Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lessons Learned at the NGS Conference



Totally NOT organized!

One thing I took away from the conference is that I am still being held back by not being WELL ORGANIZED. I very rarely use paper, or print anything off, so I don’t really have a need for a big paper filing system. But I understand the things that I read so much better when I DO have a print out of them right there in front of me and I can take notes right on the paper as well.

For example, when I reading about someone’s family, I have to write it all out in tree format in order to understand it or take it all in or in order to compare it to my own family.

A Ginger drawing
But then I find myself tossing those pieces of papers aside into a huge pile of “to be filed” or if I do decide to be a good girl and file them when I’m done with them right away, I run into the dilemma of having to decide how to file them. I swear I spend more time making decisions than I do actually doing genealogy.  Once I decide where or how to file them, I either already have an existing folder that I can just drop them in to, or I have to create a new one. Creating a new one entails finding a folder, putting a label on it (goes back to deciding how to describe it), and then finding space and the correct location in the filing cabinet in which to file it.

I’ve been reusing my file folders for 20 years now, so some of them have labels on the tabs already with either printed text or handwritten text on them. Some of them have post it notes covering up the previous labels. Creating a label on the computer is an additional time sucker. I have to remember how I did it the last time, 2 years ago. And of course I have to improve the process (again) while I’m at it. More time sucking.

DYMO label maker

In her talk Reporting the Facts: Record as You Go, Pamela Boyer Sayre mentioned using a handheld label maker to label her file folders.  That sounded like a great idea to me except last I knew, label makers only came with those plastic rolls of labels that were thick and embossed and stuck to everything…forever. But I went to the store and I checked them out and I bought one and alas! They do come with paper labels that you can use for your file folders, or whatever else you have that you know won’t get wet or last forever. So I’ve found at least one way to make my paper filing situation a little bit easier.

Having the proper supplies will ease the anxiety and time sucking-ness. I put my new handy-dandy label maker to use last night in fact when I needed to file away the 15 pages of emails that I had printed from a lady in GA I had been corresponding with before I left for the NGS conference. Then I noticed the two folders beside it that needed labels…

Pendaflex hanging file folder

Last month I bought more hanging file folders as well. So once I got these two other folders labeled, I put all three of them into a new hanging file folder and then I added a labeled tab to it so I could identify it easily.

What tools do YOU use when tackling your file cabinet?


This is probably going to be a multi-part discussion series about how I deal with my paper files, digital files, and my all-around working habits that are either hindering or contributing to my successful research abilities. 


  1. Your system sounds just like mine. I prefer to store everything in the computer. I bought a label maker years ago and still have never used it. Maybe I should go dig it out....

  2. Hi Marian, I prefer the computer too, but I can't ever find or remember where I put anything on the computer. Thank god for Windows 7 and their search box!

  3. I can totally relate to this! I have good intentions to be organized, but I have decision-making problems too.

  4. For the stuff where you DO use paper, there is no substitute for nice, neat files with good labels on them. Their very existence can make you more organized.

    When I was an HR consultant, one of the services I offered was an employee file audit. I'd go through the files, tell you where you had liabilities (stuff that was required to be filed separately, too much or not enough performance documentation, etc.) While I went through, I'd replace each actual file and create nice labels. The real value of the service was the audit, but what people raved about was the beautiful, neat files left behind. Every client said that they were better able to keep the files in order because of that. I always thought it was funny, because it was just an afterthought...but they found value in the afterthought.

    If you're going to have paper files, keeping them neat and attractive will go a long way toward helping you keep your system up.

  5. Hi Kerry, I am willing to try anything! One question I grapple with is how to organize the files. Right now I have four drawers and each drawer is its own family unit. I have the folders alphabetized in each drawer. Others recommend to put all files together and alphabetize them all. What do you suggest?

  6. Ginger - I keep large family files in labeled binders, and when there is really a whole lot of stuff, there may be as many as six binders. For smaller families, subject files (genealogical society information, repository information, etc.), and untranscribed documents, I use the hanging folders.

  7. My folders are alphabetized by last name. Children who never lived to adulthood are in their parents' file. Women who lived to adulthood but never married are in their own file. Women who married are in a file under the husband's name (the first husband, if there were multiple spouses). They aren't divided into branches (although I'm working on that since they're outgrowing their space).

    The key is really to put stuff in a place where you'll remember to look for it. My brain thinks to look for the children who died young with their parents, but the adult children on their own. That's why I file them that way. Whatever works for you is fine.

  8. "I’ve been reusing my file folders for 20 years now..." WHAT?! You started filing when you were 4?!!!!! LOL!

    I can't be much help to you on this topic. I am quite organized (my only gift), but I file my family info in notebooks, like Greta. I tried file folders, but the notebooks work great for me. Like Kerry said, think about how YOU look for items... that will help you organize them. No system is going to work if you don't like to use it.

  9. Hi Liz, to be honest, I'm lucky if I can still remember what I'm looking for by the time I get to the filing cabinet! That's my biggest problem, especially with digital - is that I can't remember where or how I would have filed something in the first place! oh well, I guess I just need to practice. And no, I was not 4, I was 15...just saying ;-)

  10. Ginger, I bought the label maker several years ago and it's one of the best investments I ever made. I label folders, hanging files, boxes and even light switches with it.