Organise your files

When I was younger, feeling overwhelmed by all that I had to do, my mother would say ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ ‘One bite at a time’, I’d reply. It’s a great saying because not only is it practical advice but it also makes light of what might seem insurmountable.

Organising your family history research papers and electronic files might seem like an insurmountable task, especially if you have been researching for some time. But if you tackle it like you eat an elephant, then it can be done.

In family history we are lucky because an organisational structure is built in to our family structure. We have two parents and four grandparents – or in my case, six grandparents as my father was adopted. However many you have, that gives you a basic organisational structure. So, the first bite of the elephant is to divide your files into those groupings – two, four, six or eight, whichever works for you. Once you have done that, it won’t seem quite overwhelming.

When you have the energy for another bite, you then divide those groups further. Surnames make good subgroups, because our research tends to focus on surnames and your organisational scheme needs to support your research process. If you work mostly with paper, you could set up four boxes or in-trays, one for each grandparent. Manila folders could be placed in them for the Surnames.

I prefer to store my files electronically. Within each surname folder I have a subfolder for each generation and the next level is subfolders for: Certificates, Images & Photos, Notes, Reports and Research & Analysis. I also include a folder called Work In Progress within each Surname folder, so if I don’t have time to file things properly I can at least save them into the correct Surname folder and they are there waiting for me when I do have time.

The structure you use is up to you. The important thing is to divide the task up into manageable bites.

PS I do not endorse eating real elephants!

Elephant photo by Mylon Ollila on Unsplash

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