Organizing Your Genealogy Research

Abrams Collection Genealogy Highlights
Summer 2006
Volume 8, Number 3

A PDF version of Organizing Your Genealogy Research is also available.

For some genealogists, the biggest challenge in their family history research isn't tracking down that elusive ancestor in the 1930 U.S. Census. Instead, the toughest job is organizing all their valuable notes, records, photos and more. While it's a daunting task, an organized system for genealogy materials prevents duplication of efforts and helps researchers to determine what (or who) is missing from their family trees. Perhaps even better, it prevents that sinking feeling when a cousin calls and asks for a copy of a great-aunt's birth record, which could be buried in any number of boxes.

Organizational styles and systems vary among family historians. But whatever their preferences, the reason for creating such systems is the same. Getting organized allows genealogists to set a standard for crossreferencing a record among multiple family names, such as a land record that describes a sale from one ancestor to another; it establishes a format for note taking and a system for tracking correspondence; and it makes it easier to prepare for a research trip, thanks to research calendars and lists of what should come next in the research process.

Keeping track of sources used, even sources that did not include information relevant to a particular family, can make research more manageable later on. Noting what you looked for and the date the source was checked gives context to your research. Did you check that county history before or after you uncovered information about an ancestor's first marriage? Including the call number for a source will help you locate it later if need be. Books on genealogical standards of evidence discuss the types of records and research materials available, while serving as a guide to citation and analysis.

The Library of Michigan has an extensive collection of how-to genealogy books, from sources that provide an overview of organizational methods to materials that deal with specific topics, such as preservation of family treasures or identification of undated photographs. Some genealogists choose to bring their research together in a written family history or in a scrapbook with photos of everyone from distant ancestors to the newest addition to the family. The Library has a number of books on these topics as well, and many people also find it helpful to browse the Library's collection of family histories to explore possibilities for their own compilation.

In addition to books that highlight the pros and cons of genealogy computer software available for use in organizing research, several new books focus on digitizing family documents or posting research online to create a family history Web site. For more information about the titles recommended in this publication, please search ANSWER, the Library's online catalog, Clicking on the titles in this publication will take you directly to the ANSWER catalog record for that item.

No matter the system you choose to organize your genealogy, the Library of Michigan is here to help. Pedigree charts and family group sheets are available at the Genealogy Desk or on the Library's Genealogy Web site, While the thrill of the hunt remains one of the most exciting aspects of genealogy research, organizing and preserving that information creates a legacy that will last for generations.

Getting Started

Alessi, Jean and Jan Miller. Once Upon a Memory: Your Family Tales and Treasures. White Hall, VA: Betterway Publications Inc., 1987.
Genealogy CS 47 .A43 1987

Arthur, Stephen and Julia. Your Life & Times: How to Put a Life Story on Tape -- An Oral History Handbook. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., 1987.
Genealogy CS 49 .A78 1987

Balhuizen, Anne Ross. Searching on Location: Planning a Research Trip. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1992.
Genealogy CS 9 .B35 1992

Carmack, Sharon DeBartolo. Organizing Your Family History Search: Efficient & Effective Ways to Gather and Protect Your Genealogical Research. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 1999.
Genealogy CS 44 .C375 1999

Cyndi's List: Organizing Your Research

Dollarhide, William. Managing a Genealogical Project: A Complete Manual for the Management and Organization of Genealogical Materials. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1999.
Genealogy CS 16 .D64 1999

Fleming, Ann Carter. The Organized Family Historian: How to File, Manage and Protect Your Genealogical Research and Heirlooms. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 2004.
Genealogy CS 14 .F54 2004

Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., 2000.
Genealogy CS 47 .G73 2000
Of special interest: Chapter 4: Evaluation of Evidence; Chapter 7: Organizing and Evaluating Research Findings; Chapter 8: Successful Correspondence; Chapter 9: Computers in Genealogy.

Langman, Robert R. and Jimmy B. Parker. 30 Seconds: A Guide to Organizing Your Genealogy Files. Midvale, UT: Heritage Knights LLC, 2000.
Genealogy CS 16 .L26 2001

National Archives: Caring for Your Family Archives

Renick, Barbara. Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family's History and Heritage. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 2003.
Genealogy CS 16 .R46 2003

Whitaker, Beverly DeLong. Beyond Pedigrees: Organizing and Enhancing Your Work. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1993.
Genealogy CS 14 .W47 1993

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Merriman, Brenda Dougall. About Genealogical Standards of Evidence: A Guide for Genealogists. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 2004.
Genealogy CS 83 .M47 2004

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997.
Genealogy CS 16 .M55 1997

Stevenson, Noel C. Genealogical Evidence: A Guide to the Standard of Proof Relating to Pedigrees, Ancestry, Heirship and Family History. Laguna Hills, CA: Aegean Park Press, 1989.
Genealogy CS 14 .S73 1989

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Writing a Family History

Carmack, Sharon DeBartolo. You Can Write Your Family History. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2003.
Genealogy CS 16 .C3665 2003

Dixon, Janice T. Family Focused: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Your Autobiography and Family History. Wendover, NV: Mount Olympus Publishing, 1997.
Genealogy CS 16 .D595 1997

Gouldrup, Lawrence P. Writing the Family Narrative. Ancestry Inc., 1987.
Genealogy CS 16 .G6 1987

Hatcher, Patricia Law. Producing a Quality Family History. Salt Lake City: Ancestry Inc., 1996.
Genealogy CS 16 .H36 1996

Kempthorne, Charley. For All Time: A Complete Guide to Writing Your Family History. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1996.
Genealogy CS 16 .K45 1996

Klein, Reinhard. Family History Logbook: A Timeline Journal from 1900 to 2000. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 1996.
Genealogy CS 16 .K53 1996

Polking, Kirk. Writing Family Histories and Memoirs. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 1995.
Genealogy CS 16 .P645 1995

Stephenson, Lynda Rutledge. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Your Family History. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2000.
Genealogy CS 16 .S74 2000

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Douglas, Althea. Help! I've Inherited an Attic Full of History. 2 vols. Toronto: The Ontario Genealogical Society, 1998.
Genealogy CD 976 .D68 1997
Genealogy CD 976 .D68 1997 v. 2

Vol. 1: Dating, Evaluating and Disposing of the Accumulation of a Lifetime.
Vol. 2: Archival Conservation in the Home Environment.

Northeast Document Conservation Center

Paulsen, Deidre M. and Jeanne S. English. Preserving the Precious. Salt Lake City: Restoration Source, 1989.
Genealogy Z 701 .P395 1989

Sturdevant, Katherine Scott. Organizing & Preserving Your Heirloom Documents. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2002.
Genealogy CS 14 .S78 2002

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Dating Old Photographs, 1840-1929. Lewiston, NY: Family Chronicle, 2000.
Genealogy TR 147 .D37 2000

Davies, Thomas L. Shoots: A Guide to Your Family's Photographic Heritage. Danbury, NH: Addison House, 1977.
Genealogy TR 465 .D38

Frisch-Ripley, Karen. Unlocking the Secrets in Old Photographs. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1991.
Genealogy CS 49 .F75 1990

Taylor, Maureen. Identifying & Dating Your Family Photographs. Pleasant Grove, UT: 123 Genealogy, 2003.
AV Genealogy TR 465 .I34 2003

---. Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs. 2nd ed. Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2005.
Genealogy CS 14 .T39 2005

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Braun, Bev Kirschner. Crafting Your Own Heritage Album. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2000.
Genealogy CS 14 .B73 2000

Cyndi's List: Scrapbooks

Family Tree Page Ideas for Scrapbookers: 130 Ways to Create a Scrapbook Legacy. Denver: Memory Makers Books, 2004.
Genealogy TR 465 .F36 2004

Stephani, Julie, ed. More than Memories: The Complete Guide for Preserving Your Family History. Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1998.
Genealogy TR 340 .M667 1998

Taylor, Maureen. Heritage Album: Tips & Techniques. Pleasant Grove, UT: 123 Genealogy, 2003.
AV Genealogy TR 465 .H47 2003

---. Scrapbooking Your Family History. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2003.
Genealogy TR 340 .T39 2003

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Christian, Peter. Web Publishing for Genealogy. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., 2000.
Genealogy CS 21 .C44 2000

Clifford, Karen. The Complete Beginner's Guide to Genealogy, the Internet and Your Genealogy Computer Program. Monterey, CA: Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., 2001.
Genealogy CS 14 .C56 2001

Howells, Cyndi. Planting Your Family Tree Online: How to Create Your Own Family History Web Site. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 2003.
Genealogy CS 21 .H76 2003

McClure, Rhonda R. Digitizing Your Family History: Easy Methods for Preserving Your Heirloom Documents, Photos, Home Movies and More in a Digital Format. Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2004.
Genealogy CS 21 .M33 2004

---. The Genealogist's Computer Companion. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2002.
Genealogy CS 14 .M345 2002

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Updated 08/01/2011