Organizing your Discoveries

Creating a family history takes a LOT of effort. It involves hours upon hours of discovery, digging through centuries of yellowed papers, black and white or sepia photographs, journals, census records, birth records, death records, marriage records, incarceration, occupation, addresses and the list goes on and on.

So, what do we do with all of this information? Well there are two main options you have to organize your discoveries.


The most simple way to organize your discoveries is by digitizing them. Scanning old photographs, downloading already digitized records from public websites such as or, networking with other people and recording their discoveries and documenting everything within a family tree you create on downloadable software (Gedcom files) or on a family history website.

I’ve taken it upon myself to begin a family history book. I started ambitiously by using a specific writing program called Scrivener, but I soon switched back to Word. There is an option within word that allows you to view the files in a book format, and the layout spans two pages at a time across the screen. I found it a lot easier to import photographs, create charts and cite sources using Word rather than the writing software, which I use to write my fiction novels.

The pros of digitizing your discoveries are that you can consistently add to it without having to redo paper files. All of the information is stored within a digitized format, which makes it super simple to change it at will and with ease. It also allows for the minimization or outside storage, because all of it is contained within digitized files. It’s also very easy to share your discoveries with others, and sending a link or a file to someone else is much simpler than showcasing a hard copy.

The cons are minimal. It’s much simpler to use a digital file, but a tangible, hard copy is much better to look at with a group. It’s a lot prettier, it’s well organized and you can discuss your discoveries without huddling around a screen. The original photographs and documents are also fun to see!


Another more classic method of organization is using a filing system. Having different folders for each line in your family, and different sub folders for each file that house each individual family are the easiest way to organize it. You can organize them chronologically, and house all of the original or printed records in each folder.

It’s also a great reference guide to completing your research. It’s simple to go back and look for information organized within each folder, and cite the source before returning back to your research.

The cons of this system are all interrelated. The amount of space required for the storage of files is extensive, especially if you are branching out to cousins, aunts and uncles for each line. It can get extremely bulky very quickly. It also uses a lot of paper, which is a bit of an environmental and economical waste. Granted, I prefer to have original copies of photographs and first hand records that I do store in a filing system, but I wouldn’t house all of my records all together on paper. For some people though, it’s easier to browse through the history by having a tangible source to read rather than searching on a screen.

Compiling these discoveries within a binder is another way to keep the files from becoming overwhelming and disorganized. You can keep copies of family trees, basic records and copies of photographs within a large binder which can be used as a guide.

What is your preferred method of storing your information? Do you use a combination of both? Check out other parts of my genealogy series below. Thanks for reading!

Guide of Genealogy Terms

Illnesses and Causes of Death Reference Guide


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