A lot of people (including me) strive to be organized, especially when it comes to their genealogy. You need look no further than the incredibly popular and busy new Facebook group, The Organized Genealogist (3,604 members, as of today) to see that. It’s obvious that many people are looking for ways to get their genealogy research organized.
That begs the question, What does being organized really mean?
I think the answer varies by the individual, but generally speaking, as a professional organizer, I believe that being organized means that you’re able to put your hands on what you want, when you want it (well, within a minute or two). I always discourage people from striving to be “perfectly organized” (because that’s not really possible) and instead go for “organized enough.”
So how do you become organized enough? When it comes to family history research, the path to being organized starts with picking out a system that will work for you. There’s no one right way to organize your genealogy records. Pick what you think will work for you and try to keep it simple.
The next step is to deal with your backlog. That is, implement your system using the papers or files you already have.
The final, very important, step is to maintain your system regularly. You don’t want to wait for a back up to build back up before filing again. Instead, file as you go along. When you acquire a new document (be it paper or electronic) file it right away. And here’s a tip: Don’t wait until you get through your backlog to start filing your incoming documents. Start immediately.
For me, the big difference in how I organize my genealogy files between now and when I first started getting interested in the hobby about a dozen years ago is that I’m relying less on paper and more on electronic files. I’ve set up a file naming protocol and I’m using it consistently for new files while chipping away at the backlog. Since I know I can find my electronic files, I’m printing fewer documents. I’m still using the paper file system that I started at the beginning for the papers that do come my way. And today, unlike a dozen years ago, I’m using software to keep track of my family tree and my sources. (I use Reunion on my Mac.) That gives me great peace of mind. (And, yes, I back it up both on an external hard drive and in the cloud.)
The best part? Thanks to neat paper and electronic files, my genealogy research doesn’t impinge on my physical space. (My paper files are in a rolling file cart that I tuck into a closet in my office.)
I’m not perfectly organized, not by a long shot. But I can find virtually everything I’m looking for quickly, so that makes me organized enough. And that makes me happy.