Organising Your Family History

I recently shared online some pictures of my Family Tree Filing system and organisation and it proved to be popular amongst fellow Family History Researchers, so I thought I would expand and explain my system in a bit more detail.

Rest assured, my workspace and systems were chaotic and I found myself wasting too much time either searching for a document I had lost or re-ordering and downloading material that I already had! Does that sound familiar?

So how did I get from this……


To this………


(These are just examples, neither are actually my working space!)

I have one colour coded 4 hole ring binder for each of my 8 x Great-Grandparents and each folders contents is identical. Accompanying each folder is the same colour A5 Notebook/workbook. Which looks something like this;


Each folder is laid out identical and has it’s own contents page, which looks like this;


Contained within these folders are my working Family Record Sheets which I have also published before online, they look like this;



A5 Workbooks/Notebooks




I also have a separate ring binder solely for Military History, which is another one of my passions, hence why it has it’s own folder! This is laid out like this;



I have a separate Census file for the Chiddicks Family and associated Families and these also have their own record sheet which I made for myself.



Next up is the 1939 Register, which is huge! This ended up in two A3 folders because the pages are so big, separated into Chiddicks and basically the rest, again colour coded;






Plus there are additional files for DNA, Family History shows etc.

Now all of this has not happened overnight, far from it! It’s evolved over time and has been tweaked and ideas borrowed from others! It normally gets altered or adapted after I have lost something!

It’s not perfect, far from it, but the key thing is “it works for me”. So whatever system you use yourself, the only criteria you need to fulfil is, “does it work for me”. If you’ve achieved that then your system is perfect for you.

I will also add tha,t as well as the paper files, all this is mirrored in digital format backed up to an online tree, backed up to two memory sticks, plus a further back up to the cloud, better safe than sorry!

Not everyone is as OCD as me!

If you want a copy of any of the sheets, don’t hesitate to drop me a message;

All My Blogs For Family Tree Magazine in one Handy Place



61 thoughts on “Organising Your Family History

  1. Are the Individual Family Record Sheets types up individually? It seems like this would be the Percy kind of data to keep in a spreadsheet. Then, a simple merge to create the report if separate pages are desired.


  2. That’s awesome, Paul! Your binders look great! I’ll admit that I almost fell off my chair when I saw the “before/after” photos, and had to laugh when you said those weren’t really your office (c’mon, share with us!)! 😝

    I hope you’ll add your post to the January Genealogy Blog Party: Organizing and Prioritizing (psst, tomorrow’s the last day). I’d love to have you join the linkup! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your binders look great! I’ve been trying to come up with a way to label and organize mine (I have the binders, just haven’t put them together!)


  4. I have to agree with your comment that the best system is the one that works for you. That is my standard answer when I am queried for my opinion. Like Elizabeth, my mouth dropped when I saw the “before” desk and then I had to laugh. Glad it isn’t your real work space!


  5. My goodness that’s so organised! I do have a separate ring binder for each branch of my family that I’m working on, and within those subdivisions for parish register info, censuses, wills, newspaper reports, correspondence or whatever is relevant to that particular family. I try to keep a copy of my research log and ‘to do’ list at the front of each file so that I have some prospect of remembering where I’d got to when I return to that branch after a period on another!


  6. I am definitely not as organised but I do have the families entered onto a tree and I have a large file with the individual and their research notes in a sleeve. It is also all digitised. I plan on improving accessibility in the coming few months as I explore the Irish side of my family now we are living in Ireland again.. Very helpful.. thank you.


  7. That’s a great system, Paul! A quick question – the individual person records, do you complete those only for direct ancestors, or ancestors + siblings/family groups?

    I’m absolutely nowhere near as organised or practical as what you’ve created (having a slight “yikes” moment!) but I want to start a one-name study so I may borrow a few ideas off you!! 😉


    1. Hi Dominic, thanks for the compliments but believe me it’s taken me years to get this organised! The individual records initially started as direct line on,y ancestors, but as I have progressed sideways I have started using the record sheets for th per extended family as well. If you want copies of anything don’t hesitate to shout and I can email them over


  8. Wow, that’s dedicated research. And all in perfect military order.
    Grateful you have chosen to follow me and my higgledy piggeldy, not in military order blog. Thank you.


  9. I do one surname per display folder. Some individuals have their own display folders. I used to file each folder alphabetically but have not really got on top of it again since my move. You have inspired me. I do a lot of cutting and pasting. I have really uncovered a lot that way. When you organise the materials properly they do start to make sense and you begin to see patterns don’t you?


    1. I agree, revisiting my folders I uncovered things I had forgotten about and subsequently would not have probably looked at because they were hidden in random folders. Now there is structure and order and methodology to everything in theory I shouldn’t lose anything!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I love organizational tips. Thanks for sharing yours. I’ve moved deliberately away from binders myself but I absolutely, 100% agree with you – do whatever fits you best so long as it works for you.


  11. Hi ~ thank you for dropping by my blog, which led me to yours. I really enjoyed this posting on organization. I use binders too but so true about duplicating, reordering the same documents and downloading the same stuff etc. You have gone an extra step with your organization that I need to do so Great Post with fabulous ideas. I’ll be working on implementing them. Excited to be following along with your blog. I’ll be taking a look around 🙂 Sharon from Branches On Our Civitano Tree


    1. Hi Sharon, its so lovely to hear from you and thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog about organising your family history. Believe me its taken me a long time to get it like this and most of the bits I have added have been because I have made a mistake or lost something! I always say whatever system you have as long as it works for you, thats the most important part. I will keep in touch and hopefully we can share our family history experiences and stories together, thanks again Paul


  12. Thank you, Paul,. for reading my post on the 1950’s. My husband, Eric, lived in Stepney Green and then Bow, but was evacuated for a while in Bury St. Edmunds when the school was bombed. What a terrible waste of young, brave lives. His house was razed to the ground and he was relocated to Bow, returning from evacuation to suffer the raids and go out to work. No joke then! I was evacuated to Wales but returned many times to Dagenham when there were lulls in the bombing. The third evacuation trip was with my school to Derbyshire. Good luck with your family history work. I did a bit of digging when I wrote a Memoir My Gentle War and have written several other books on various subjects, plus poetry and short stories. The very best of luck to you. Cheers.


  13. Paul, What an amazing system! Since I stated my blog 7 years ago, I have been focused on the hundreds of letters, photos and memorabilia documenting a “Slice of Life”, from 1939 to 1946. This also includes the various side stories created when either my Father, Aunt or or Uncles moved away from Trumbull, CT, for a variety of reasons and kept in touch with letters.
    Back in 1974, I thought it would be a great idea to trace my ancestors for my daughters, for the Bicentennial Celebration. Ha … how naive I was. Needless to say, I didn’t get very far with that project.
    Two years ago, I saw a Challenge on WordPress – 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks. I love a good challenge. It actually took me about 80 weeks because some of my ancestors had absolutely fascinating stories. I learned quite a bit, but of course, that only gave me more questions than answers. I liked you organizational style and would love copies of the record sheets you have created. If you would, please send them to my personal email, I would greatly appreciate it.

    Take care and I will continue to enjoy your posts.


    1. Thank you Judy for your kind words, I really appreciate you saying that. I have just subscribed to your blog as it looks to be full of really fascinating stories. The 52 Ancestor challenge is wonderful it helps to give you direction and focus to your research. Separate to this I have completed the 8 biographies of my great grand parents and I am currently writing up the stories of my 16 great great grand parents. Of course I will gladly send you copies of the sheets that I use. Take Care Paul


  14. Timely retweet, Paul, I don’t have paper binders, but I’ve just finished a post on how I organise my digital genealogy files, with a few to editing this week and posting next Sunday.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I like your system. I do something similar and have just tweaked mine recently. It’s also mirrored digitally too.

    For my one-name studies again I do something similar.

    The ultimate aim is my websites, on the Guild website project will archive all of my studies & my own FH.

    No matter how long you have been researching, there is always time to tweak & adapt our research.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Julie, it’s always nice to see what others have done. This has taken me 20 years to arrive at and has been revamped and tweaked numerous times over the years, normally when I’ve lost something or ordered something twice! It’s by no means perfect but I’m a great advocate of if it works for you, stick with it!


  16. Is Aniie’s name spelt correctly?
    I’m curious.
    If your computer died, how hard would it be to find and re-build a digital version of your great-uncle’s second wife’s adopted daughter?
    Are all the records that you say yes to on Annie in that file?
    For example I have 60 years of telephone book pages for my grandfather.
    How would you file that or would you only keep that as digital?


    1. Aniie was spelt incorrectly on purpose and you are the very first person to notice or at least comment about it, so well done, great observation skills and it proves at least one person read it! I have a paper copy and digital copy of everything. The digital files are backed up to the iCloud a memory stick and ancestry, so I would hope it’s all covered. All the records are in the Day file. Some things you can’t file, heirlooms but I tend to photograph an object and upload that instead. I hope that helps 😁


      1. Because you were responding to someone else, I only noticed that the article was originally posted 2 years ago. No one noticed the speeling error back then?

        Liked by 1 person

  17. I suspect we have all fallen into that hole of downloading files we already have but can’t find. Your system got me thinking about my own (poor) system for organising my family history.

    ,I have one file for the paternal side and one for the maternal. Within the file are sections for each surname. Each individual has their own pocket where I keep census returns, bmd certificates etc so if I’m working one one person I have everything I that one pocket.

    I’m curious why you have separated the census returns into a different file rather then keeping that record with the individual/family group?

    Liked by 1 person

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