Organizing Your Genealogy From the Start |

Welcome to Genealogy expert Lisa Lisson for today’s guest post. Her background in genealogy is a great parallel to my photo organizing. They really go hand in hand.

You have begun researching your family’s genealogy. If you are like me, you quickly became overwhelmed with the amount of information you gathered on your family. Some of it accurate. Some of it not. Documents, photographs, ephemera, notes written on scrap paper, oral history recordings on your phone….. What do you do with it all?  How do you create a system from the start to not only store your information, but have it easily accessible and adaptable as you progress in your research?

Family Tree Software

A great first place to start organizing your genealogy research is with a family tree software program. Homepages are pedigree style charts that allow you to see the generations of your tree. Start with yourself and begin filling in the information of name, birth date, marriage date and so on.  Work backwards generation by generation.  Recording your genealogy information in a family tree program has several benefits:

  • Your family is easily viewed generation by generation.
  • Missing information can be more easily discerned.
  • Documents and photographs can be attached to individuals.
  • Most programs have the ability to share your information with others of your choosing.

Many great options for family tree software are available. RootsMagic, and Legacy 8.0 are good options. Family Historian is lesser known, but another good option. Several have free trials of smaller versions you can try for free.  There is no one “best” program.  Look at the different options to determine ease of use and what appeals to you visually.

{Andi’s note: Personally I use Family Tree Maker which syncs with my Family Tree Maker account.}

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Organizing Your Genealogy From the Start |

Genealogy File Folders – Digital and Real

While so much in genealogy is going digital, there will be many occasions when you will have physical documents or copies of documents to store. As you progress in your research, you will find many of the records you need are not online. You will be collecting paper copies of records and documents you need. You will need a way to organize these both digital and paper documents and records.

Digital Files

For those online resources and documents you find, setting up a solid digital file folders will keep them easily accessible. Create a system that works for you. Remember no system is perfect for everyone.

One example of a digital filing system is to use nesting folders based on the type of record you have. Each bullet point represents a folder or subfolder.


  • Main Surname (Talbott)
    • Births
      • Joseph M. Talbott
      • Boss Henry Talbott
      • Charles M. Talbott
    • Deaths
      • Joseph M. Talbott
      • Boss Henry Talbott
      • Charles M. Talbott
    • Marriage
      • Boss Talbott/Esther Richardson
      • M. Talbott/Rosa Bowen
    • Census
      • 1790
      • 1800
      • 1810
      • [Add each census year you have records for.]
    • Military
      • Revolutionary War
        • David G. Talbott
      • War of 1812
      • Civil War
        • John B. Talbott

Physical Files

For physical folders, using different color folders for each surname is common. Colored circle stickers can also be used on plain manila file folders.  Within the colored folders, documents can be filed under an individual ancestor’s name or by record type.

The filing of women’s records can be a bit confusing since her surname changes upon marriage.  Typically, most genealogists file a female’s records under her maiden name until she marries.  Once married, her records are filed under her married surname.  Rosa Bowen’s birth records are filed with the Bowen files. Once she married and became Rosa Talbott, she was filed under Talbott.

There is no one correct way to organize your genealogy.  Use the system that works for you and be consistent

Photograph and Ephemera Storage Options

If you are fortunate in your research, you will acquire various family photographs and other memorabilia. It can quickly become overwhelming. The most important focus is on storing your items in appropriate storage containers to prevent deterioration.  Andi recently talked about this in her post Preserving Your Family’s Historic Photographs. Once in appropriate archival safe containers, group your containers together by surname if possible. Tip: Upload a digital photograph of your item and attach it to your ancestor in your family tree software. You can make a note of its history and significance for easy reference.

If you get stuck in your genealogy research (and we all do), find a professional genealogist specializing in your area of research  at the Association of Professional Genealogists.

Organizing Your Genealogy from the Start - Guest post by Lisa Lisson |

Lisa Lisson, Geneaologist -

Lisa Lisson is a genealogist, blogger and author of Family Tree Maker (to be released 15 June 2016). Passionate about genealogy research and helping others find and share their ancestors, Lisa can be found at Family Tree Maker, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Etsy.


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