To print or not to print?

questionmarkI admit it. I like to print out source documents I find online. When I see a census record for an ancestor, for example, I have an overwhelming desire to print it out and put it in that ancestor’s paper file. That system has worked well for me, though of course there’s potential for all those printed records to take up a lot of space.

Yesterday, I was listening to Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems podcast, specifically the Digitize, Organize, and Archive episode in which she interviews Denise May Levenick about organizing family memorabilia and genealogy records. Listening to that, I was inspired to take their advice and try to squash my compulsion to print and instead save these documents as pdfs.

I thought I’d do that today, but I’m realizing that I take some comfort in having paper records. I know my house could catch on fire and the records would vanish. But I think I have more faith in my house remaining unburned than I do in my hard drive not failing. As I’m typing this, though, I know that’s not the true reason. (I back up to an external hard drive and I have an online backup service.) I think the real reason is that my paper files are more organized than my electronic genealogy files.

Saving pdfs rather than printing would require me to clean up my electronic act. And that would be a good thing. As I see it, I’d need to come up with a good naming system and file hierarchy. I’m a Mac user and I typically rely on its excellent search functionality to help me find what I need on my hard drive. But I can imagine that pinpointing specific records in a search might be more difficult.

One advantage I can see to saving these documents on my hard drive is that sometimes I’m doing research in the absence of my paper files. I might be using my laptop upstairs, while my file cart resides downstairs. I might be at a library or a conference. I can certainly see advantages to saving, not printing.

So I’m going to continue printing, but only until I get my head around doing a better job with organizing my hard drive. (Step 1: Read Denise May Levenick’s book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes, which offers information on file naming protocols.) Once I clean up my electronic genealogy files, I think I’ll try saving, rather than printing, and see if I can feel comfortable.



  1. Good Luck, Janine, in your move toward a paperless life. I admit my own affection for paper — I love the way it smells and feels. But, I am ok with digitizing documents I rarely (ok, if ever) look at twice, or books and files I might want to read while traveling. Thanks for the shout-out for my new book; I hope you find some ideas to help you work with your family history papers. I look forward to reading more about your progress. ~ Denise

    • Denise, thank you so much for your comment! I can’t believe I still haven’t thoroughly read your new book, but I will soon and will run a review here and on my organizing business’s blog. I appreciate the help I know your book will give!

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