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The Ultimate Organization Cheat Sheet for Genealogists

Does it feel some days like you are buried under a pile of papers?  Do you worry if you start organizing it could eat away days, weeks or months of your valuable free time that you could otherwise spend researching your family tree?  

I get it, I've been there. But it doesn't have to be that way forever.  I've created a printable cheat sheet to break down your organization into small easy to accomplish, bite-sized tasks that will help you start to get organized and stay that way once you get there.   

Wondering how to get on the track to a more organized life? Well, wonder no more.

Weekly:  On a weekly basis do these three things.

  1. Mark Your Papers.  As you work, mark your papers so you can easily identify where you will need to file them.  In our Historical Research Planner: Filing Pack we include small color coding labels that are meant for this purpose.  You could also write a surname to further break down your papers into individual file groups you will eventually place them in.  
  2. Sort Your Papers.  Once a week, sit down and sort your "To File" pile so that it will be easy to file everything in one short sitting.  Arrange them in the same way that your filing system is arranged.  If they need to be 3-hole punched to go into a binder, separate them by binder the order you will put them in.  If you have a file cabinet where all of the files are color coded by family group, alphabetized by surname and chronological by family member - organize your papers in a way that will make putting them into these files as quick and easy as possible. 
  3. File Your Papers. Now that you've taken out a lot of the leg-work, use one day each week to put your papers where they belong so they will be easy to find in the future.  

Monthly:  On a monthly basis do these three things. 

  1. Keep Your Binders Relevant.  Binders should include only the papers you need easily accessible because you are currently working on them.  Each month go through and decide what needs to stay in these binders.  If you haven't worked on a particular project in a month or more these items probably need to get taken out of your binders.  
  2. Move Your Papers from Binders to Filing.  The papers you took out of your binder still need a home, start new folders in filing or put them into the folders they belong in.  
  3. Move Bulky or Grouped Files into Boxes. When you notice your filing system is getting a little cramped, it may be time to move your less active files into boxes.  Another way of making space is to move grouped files into boxes.  What does this mean? It means you can use your biggest categorization - For example, in our system,  you might break down your filing system may be COLOR-CODING > SURNAME > FAMILY GROUP > INDIVIDUAL - so to begin with you would make four boxes, one with each color, then put the coordinating color in that box.  As your research grows, you may need a box for each surname.

Yearly:  On an annual basis do these three things.

  1. Update Your Labels.  Go through all of your filing and make sure that everything is labeled appropriately.  Replace labels that are falling apart, or that reflect out-dated information.  If there are files that are big and bulky and could be broken down further into smaller sub-folders do this now.  
  2. Index Your Boxes.  When everything is where it belongs, create indexes so that you can find the information quickly and easily.  This will become more important the more information you amass in your research.  Start with boxes, and place the completed index in the front of the box or on the top if the box isn't used often.  Make two copies of the index, one that goes inside the box, and another to be kept in a "master index" which you will file to keep track of all of your boxes. 
  3. Assess Your System. The best system is one that works.  Look at how you are organizing your information and the process you are using to keep up with organization.  Is it working for you? Could it work better? Tweak accordingly and come up with a plan for the following year. 
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Did you like this information? I put it together in a printable so that it would be easy for you to keep somewhere visible for a reminder.  

Get your free copy now!

How do you keep organized?  What strategies work for you? Let us know in the comments!

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here


If you liked this post you may like these products from our shop: 

Last Chance to Win!

They are almost here!! If you haven't heard about the Historical Research Planner system yet, you can find out more here. They will be available for sale as three separate packs beginning October 1st!  I have been hard at work on this system for almost two years now and finally they are perfect and ready for the world!

To celebrate the upcoming launch and the release of my new e-book The Purposeful Family Historian, I am running a giveaway.  Three lucky entrants will be chosen at random to receive three pre-sale bundles including all of the packs available in the system so far, including: The Calendar Pack - to set goals, schedule tasks and keep track of your progress; The Genealogy Pack - with all of the forms you need to keep notes, track sources and color-coding to work with The Filing Pack; finally, The Filing Pack - which has tabs and labels to color code all of your notes, papers, documents and research.

HistoricalResearchPlannerGiveaway

Updated 10/11 - Although our contest has now ended, you can still get your planner.  They are now available for sale in the shop.  Stop by and check them out by clicking here.  Want to make sure you are in the loop for future contests? Subscribe to our mailing list at the bottom of this post.  

To enter all you need to do is sign up for the newsletter (or if you are already signed up, follow the steps to validate your registration through the form below).  You can win additional entries by liking The Historium on Facebook, following @TheHistorium on Twitter and pinning our image as well as sharing the contest with your friends through the social links provided below! Altogether that gives you seven possible entries for one of three possible prizes, pretty good odds! 


Tara Cajacob

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here


Sneak Peek! Family History Research Planners Coming in October!

Things have been so exciting here!  The launch of the new ebook The Purposeful Family Historian is right around the corner, and on that note I have even more big news!  I have been working for nearly two years to perfect The Historical Research Planner System which will be debuting this October!

UPDATE 10/1: They're here!! When you finish with this post, check out the shop to get your planner pack as an instant download! 

Those of you who are on the mailing list got the news first but I have new exclusive details today.  Not on the list yet? Sign up at the bottom of this post to get all the details first AND the Free Photo Memories Workbook in your inbox. 

The system is available as three separate packs, which integrate seamlessly with one another or are useable one at a time, all of which are printable PDF Smart Forms with Fillable blanks:

  1. The Calendar Pack - to help you set goals, break them down into tasks and schedule them for increased productivity and focus.
  2. The Genealogy Pack - with forms to organize your entire family tree while keeping everything color coded for efficiency and organization. 
  3. The Filing Pack - has everything you need to file your whole project, utilizing coordinating color-coded box labels, file labels and binder tabs.  

Are you as excited as we are? Let us know below! Keep checking back to get updates about the launch!

Tara Cajacob


Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here


Beat Procrastination With Scheduling

September 6 is National Beat Procrastination Day, and the productivity seeker in me couldn't pass up the chance to pass on some goodies I've learned about using scheduling to take down procrastination and make insane progress on your family tree!

So here are my tips to beat procrastination and amp up your productivity by scheduling:

1. Schedule goal-setting sessions.   Everyone else gets a chunk of your time, so why don't you? Set up some time with yourself to figure out what you need to get done.  Make 4 separate 20-30 minute appointments with yourself on different days. In these appointments you will come up with annual, bi-annual, monthly and weekly goals.  

**Make sure you are making your goals reasonable.  A good rule of thumb is to use SMART goal setting and start with one goal for each time period.**

2. Break each goal into tasks and schedule those tasks.  Figure out how many tasks you have, and divide them evenly over your time period.  Do this first with your longest term goals and work toward your shortest term goals.  Schedule the tasks for days and times when you are typically free to work and concentrate.  Remember, none of this is set in stone, just like you can reschedule your dentist appointment if something comes up, you can reschedule these tasks if you just can't do it. 

3. Give yourself credit and schedule rewards for accomplishing goals.  The importance of this step cannot be overstated.  Even if you understand the importance and value of achieving your goals, the subconscious, reward-driven Id in your brain will still pitch a fit like an unruly two-year-old if you ignore it for too long.  Everyone needs a substantial 'atta-boy every now and again.  If possible, match the reward value to the difficulty of the goal.  More difficult goals that you have been working toward for a longer period of time should have a more substantial reward assigned. 

I hope these tips help you beat procrastination!  What tools and tips do you use to make sure you optimize productivity when you are working on a big project? Share with me in the comments!


Tara Cajacob

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here


Sneak Peek! Help me choose the cover for my new Ebook!

Big news here, I have been hard at work on my brand new, first ever, E-book!  I couldn't wait to share the news with you.   It's called The Purposeful Family Historian and in it I explain my fool-proof method for organizing a huge research project, like putting together your family tree, while staying focused, driven and motivated. 

I need your help!  I have two great cover designs, and I would love some help choosing which one is the best!  

Tell me in the comments below if you like A or B better!  Whichever gets the most votes will be the new cover.  I'll announce the winning design and the release date in a future blog post! 


Tara Cajacob

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here


The Organized Genealogist: 5 Tips

If you read Sorting It All Out and Filing FTW!, you know the basic idea of how to set up and get started with a filing system for your genealogical records.  The biggest obstacle to overcome is getting started with the process, the second biggest obstacle is setting up a system to help you keep it up.  Here are five tips to help make things as simple as possible:  
      
1. Start Today.  The most difficult thing you can do is get started.  Before you start your mind is zooming 
with doubts (can I do it? how do I do it?), frustrations (this is impossible!),  or denial (it’s not so bad… I don’t really need  to find _________.). It’s time to put all of that noise out of your head.  Don’t think. Just do. That is why we  start big and work towards small.  The more mechanical and systematic you can make it, the fewer excuses you  will come up with, the less intimidating it will be, and the less time it will 
take you.  

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2. Let your Pedigree Be Your Guide.   If you are having trouble figuring out where something goes or how you  want to organize your files, look to your forms.  Your pedigree will show you all your family members in an organized format, it is a visualization of how you want  your filing to be.  Bonus: once you get everything sorted out, your pedigree can function as a map to find what you are looking for.  You can use other family history forms the same way!
 
3. Figure Out How To Handle Difficult Documents and Stick With It. Sometimes a document might list more than one family, more than one individual, or have some other complication that  makes it difficult to file.  When  it comes time to empty out your other folder and file these away, figure out how  you want to do it and stick with it.  

One of the easiest things to do is to make a copy and put it in with both  names or families, but this can prove difficult if you a) don’t have a copier b) have been doing it a while and it is making for extra paper bulk.  Other ways you can handle it are to make a note in the second area saying  “refer to “_______________” under this file, this folder, this box. 
 
Note: you will also have to make a similar  judgment call when it comes to marriage. When does an individual stop being a  part of one family group and become a part of another.  I handle this by making the change at the date of marriage.  Whatever you decide to do, decide early and be consistent
      
4. Make Indexes.  Once you  get all of your papers filed and organized, you might consider making indexes so  that you can refer to them in the future if you can’t remember how you filed  something or if you need to find something quickly.   As mentioned in No. 3, if you use your charts to help you organize your  documents, an index might be as simple as including those in the front of each  section of your files. 
      
5. Keep It Going.  All this  would be for nothing if we had no intention to keep our stuff organized in the  future.  It isn’t as difficult as  you might think.  The most helpful tip I can give you here is to pick a day, weekly, monthly, quarterly, whatever you have time for, and spend a little bit of time re-sorting things.  Find a place, whether you start an extra pocket folder in the front of each of the boxes for documents “To Be Filed.” Or just use your “Other Box” as a  transitional holding place between your filing days.  

Have a specific, pre-determined place to put unfiled papers, with the express intention of filing them on a specific day.  That way you won’t fall into the same old cycles, even if you aren’t immediately putting each paper in its specific place. 
 
Follow these easy tips, and set realistic expectations for yourself. Spend a little bit of time regularly keeping up with what you’ve done, and you will be living the dream, you’ll be an Organized Genealogist! 
  
What tips do you have to help with organization and filing?  Lay ‘em on us in the comments!

The Organized Genealogist: Sort It All Out

Is your workspace totally over run with stacks of paper? Dining table buried in “proof” and "evidence” from your family history research?  If so, you are not alone. 

We all know getting our foot in the door is the hardest part.  So, where do you start?

Big to Small
Of course it would be nice to know exactly where every single piece of paper should go, right off the bat.  
But it is totally unrealistic.  Sorting every individual page all at once will leave you in a mess worse than what you started with and feeling bogged down and totally overwhelmed.  Instead, we’re going to start big and  work toward the smaller, detailed organization. What the heck does that mean?  In the same way it can seem daunting to fulfill a huge goal (i.e. lose weight) it can be daunting to take on a huge project like organization.  So, we combat this by breaking it off into bite sized chunks that we can do in our spare time, here or there.  Come up with a way to break up your research into about four groups.  I like the surname of each grandparent  (each of your grandfathers' surnames and your grandmothers’ maiden names).  There are other ways to break it up, but I find this is a good division point.  

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Getting Boxy With It
Get a box for each of the surnames you are using to divide things up and an extra one for “other”papers.  Label each one.  Remember, however you decide to break it up, we are starting with BIG, general headings.  We don’t want to do any detail-oriented work right now.  

If you used my example of grandparents, you would  put any document pertaining to any ancestor of that grandparent in that  box.  So, your grandpa’s dad’s military records, go into your grandpa’s box.  Same with your grandpa’s mom’s baptismal records—even though she has a different surname than the one that is  on the box.  Doesn’t matter.  Any of her parents’ (and their parents’) records will also go in there.
 
Don’t Know? Don’t Sweat It.
 If you get confused or hung up on a record don’t worry about it, put it in the “other” box for now. We’ll go back to it later.  The goal right now is to get every document into one of those boxes in as little time as possible.  The sooner we get this step done, the sooner we get to move on to the next.  When we reach the next step we’re one step closer to conquering our mess and setting up an organizational system that will keep our paper’s straight from now on! 
 
Hopefully, just by finishing this step, you already feel like getting organized will be a bit easier and you can see a noticeable difference in the state of your work space!  

How do you sort your genealogy information?  Let us know in the comments! 

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