Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Filing Source Documents


You have collected a stack of birth, marriage, death and other primary source documents. What do you do with them once you have transcribed the data into your database?

I suggest that you:

Gather all the birth, marriage and death certificates for your family together and put them in acid-free sheet protectors this week. Temporarily (a few weeks at most), use a post-it note or slip of paper to number them with a
numbering system of your choice...(post-it on the outside of the plastic).... This requires that you to decide on a numbering system you are going to use for referencing your documents, photos, etc.

I use the numbering system below and it works for me.... I also record all of the documents and information by number using the program Clooz and print reports from it for filing. However, a $4.00 journal with acid-free paper can fill this role too.

The secret about numbering is to be consistent in whatever system you choose. If my system doesn't work for you, sit down and design a numbering system that feels best in your
situation. You'll be glad you thought it through early in the process... If you find that system doesn't work, change it before you get so many records that it becomes very difficult to find the courage to change everything you've done....

Here is an example of how I have assigned numbers in my system:
  • Birth 0001 - Birth 9999 (when I get my 10,000th birth certificate / record, I'll just add a digit until I get to 99,999+)
  • Blessing 0001-9999 (Usually LDS blessing certificates. See Baptisms below)
  • Marriage 0001 - 9999, etc...
  • Death 0001 - 9999 etc...
  • Will 0001 - 9999 etc...
  • Baptism 0001 -9999 etc... (we may all run out of numbers in this category and have to go to a 5 digit number here eventually. Church birth records are almost always the baptism / christening date, so as you start finding a lot of info on your ancestral families, you'll collect a lot of photocopied pages of baptism / christening records).
  • Deeds 0001 - 9999 etc.
  • Photos 0001 - 9999 etc. You may end up with so many photos that you want to start with a 5 digit number here. It just depends on how you decide to file your family and family history related photos. You may want several titles for this category... i.e. Silva Photos 0001-9999 or Hornback Photos 0001-9999 for the folks associated with those surnames and then use the family name of the other branch (typically your spouse) for another set of photos.. It just depends on how many photos you file in relation to family history. I take photos of family headstones, homesteads, hospitals (where born / died), churches and tabernacles (where baptized) as well as panoramic views of the towns to document our lineage. If you decide that you are going to do something similar, consider that fact when you create your photo numbering system.
  • Any other categories you want to use.
When you record the source in your genealogy database, just add your personal filing number with it. Put the number on the acid-free sheet protector that holds the related document. In my case, I use a Dymo label writer (inexpensive one that prints on vinyl tape from Wal-Mart, etc.,) to create document number labels. Now, when I want to find the original document that is referenced in my sources, I just open my source books and flip to .. Death 0239 .. or whatever document number that is referenced.

Since I've used this system, I can always find my primary, important secondary source documents and family history photos in a few seconds. They are literally at my fingertips, safely stored in one place in consecutive order by document type. Gone are the days of documents being in various file cabinets, folders, binders, etc.


You'll want to seriously consider ordering very good 3-ring binder(s) for these records. I use the very sturdy Wilson-Jones #367-49 binders. They come in black, blue and red and are $25+ each, are really strong and won't fail over time.

In an emergency, after determining that our family members are ok, the binders will be the first thing we grab on the way out the door as we grab our 360-hr emergency kits (yes, we are involved in CERT).... I also keep a set of backup DVD's of all of our scanned photos, genealogy databases, etc. in one of the binders as well as in our emergency kits.

Keep your binders filed standing upright, in a cool place, out of the sun and reach of children. You should also consider including a copy of either your genealogy software on one of the DVD's or the original program CD's. You'll want the software so you can recreate your databases, photos and documents when the 'dust' settles if an emergency occurs....
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