I’ll bet some of you have set your research in a pile, switched gears to work on a more pressing assignment, pushed the stack into a corner, and it sat there, sometimes for a long time.
When you finally picked up the pile to continue your research, it was hard to find the document you needed, or remember where you left off, because it was one big pile of mixed sources.
I’ll admit it. I’ve done it. It’s not pretty, or efficient.
I have a solution for you! If you use this system, you will be working out of the folder where the document will be filed, whether it is online, on your desktop, or in a paper folder. Thus, the document gets automatically filed, rather than stuck in cyberspace or in a corner of your office.
Here’s how it works: My folders are my research files. I research by locality, so my folders are organized by locality. Within each folder, ideally, is a running research report for that locality. [I’ll tell you about that in another post].
My files all fall under the same format. I have “Surname” files for any research conducted on the main surnames. So, they are individually named Farrell, Chaplin, Twogood, McQuire, Smith, Eastman, Mueller, etc.
Behind each surname file I have country, state, county, and town folders, each with the records of their jurisdiction.
For example, my Chaplin files are labeled thus:
- Chaplin – Surname [family histories, etc.]
- Chaplin – US [federal censuses, military, bounty lands, pension records, etc.]
- Chaplin – Massachusetts [for state censuses, state military records, etc.]
- Chaplin – Mass., Berkshire Co. [county histories, probate, land, etc.]
- Chaplin – Mass., Berkshire Co., Washington twp. [town vital records, church records, town histories, etc.]
If any one file becomes too large, I can easily separate it into smaller sections:
- Chaplin – Mass., Berkshire Co. – Probate
- Chaplin – Mass., Berkshire Co. – Land
When Joseph Chaplin moved to New York, I opened a file for “Chaplin – New York” and then made subfolders for the counties and towns where he lived.
Daniel Chaplin, Joseph’s son, married Minerva Sexton, so any Sexton research is also filed in the Chaplin files. This system accommodates any Sextons who are also on the same page of the census, or witnesses to a deed or probate, etc. This really comes in handy when examining extended family members, neighbors, friends, and associates. They are all filed within the Chaplin files.
In tracing the Sextons back prior to Minerva’s marriage, if the family came from a location different than the Chaplins, I begin a new series of files labeled “Sexton” for the new location.
For paper copies, I use the 3-Tab Files. On the left tabs are the “Surname” folder, the US, and the state. The middle tab is reserved for county documents, and the right tab for town records. I use the same system for computer desktop files, but rather than the 3-Tabs, I just put a folder within a folder, so all the Massachusetts folders sit inside the main Chaplin folder.
This system has worked for me for a very long time. It’s easily retrievable because I can usually determine the governmental entity that would issue the document, so I know the location of the file I’m seeking.
Someday, I plan to store all files in an online cloud, accessible from anywhere, but until then, this system works for me.
How do you organize your research files? Are you happy with your system?