Recently, I have had issues with numbness and bruising in my hands, so I have had to limit the things that I can do with them. Typing, “mousing”, gardening and crochet are pretty much out of the question right now. Thanks to “Speech to Text” technology, I have been able to put a few thoughts in order for this post.

I’ve decided to get my filing cabinet organized instead. I’ve developed a habit of working intensively on a specific ancestor and then when something else comes up, like a family reunion or email from a cousin, I take the pile of papers and folders that are on my desk and put them into the cubby system where I keep all of my binders. Those are the papers I’m putting back into my filing cabinet now.

But it has raised a question. Do I need a filing cabinet AND binders? Both have advantages and disadvantages, so I’m trying to think through a better plan for my paper stuff.

At my library, if you are scanning microfilm, the printouts are free, so any time I have scanned something, I have gone ahead and printed it out because I do like to write notes in margins and such. I also have copies of pages from books and periodicals. Therefore, I have TONS of paper. And while I know that I COULD digitize and throw it all out, I find a lot of comfort in those paper copies. It’s difficult to flip through digital documents the way you can through paper.

So is there a reason to have both binders and file folders? I think so.

Maybe thinking through the purpose for different types of documents can help me figure out where to put things. Basically, I have copies of microfilmed documents, periodical and books or I have documents I’ve created to help me organize the information that I’ve found. Maybe I need to think of these things as “Analytical” and “Concrete”. Perhaps the binders should be “Analytical” – self-created documents – and the filing cabinet should be “Concrete” – copies of documents.

Using this plan, what would a binder look like? I’d like it to be something I can grab and take on the road and be helpful whether I have access to other records or not. For example, I’d want to read through it, take notes on the pages, compile a list of questions based on what’s in there and plan for my next research session. The binder would contain:

  • A section for my notes – I keep very detailed notes for each ancestor based on the date of every event or document that I’ve found. Often in these notes, I’ve also included various blog posts that I’ve written to help me remember my theories and thought processes. These notes can be pretty long, so I often include a table of contents at the front of the notes. Each set of notes also includes a linked object to the family group sheet. This “image” of the group sheet automatically updates to include any changes I’ve made to the actual group sheet. Using this method allows me to maintain 1 family group sheet and not have to worry about making the same changes on any other document that I’ve copied the group sheet into.
    • The notes include smaller images of the different documents I’ve found, so that is a reminder to me that I have these documents versus finding the information in a book or periodical. Before printing my notes, I need to include links to the digital documents so that I won’t be wasting time looking through folders to find something that is actually digitized and stored in my cloud account.
    • All of my notes include an automatic date in the bottom corner so that I will know how long it has been since I’ve printed them.
  • A section of Group Sheets for every family member as well as for FANs (friends, acquaintances and neighbors).
  • A section of Excel sheets I’ve put together. Land transactions and descriptions, tax records, cemetery lists and databases of births, deaths and marriages for the surname.
  • A section of maps – State maps for various time periods, county maps, land survey maps, etc. Even though these are “concrete” items, I think they would help me analyze information better.
  • A section for FANs – biographies, wills, deeds that show them as neighbors or witnesses – anything that connects them to my ancestor.
  • Theory records – anything that MIGHT be related to my ancestor that I haven’t found the connection for yet. Again, these would often be “concrete” items, but they will help me to look for clues and would be easily forgotten if there were filed in the filing cabinet.

Then what would go in the filing cabinet folders?

  • Every ancestral couple (and some key non-direct line families) has a hanging folder that contains a 3-prong folder. The 3-prong folder has 5 sheet protectors in it. These folders can be pulled and taken along with a binder, or by themselves for a road trip, if needed. The front pocket always contains a group sheet. The sheet protectors hold birth registers/certificates, marriage bonds/permissions/registers/certificates, death certificates, wills, military paperwork, etc. When I print a new document, I keep it in the back pocket to remind me that I need to process that document in some way – add it to my notes, scan it, transcribe it or write a citation on the back.
  • In the hanging folder, behind the 3-prong folder – land deeds, tax records, pension files, etc.
  • Research correspondence about a person/couple.

Non-family folders

  • Educational items – notes from webinars/conferences, “how to” articles, etc. If I find that a folder is becoming too full (German research, anyone?) then it will move to a binder.
  • Records that pertain to a specific county/region. Histories, periodicals, newsletters.

I have been known to print a great number of pages from a specific location even if I don’t have a connection, “just in case”. For example, I have printed every deed that contains a specific surname within a county. If these types of documents become too cumbersome to keep in a folder (consider if you have print outs of every deed with a grantee or grantor with the surname “Smith”), then I would create a binder for those documents. If I have a binder with copies of an entire marriage register, I might also include any printed index or copies from books or periodicals that contain the same information. It isn’t unusual for different books about the same records to include different details, so this way, it’s all together to compare and I won’t have to dig through a folder and risk getting things out of order.

That’s what I’m working toward. Getting all of these loose papers into a proper location. And as I’m organizing these folders and binders, it’s kind of got me thinking about prepping for a 52 ancestors type of project for 2020. Write a biography of some type for each couple, or something like that. Since using my hands is out for the next week or so, I suppose I should be using my brain for something other than just watching Netflix!