Folders or binders?

binderAs I revealed in the post To Print or Not to Print?, I have a penchant for printing out documents I find online. I’m trying to get myself to download, rather than print online documents, but for the moment, I’m doing both. (I consider this a transition period.)

In any case, when you’re in the habit of printing papers out, you have to figure out how to store them so you can find them. When it comes to organizing genealogy papers, there are two popular options: file folders or binders.

I’m curious, if you’re a paper person, which do you use–and why?

I fall squarely in the file folder camp. This is true for me for all my papers, and here’s why. I think it’s just so much easier to file into a folder than it is into a binder. And the easier it is to file, the more likely it is you will file.

If you’re using binders to organize and store your papers, there are many steps:

  1. Pull the binder off the shelf
  2. Open it to the right place
  3. Open the rings
  4. Either punch holes in the paper or put in a sheet protector
  5. Close the rings
  6. Move all the open papers in front of it over the new paper
  7. Close the binder
  8. Put away the binder

By contrast, with file folders, there are fewer steps:

  1. Open the file drawer
  2. Locate the file
  3. Open the folder (which might or might not entail taking it out)
  4. Drop the paper in the folder

In my experience as a professional organizer, papers meant to go into binders tend to pile up. (Actually, I do that–I keep my dog’s vet records in a binder, for some reason, and I have a large stack of papers that need to be punched and put in the binder.)

But I know some people love to use binders for genealogy research.

Please share: What’s your favorite way to store and organize your genealogy papers?


  1. Vicki Roberts says:

    I tried binders, but have ended up with folders in a cabinet. Works best for me.

  2. Janine, must I pick only one? I have binders full of places, sorted by states & counties. I have file cabinet drawers with folders for people, one drawer for each grandparents’s lines. OF course, I have many folders on my laptop too…

    • Colleen, thanks for reminding me that folders and binders aren’t mutually exclusive when it comes to handling paper. I think it’s really interesting that you use binders for places and folders for people. Thanks for sharing that!

  3. I just started reading your blog. I like to think I am very organized but I am really always just a few steps from actually being there.

    I vote for binders. I number my paper records to correspond to my research log so I like to keep them in order. Binders seem to work better although I agree they do add a little extra work.

    • Vic, I think you should give yourself lots of credit for being organized! If you’re keeping your paper records numbered and indexed in binders, you’ve got it going on! Thanks for visiting the blog.

  4. I have gone back and forth. I started with folders, but had someone really “sell” me on binders, so I bought binders and put the documents in protective sheets . For my purposes I felt like the binders were too bulky. I like being able to grab a file and take it with me, (or a portion of the file) with me when I head out to research. (I have the info entered into my database, but just the same there are times when I want to be able to scrutinize the documents themselves as I find other information.) When I pulled things from the binders, for some reason it took me a while to return them to the binders, and I certainly wasn’t going to take an entire binder with me. I know there are benefits to both, but I like folders best.

    Nice blog by the way! I found you via Geneabloggers and decided to drop by for a visit.

    • I’m with you 100%, Michelle. Binders are great for those who love them. The extra effort it takes to file into them makes me less of a fan. I love the easy access of folders. I keep mine in a rolling file cart, so I can just roll the cart to my desk when I’m starting a research session and everything is so accessible!

      Thanks so much for stopping by the blog and commenting. I hope you come back!

    • Diane Cramer says:

      I use folders, too. Folders are color coded for family groups that are in my direct line. I group collateral relatives in a hanging folder, also color coded. But I don’t like the loose paper that mounts up in my direct line folders. I am going to use prongs to attach my papers to my folders. Yes, it requires punching, but I’ve misplaced papers too often to continue that practice. Besides, my nearest library with a genealogy department does not allow binders in the research area. You can lock them in your locker, but you have to bring in smaller working files. My folders will be perfect, and I won’t lose anything!

      • I hope the prongs work out well for you, Diane. I’ve used them in the past (not with genealogy) with limited success. But your rationale seems sound! Thanks for commenting.

  5. Robyn Shafer says:

    For the most part, I’m a folder person. I do however, have planned a trip to see my family in Texas. I’m setting up a binder with dividers to take with me. The binder will have key info on family members. While I am still researching some people, I have a lot of info on others and these are the ones that will be in the binder to show my family.

    • Thanks for your comment, Robyn! I think that’s a great use of a binder–they really do make papers portable and secure while you’re transporting them. I hope your family enjoys seeing your research!

  6. I use 3- or 4-ring binders (with copysafe page protectors) as permanent storage for the main documents in my family history collection. It’s the best way to protect them from damage, and I’m less likely to file things in the wrong place. For short term storage (eg, for documents awaiting data extraction and analysis) I use folders or small boxes.

  7. I have to be a binder person as when we moved into our home we inherited a study that is completely shelved on every wall, including above our desk. When I suggested to my hubby that we could take out a few and put in some cabinets he replied that I’d overspent on my new kitchen so no arrghhhh

    • Argh is right! I’m sure you can make binders work for you, but I wonder whether there might be other options, like a freestanding file cabinet or file boxes (maybe one per surname of family unit) that could rest on the shelves. My files are stored in a rolling file cart that I tuck into a closet.

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