. Sorting Family History Paperwork
I have been asked again and again how to make sense of family history projects, especially when a mass of paperwork needs to be sorted for a personal history. This includes handling paperwork for those long dead and coping with paperwork for ourselves, spouses, children, and extended family.
I have finally found a solution that seems to work for all my journal, photograph, and family history projects.
As a first step, gather or purchase 130 or so manila file folders. I like three-tab folders the best because they are long enough to read easily. Find a box in which the folders can be kept as they fill up with paperwork. Also gather a marking pen, pencils, and some post-it notes to make notations as you work.
Then make up labels with the numbers 00-99. These labels will be used for the various years of the person’s life. Attach the labels to the folder tabs. If you are sorting for someone who lived from 1903 to 1965, you will use the labeled folders 03-65. If you are sorting for someone was born in 1986 and is still alive, you will use the labeled folders 86-00 and 01-09 plus any additional folders needed as they mature.
If you are working with several projects at once, you might consider preparing several sets of these labeled folders so as you find paperwork you can file it in the appropriate place and as you discover treasures you can sort them successfully.
Miscellaneous Paperwork Folders
To help make sense of miscellaneous paperwork, you might also want to make up additional labels such as: To Do (items that need additional attention), To Sort (items that seem overwhelming right now or belong in several places), To File (items that need filing elsewhere), Copy (items needing duplication), and Pending (items that are half way done and/or awaiting an answer).
Peripheral Paperwork Folders
You might also have folders for additional paperwork which doesn’t rightly belong with this project such as: Items to Share (paperwork of interest to other parties), Partial Items (items to hold until you can find the rest of the paperwork), Questions (paperwork that needs answers), Siblings (paperwork more rightly belongs to a siblings’ history), Friends (paperwork regarding friends of this person), Photos, Slides, and Negatives (for extra photographic items that you don’t care to put in the yearly folders).
Then, if additional, detailed sorting is needed, prepare labeled folders for the months of the year, i.e. January-December. This will allow further, easy sorting of bulky “yearly” folders. After the items are sorted by the month, they can be returned to the yearly folder and will be more useful because they are chronologically stored.
If the project is big enough you might also want folders for: Donations (from others who support you financially in your family history work), Finances (to keep track of who has paid for what), and Receipts (for printed records of expenses).
Again, after gathering and preparing these supplies, you will want to put the yearly 00-99 labels on the manila folders. As another example, if your ancestor lived from 1899 to 1959, you will use the labeled folders 99-00 and 01-59. You will not use all the labeled yearly folders for any single project unless the person lived a very long time, but having prepared 100 labeled folders, you will be able to handle all different life configurations with ease.
Now it is time to begin putting the paperwork where it belongs. Put the appropriate manila folders for one project in a box labeled with that person’s name so all the paperwork for one person stays together. I often put a smaller box inside this filing box to help the folders stand up straighter and not slowly slip downward. I use this smaller box until the folders stand up on their own as they fill up the larger box.
So set up your system, gather your supplies, and go to work. Family history paperwork needs to be sorted, organized, and filed to be any use. There is nothing so intriguing as a Sunday afternoon filled with a family history project. A sturdy set of labeled manila folders makes all the difference in moving the project from a mess to a success!