Believe it or not, you begin with more paper work!
In order to organize your families properly you need to start making a paper trail. It will also help you keep your research organized.
The Pedigree Chart or as some call it the Ancestral Chart, shows the direct line of your family. They can be 4, 5, or 6 generational. These are a way for you to keep your ancestors in proper order.
The Family Group sheet is another important form. This form helps you keep your individual families in simple groups. This form includes the whole family unit, the parents and the children. You can also keep track of the different sources connected to the individuals, i.e. birth, death and marriage records.
There is a uniform way to fill out these forms. Names should be written: first, middle, LAST (last name in all caps to differentiate from other names) and place names should always be: town, county, state, country (little to big). Writing the dates is a little different, it should be: date, month, year , ex: 16 January 1916. The uniformity helps other researchers read your forms.
Once you have these two forms filled out you will see the blanks that need to be filled. Who is missing? What vital records need to be found? Which dates need to be filled in?
Now it's time to organize your future research.
The Research Planner is just what it sounds like. You keep track of the research you plan on doing. This organizes your questions, such as, what person do I need to research, what record do I need to find for this person? Where would I find this record? What date did I actually do this research?
The Correspondence Log is an optional log, it kind of repeats what you put in your research calendar, but some researchers like to keep their correspondence separate to help remind them who they contacted and what resource they requested. It is also a good idea because then you will have a list of repositories that you can contact in the future that might have a similar resource for a different ancestor.
Most of these forms can be found on Ancestry and are free to download.
OK ...you have your families all sorted and all your forms filled out...what next?
If you are just beginning your research and don't have a lot of "stuff" you can separate the surnames into two (2) inch binders. You will want to put the surnames on the spines so you can access them easily. Each binder should have dividers, 5 to 7 tabs. In each binder you will have a place for the following:
2. Family Group sheets
3. Research Planner
4. Research Calendar
5. Correspondence log
6. Family Information (any records that are connected to your surname, but not quite sure how yet)
7. Sources - Copies of sources
If you been doing your research for a while and are drowning in piles of records and notes, I suggest you use a file cabinet or file box. You would label each file with the surname and type of record, i.e. SMITH/Pedigree Chart. You can go a little crazy and color code your surnames. However, if you have gone waaaay back in your research there may not be enough colors to cover your surnames!
Technology!? Why did I tell you all about these paper forms if you can organize your research with software? Well, an important rule to remember when doing research is anything can happen. You don't want to do 10 years of research and have your computer crash or have the software become non-compatible to the new system you buy or install...or your computer can be caught in a fire or a flood...You get the idea. A rule to remember is NEVER let your software program take the place of your hard copies!
O.K....let's talk software programs. If you would like to organize your research on your computer/laptop/device, there are many choices available. I suggest you go to http://genealogy-software-review.toptenreviews.com/ and check out what is listed there. FYI...Family Tree Maker will be gone by 2017, so don't pick that one if it is still listed!
There are also websites where you can download your information onto their
site. Ancestry and FamilySearch.org are two popular sites for downloading your family research. Just remember, if you download to those sites you can mark your living relatives as private, but the rest of the research is open to everyone that visits the site.
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
Make multiple copies of your research...flash drives, external hard drives, and "clouds" i.e. Dropbox and Google Drive. Once again you never know what kind of disaster can happen. I saw a woman from Louisiana interviewed after Hurricane Katrina and she sadly explained that she lost 30 years of research due to the flooding in her home. Ever since I saw this interview I have kept my research in multiple places.
I have the hard copies in a file cabinet, I have scanned all of my records and resources and keep the images on a flash drive, an external hard drive and in a "Cloud" along with all of my forms, I also keep a flash drive on my desk and a disc in my safe. Which come to think of it, I should probably put the flash drive in my safe, since the disc may be obsolete in a few years. You can never have too many places! Just remember to update the information in every form of storage.
You are now ready to tackle the pile of papers in your bedroom, guestroom, basement, office....You will see a difference in your research as soon as you begin....Happy Organizing!!!
Let me know if you have any questions or maybe even some more ideas on organizing family research!