Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Day 7: Organize Your Nearest File Drawer

From day 1 through the end of January, we have been and will be looking at a lot of different areas of physical and digital organization. But there are some underlying principles that apply to nearly any area to be organized. One is to keep things as simple as possible. The other, which certainly applies today, is that you should reserve the spaces nearest to you (physically or virtually) for those things that you need most often. The less often you need it, the farther away you should keep it so that it doesn't get in the way.

Although I recommend moving away from paper storage, some genealogists still prefer working with physical documents. To be frank, I would say that unique documents, those that are difficult or expensive to replace (assuming that they can be replaced at all), should be quickly digitized and then stored using an archivally safe system. You can print copies of the digital images for your regular files. But what if you want to work with those paper copies on a regular basis? In that case, you're going to need to file them somewhere close by so that you can review them as often as needed. So the nearest file drawer becomes especially important.

If you have a number of simultaneous projects going on (both genealogical and non-genealogical), and you're the type of person who needs to keep active projects visible, you may find using a stand-up file organizer on top of the nearest flat surface to be ideal. I suggest keeping the number of these folders to fewer than 10 (remember, keep it simple). Too many, and you'll be wasting time finding the one you need.

But what if you're the type of person who wants to avoid the visual distraction of all those folders? Then they go into the nearest file drawer, organized using whatever system makes the most sense to you. Each folder might represent a particular ancestor you're researching, a particular genealogy event you are attending in the near future, or (if you're a professional researcher, speaker, or writer), a particular client project, presentation, or article.

All your other files for all those other ancestors or for later events can be filed in other file drawers, farther away because you don't need them right this minute. We'll talk about how to organize those in a few days.


  1. I use Decoflex file boxes inside drawers (and on shelves) to hold multiple hanging folders, which in turn hold file folders. That makes for an easy File->Sub-File->Sub-Sub-File arrangement. A Decoflex might hold my paternal grandmother, with hanging folders for her siblings, and files inside for their descendants. 99% (or more!) of my files are digital, but I have some death certificates, as well as print outs (for sentimental reasons - seeing my relatives' handwriting). So the Decoflex never gets too crowded.

  2. Nothing to do here! My filing cabinet is only two drawers, and still mostly empty because I've still got everything in binders. Working on digitizing and putting the few papers I want to keep in the filing cabinet. Back to cleaning out the email inbox (4,000+ down, 3,600+ to go).

  3. I use binders and I have an insert that has pockets so I can put in loose info. Most of my stuff in binders is in plastic as most of the papers are 75-120 yrs old. My great grandfather worked on genealogy thru his travels as auditor for the RR. All of his letters are in plastic and in binders. I only use folders for anything I print to make notes on.