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Filing Systems for Genealogy

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Tree Tips

It will help if you file the certificates in your special death records file alphabetically by given name for easy retrieval. Not enough death certificates to have a file by itself? Name it instead “Martin-Vital Records” and include birth, marriage, and death records in the file.

Document Files

When you get several of a particular type of document on the surname, you can create a subfile for those specific documents, such as “Martin-Death Certificates.” This time you won't do it by geographic location; all of the Martin death certificates will go into this document file. On the family group sheet that you maintain on the family, note that the information came from the death certificate. When you want to re-examine the certificate of John Martin, you will know exactly where to find it. Similarly, if you have a number of newspaper items—obits, marriage notices, published legal notices, etc., then create a special “Martin-Newspaper items” file.

Correspondence Files

At first, you may file correspondence relating to a particular surname in your basic family file. But if you do considerable research on the family, you'll have correspondence mixed in with your other notes and papers. It is usually best to reserve the family file for research papers: the published biography, the manuscript written by your grandfather 40 years ago, and others. If so, then you need a way to handle the filing of correspondence. Create a set of correspondence files. At first you will need only one for the surname: “Martin-Correspondence.” As the file gets larger, you can separate it into two files, “Martin-Correspondence A-M” for all your correspondents with surnames A through M who have written to you on the Martin family, and “Martin-Correspondence N-Z” for the rest. You can break it down even further as needed, such as A-C, D-G, and so on. (If you have a great deal of correspondence with one individual, you may want another file devoted just to correspondence with that individual. Label it “Martin-Correspondence of Steve Stark.”)

Correspondence Cards

In addition to the correspondence files, you need an easy and effective index. One way to keep track of your correspondence, no matter which family it involves, is to keep a master correspondence card or log.

The card shown in the next figure can either be a standard 4" X 6" card, or a log on the computer. It will include the name and address of your correspondent, phone numbers (home and office), fax number, and e-mail address. Also include the name of the spouse if known. If a correspondent moves or changes telephone numbers and the phone is listed under the spouse's name, you may need it to obtain the new number. Leave room on the card for comments, which should include the specific branch of the family that the correspondent is tracing.

The very last line should be “SEE FILE.” This is one of the most important items on the index card. Here you enter the name of the family file in which you filed their correspondence. If Mary Adams is tracing the Martin family and you filed her correspondence in the “Martin-Correspondence” file, then insert that in the SEE FILE space, showing “See Martin Correspondence file.” The correspondence card will enable you to quickly note where the correspondence is located. If you establish this index of correspondence cards early in your search, you will avoid many frustrations in trying to remember which file holds Mary Adams' letters and e-mails.

Tree Tips

Don't be discouraged if you don't have a computer. Standard 4" X 6" cards will do for your correspondence index. Use a standard format to type or print the information onto the card, and maintain the cards alphabetically by the name of the correspondent.

If you use a computer, you can easily establish a correspondence log similar to the card shown in the figure. Investigate the options. A spreadsheet or personal information management software such as Outlook or TreePad could be used. You can even set one up using your word-processing program. If using the latter, insert the correspondent's name alphabetically. The advantage of having the information on your computer is that you can use the program's find command or the sort command, depending upon the program you are using, to locate those who are tracing specific branches of the family. All those tracing the “John and Mary (Smith) Jordan” branch can be quickly found.



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy © 2005 by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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