The Archive Lady: 3 Tips for Organizing Your Genealogy Records



The Archive Lady: 3 Tips for Organizing Your Genealogy Records

Kathryn in Idaho asks: “It is 2019 and one of my New Year’s resolutions is to get my genealogy records organized! I know that archivists have to be very organized, so what tips can you give me to get me started on organizing my genealogy records?”

Kathryn’s email was sitting in my in-box on January 1, 2019. Since then, I have received several emails, Facebook messages and Twitter messages asking me for tips on organizing genealogy research. Kathryn is correct in that archivists, as part of their job, have to be organized and organize records collections so that they can be easily researched. So here are some tips I like to give to genealogists who are tackling a genealogy organization project.

Records Donation, Unorganized, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Records Donation, Unorganized, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

In an archive, organization is very important and something I do on a daily basis as I process the records in my care. If I don’t use the proper methods to process record collections, they won’t be in a form that can be used by genealogy researchers. Also, using archival safe materials is essential to protecting and preserving original documents so they will be around for the next generations of genealogists to enjoy.

There are all kinds of ways to organize genealogy research; I will leave the preferred method up to you to choose. I would like to share three tips to help the organizing go more smoothly and prevent you from becoming overwhelmed during the process:

Choose an Organization Method that Works for You and be Consistent

It is true; there are many methods and ways to organize your genealogy research. You can talk to 10 people and get 10 different methods of organization. I always tell genealogists to figure out the method that works for you and just be consistent in its implementation. An organizational method that works for me may not work for you and that’s okay! If you don’t like the organization method you are using, most likely you won’t stay very organized. So, find what works for you and be consistent in using it every day.

Organized Box of Records, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Organized Box of Records, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Take Small Bites

There is a saying that goes something like this “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This is also true for tackling the job of organizing genealogy research. Don’t try to do it all in one day. You will get overwhelmed and discouraged if you try to take on too much at one time. In the archives, when I have a large records collection to process, I take it slow and steady. It might take me a few days or even a few weeks to complete the processing of a large records collection. I have one particular collection right now that has taken me a couple of months and I am still not done. The reason I take my time is because I want to process the collection properly so when genealogists want to use the records collection, it is organized and easy to find what they are looking for. So, don’t try to organize everything as fast as possible. Take your time; you will be glad that you did.

Use Archival Materials

As an archivist, I cannot emphasis this tip enough. I encourage everyone to use archival file folders, archival sheet protectors and archival boxes for all genealogical records. Even if you have decided to go totally digital, I am sure there will be some original records that you will want to keep and preserving them should be at the top of your organizational list. Many of the documents we own as genealogists are one-of-a-kind and should be protected for future generations to enjoy.

Archival Materials, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Archival Materials, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

The online archival material businesses are now advertising their 2019 catalogs. You can access their materials online or you can request that a catalog be mailed to you, here are links to their websites:

Metal Paper Clips, Rubber Bands and Tape, OH MY! Legacy QuickGuide

Metal Paper Clips, Rubber Bands and Tape, OH MY! Legacy QuickGuide

Melissa Barker Webinars and Quick Guides at Legacy Family Tree

Check out my presenter page at and catch my latest recorded webinars as well as upcoming live webinars!

Check out my presenter page at and catch my latest recorded webinars as well as upcoming live webinars!

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Melissa Barker - The Archive Lady

Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 

©2018, copyright Melissa Barker. All rights Reserved.


2 Responses

  1. Kathy Agard

    10 January 2019 11:58 am

    Melissa, I am including my question here in case it will help others. My mother-in-law was an accomplished musician. She played the organ and piano at her church and also was the Music Director. I have her hymnal with her favorite hymns clipped with paper clips. I know the paper clips have to go, but I am unsure how to retain the recocds of her favorite hymns. Should I just write down the hymn numbers and include it with the book? Are there safe options to paper clips? Thanks!

  2. Melissa Barker

    10 January 2019 7:20 pm

    Hello Kathy, What a true treasure you have with your mother-in-law’s hymnals. I would suggest that you do both. I would make a list of the places where the paper clips are located to document her favorite hymns and place that list in the front of the hymnal. I would then replace the metal paper clips with plastic paper clips or plastic coated paper clips. Be sure to just clip one page, if you clip several pages it could cause crimps that you can’t get rid of. Hope this helps.

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