2008

A Tisket, A Tasket, I Lost my Genealogy Basket!

Organization. That's the word for today.

How many times have you looked for, and couldn't find, that document you stumbled on a few months ago, the one that showed what church Great grandpa was baptised in?

How many piles of papers do you have on your desk or the floor, the piles that defy gravity?

How often do you misplace (I prefer that word to "LOSE") your genealogy papers, the ones you absolutely must have by tomorrow?

How many times do you find a genealogy document misfiled in the wrong folder? Or in a folder labelled "STUFF TO SORT LATER"? Or in a folder that perhaps made sense when you filed the document but makes no sense now!

How often do you change whatever filing system you have for your genealogy?

If you answered more than once to any of the above questions, then you, like me, need help. You need organization!

But how do you get organization? Is there a gene for it? I don't appear to have it. I have so many piles of important documents and miscellaneous papers on and around my computer desk that I need a map to get to my chair.

I change my filing system at least three times a year. I've tried binders. Doesn't work for me. I like filing cabinets and I have a lot of them. I have tons of room. I have no excuse to not be organized. But still organization eludes me!

Every time I think I have a wonderful system of filing all the documents for all my genealogy lines, I use it for a month or two and then decide it isn't working. So I revise it.

Don't get me wrong, revision is often necessary. When we first start our genealogy, we don't have a lot of material. We probably are only searching one line at a time. So we can safely create one file folder for each surname. As we acquire more documents we might create one file folder for each individual. But eventually, especially if we research all siblings (which I do) for each generation, we can't maintain a system of one file folder per surname or even individual.

I've been researching my family tree for over 40 years. (I started quite young!). I've collected an awful lot of material in that time. Every so often, I go through it all and purge. It is one of the most difficult tasks for me - to decide that an email from 1993 is not necessary to keep, that the unsourced 120 page family tree from someone who is my 10th cousin 4 times removed, doesn't need to take up space in my filing cabinet anymore. That the papers I photocopied in 1990 and saved "just in case" are definitely not my lines and I can safely toss them out.

My usual system of purging is to take all my piles of paper from my desk and the floor and the top of the filing cabinets and start sorting. I love to sort. Since I tend to mix up my business with personal with genealogy papers, I have a lot of fun with this step. I make 5 piles - business, personal, genealogy, garbage and "hmmm... I'm not sure"

I can happily sort for an entire day. The problem is when I stop, I am overwhelmed by the size of each pile and the thought that now I have to actually DO something with each one! I have to take care of each piece of paper in each pile by filing it, or entering it into a genealogy program, or paying that bill, or making that phone call or.... I realize I've ended up with 5 piles that equal in total the size of the original piles! All I've done is move piles around. I've shuffled papers but I haven't really organized. Okay I do have one teeny pile of "garbage" but a HUGE pile of "hmmm...I'm not sure"

It is at this point that I turn to something else I love (I talked about my labeller in another post on this blog) - tubs! I have a storage tub fetish. I cannot pass by a row of tubs in any store without buying some. The clear plastic ones almost make me drool with anticipation. Here's a tub where you can PUT THINGS, and you can SEE what is inside and you can LABEL it for good measure! What could be more delightful??

I label 4 tubs - PERSONAL. GENEALOGY. BUSINESS. MISCELLANEOUS. I place the sorted (shuffled) piles of paper into the tubs. I put the lids on and stack them neatly in the corner. Done!

I know I still need to pay the bills, make the phone calls, book appointments, file the genealogy documents, enter the family tree data.... I'll do it, but later.... after all, tomorrow's another day!


Thomas MacEntee said...


We have a "general" basket into which all copies of invoices etc. go. (We pay all bills online using either our bank account or the online service provided by a vendor).

I file the items about every 2 months.

One plan for me this year: scanning old invoices that I still have in paper format and shredding the paper copy. My files are bursting at the seem and it doesn't seem very green to be keeping paper like that. Where possible, I ask vendors to send electronic invoices.

See Denise Olson's great post on a new scanner that can make the job quicker:

looking4ancestors said...

It's definitely in the genes, cousin Lorine. Let's blame it on Jacques Hartell! I suffer from this same problem as well! Glad to know I'm not the only one. LOL!

Sheri said...


I too have a plastic bucket/tub fetish. I just love the way they stack so nicely. They come in all sizes and colors. I have used the tub/bucket color-coded system. Grey is for all garage items, green is for gardening, red is for fragile items, etc. I could spend all day telling you about buckets!
Sheri Fenley