Organize Paper Documents – The journey continues

When we left off with the last article, you visited with living family members. You were sorting and separating family source material. I hope that you enjoyed that process. I am sure it was fun to get to know the living more and introduce them to the deceased.

We will now look at some ideas for storing and organizing the source material collected and start filling in the 5 generation pedigree chart. I am so excited to share with you what I have learned over the years.

Organize Storage Methods – Paper Documents

Now that you have separated the source material into two temporary boxes. One for (Father’s) your paternal line and one for (Mother’s) your maternal line. If you have acquired many papers and pictures, you could divide one more time into 4 temporary boxes or manila envelopes labeled with the four different Surnames of your grandparents.

If you are considering Color coding use the suggested colors.

  • Box 1. for Father’s Father (mark with surname) Blue color code
  • Box 2. for Father’s Mother (mark with surname) Green color code
  • Box 3. for Mother’s Father (mark with surname) Red color code
  • Box 4. for Mother’s Mother (mark with surname) Yellow color code

Starting to organize paper documents is rewarding and beneficial in reaching your research goals. Now you can keep track of the valuable information you have collected.

You will need to decide which organizational method you prefer. There are a few different methods of organizing your valuable documents. Your approach to which way to use will depend on how much paper you have accumulated.

You will need to set up an organizing system where you can find what you need when you need it.

Personalize your system, whatever system you use. Keep it simple. An adequate system includes the following:

  1. What you did, why you did it.
  2. When and where you did it.
  3. What you found or didn’t find.
  4. What you further plan to do about it.

Your family history records must maintain in such a condition from day-to-day. That if you are unable to continue your research for any reason. Someone else could proceed on your behalf. That is why it is so important to organize.

Storage Methods :

  • Filing cabinets
  • File folder boxes
  • Plastic containers
  • Bookshelves
  • Portable files using loose-leaf binders (various sizes and colors)
  • Carrying box with manila folders

Whatever storage method you wish to use, you still need to decide the process of organizing.

Please read through the following about organizing methods. Then go ahead and choose which one you would like to incorporate. But, before you proceed, fill out a 5 generation Pedigree Chart — instructions below under organizing charts.

Organizing Methods – 3 Ring Binders

Binders are perfect for keeping your documents clean and tidy. It would help if you always used plastic sleeves for the papers. Consider using photocopies if you have original documents. Keep the originals for safekeeping in archival plastic sleeves or large envelopes. The originals need to have little exposure to sunlight and moisture.

  • Binders Index Tab system, A or B or C (with archival plastic sleeves for documents).
  • a. Label by Surnames
  • Sort by first name (alphabet)
  • or sort by first name (chronology)
  • b. Color code Tab Labels (5 generations)
  • Blue Tab or Binder for Father’s Father’s line
  • Green Tab or Binder for Father’s Mother’s line
  • Red Tab or Binder for Mother’s Father’s line
  • Yellow Tab or Binder for Mother’s Mother’s line
  • c. Color code 4 Binders (5 generations)

Organizing Method – Hanging FolderOrganize Paper Documents-The Journey Continues|Image of colored hanging files

  • Hanging Folders system. Hanging file folders, select either a. or b.
  • a. Hanging folders (Standard Green) plastic Tabs w/Surnames
  • Manila(plain) file folders w/1/2 cut reversible tab
  • Labeled by first name (alphabet)
  • or Labeled by first name (chronology)
  • Notes: For hanging folders, a. Use plastic tabs with the Surnames of your relatives. On each Manila file folder, print or write the relative full name. Then place the file in the hanging folder with the accompanying Surname.
  • b. Colored Hanging folders (4 blue, 4 green, 4 red, 4 yellow) Remember you are the 1st generation. The 5th generation is your 2nd Great Grandparent. Use the Surname of the last relative on each line. (16 folders 4 of each color)

  • 4 Blue plastic colored tabs labeled with Surnames No. 16-19 of 5th generation pedigree chart.
  1. Your fathers-fathers-fathers-father
  2. Your fathers-fathers-fathers-mother
  3. Your fathers-fathers-mothers-father
  4. Your fathers-fathers-mothers-mother
  • 4 Green plastic colored tabs labeled with Surnames No. 20-23.
  1. Your fathers-mothers-fathers-father
  2. Your fathers-mothers-fathers-mother
  3. Your fathers-mothers-mothers-father
  4. Your fathers-mothers-mothers-mother
  • 4 Red plastic colored tabs labeled with Surnames No. 24-27.
  1. Your mothers-fathers-fathers-father
  2. Your mothers-fathers-fathers-mother
  3. Your mothers-fathers-mothers-father
  4. Your mothers-fathers-mothers-mother
  • 4 Yellow plastic colored tabs labeled with Surnames No. 28-31.
  1. Your mothers-mothers-fathers-father
  2. Your mothers-mothers-fathers-mother
  3. Your mothers-mothers-mothers-father
  4. Your mothers-mothers-mothers-mother


  • These are ancestors that are numbers 16-31 on your 5 generation pedigree chart.
  • Then place hanging folders in a filing cabinet. Or use a portable tote style plastic container.
  • You can now use Manila file folders with 1/2 reversible cut tabs. Or any neutral color tab file folders.Color Code Hanging file folders
  • Print with a sharpie or use white printed labels with the full name of a relative.
  • Use 1″ colored dots and place either blue, green, red, yellow on the far right of the raised tab of the manila file. It should correspond with the correct surname color.
  • File the manila file with the corresponding Surname Hanging file folder.
  • Now organize the paper documents in the proper file folders.

Organizing Charts – 4 or 5 Generation Pedigree

Now it is time to start a pedigree chart. A 4 generation chart fits better on a portrait formatted page if you want more information than just dates. If using a 4 Generation Pedigree chart, a second page for each Great grandparent would be needed to find Great Great grandparents surnames (used with a color-coding system 5th generation). Please find below a 4 Generation Pedigree Chart (with a line for where each event occurred). Also, a 5 Generation Pedigree for Color Coding.

Download (PDF, 84KB)

Download (PDF, 90KB)

Below is a list of information needed on the Pedigree Chart.

You are number one on the pedigree chart’s 1st page.

  • Name: use the full legal name – first name, middle name (if you have or initial), last name in Caps (women use the birth name). Example: Jane Mary DOE.
  • When born: date, month, year. Example: 10 June 1920.
  • Where born: record places smallest to largest. city, county, state(province), country
  • When married: date, month, year
  • Where: smallest to largest – city, county, state( province), country

Continue as above for all living and deceased relatives. Notice the death information for deceased relatives.

  • When died: date, month, year
  • Where died: city, county, state ( province, etc.), country and cemetery location

Pedigree chart numbering page no. 1.

  1. You (use birth surname)
  2. Father (your-surname)
  3. Mother (use maiden name surname no.6)
  4. Father’s Father (grandfather your-surname)
  5. Father’s Mother (grandmother maiden name =surname no.10)
  6. Mother’s Father (grandfather)
  7. Mother’s Mother (grandmother maiden name =surname no.14)
  8. Father’s Father’s Father (great-grandfather your-surname)
  9. Father’s Father’s Mother (great-grandmother maiden name =surname no.18)
  10. Father’s Mother’s Father (great-grandfather)
  11. Father’s Mother’s Mother (great-grandmother maiden name =surname no.22)
  12. Mother’s Father’s Father (great-grandfather)
  13. Mother’s Father’s Mother (great-grandmother maiden name=surname no.26)
  14. Mother’s Mother’s Father (great-grandfather)
  15. Mother’s Mother’s Mother (great-grandmother maiden name=surname no.30)

Organize Research – Ongoing project

You have now started on the beautiful journey of genealogy research. You will find that you are always organizing or re-organizing if you are anything like me. But, that is part of the fun, the learning of new ways to perform your passions. And this is one of mine. I am sure if it isn’t one of yours, it soon will be.

There is more coming.

Thanks for your interest and for taking the time.


2 thoughts on “Organize Paper Documents – The journey continues”

  1. You are my hero right now. I love researching my family history and I think I’m pretty good at it. What I’m NOT good at is organizing! So this information is going to help me so much. What you said about someone else being able to continue your research if you can’t really stuck with me. At this present time no one could continue my research, except maybe what I’ve posted online, because my paperwork is all over the place. I think the 3 ring binder organizing method is the one I would like to start implementing. I love your website and I look forward to visiting more often as this is one of my favorite subjects. 

    • Hello Barbara, 

      I really appreciate your kind words, a hero…never been called that before, thanks. I am so glad you love researching it is so rewarding isn’t it. I am happy that you have picked up on the importance of organizing your paperwork, but don’t be hard on yourself, because everyone who does genealogy research has had a pile or two of paperwork at one point or the other. It is so easy to get caught up in the research and excited about the find, that the tedious work gets left behind. The three ring binder is a excellent choice. It is a very clean and uncluttered system. A Hanging file system takes more work to keep it tidy.

      I am happy you like the site and look forward to your next visit! 

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.

      If there is anything I can do to assist please let me know.

      Kindest Regards


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