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Spring Cleaning, Genealogy Style

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Ideas for Getting Organized
Cleaning up your facts and files is one way to renew your enthusiasm for your family tree. Sometimes, though, the hardest thing about getting organized is deciding where to begin. Whether you have an hour or a week, we have "get organized" project ideas to get you started!

Every year about this time, most people spend some time spring cleaning the house to organize things and get rid of clutter. A lot of people find the task a bit overwhelming, but have a great sense of accomplishment in the end. Just as rewarding (but perhaps even more overwhelming) can be a spring cleaning, genealogy style! Spring is a great time to go through all of the family history information that you've accumulated over the past year.

Now is the time to go through your file marked "Miscellaneous" and start organizing. When everything is organized, you'll be able to make better, more effective use of your research time. As A.A. Milne said, "Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it's not all mixed up."

Reasons People Don't Get Organized

You know you should get and stay organized, so why don't you? Here are some of the most popular excuses for not getting organized and ways to help you get over them.

"Everything is too messy, I wouldn't know where to start!"
Even if you have more piles than files, organizing your research is just a matter of getting started. Some people like to start with the most daunting task and work from there. Once you've filed away 100+ pages from the "Miscellaneous" folder, other spring cleaning tasks seem small. Other people like to start with the smaller tasks, (say, backing up their family file to disk) so that they feel a sense of accomplishment right from the beginning. Either way, try making a list of specific spring cleaning tasks that you can check off along the way.

"Organizing is a waste of time — I'd rather be researching."
The more organized you are, the more effective your research will be. If you're disorganized, you're more likely to feel overwhelmed and research will be less fun. Don't think of organizing as putting a halt to your research, think of it as a way to help you research faster and smarter. For example, as part of your spring cleaning you may consider entering your most commonly used sources into your family history software. Or, taking the time to scan in and organize your photos will give you the opportunity to attach faces to the names in your family file. And while you're at it, you might just discover some new information.

"What's the point? It is nearly impossible to stay organized."
It is easier to stay organized if you personalize your filing system. If you are more comfortable filing by first name rather than last name, do so. If you want to organize your census image printouts by geography instead of by date, go ahead. The more intuitive you make your filing system, the more likely you are to stick to it.

One other way to make organizing easier is to think about where you usually find piles of papers. Do you like to do your research at the kitchen table but keep your filing cabinets in the den? If that's the case, you probably end up with piles of papers in the kitchen rather than in the filing cabinet where they belong. Why not move your filing cabinets into the kitchen? That way, you'll be more likely to file your papers as you finish looking at them.

What to Do With What You Have

In spring cleaning, deciding what to do first is sometimes the biggest challenge to getting started. Here are some small things you can do to get started.

Donate Research Findings You Don't Need
Have you ever gotten started researching a person only to find out later that he or she wasn't really related to you? You don't want the information to go to waste, but you really don't need to keep it around. Now is the time to donate research like that to people who can use it. One way to make sure that your research goes to good use is to post the information to a surname message board so that other people can benefit from your work.

Go Through Your Magazines and Journals
Have old issues of the National Genealogical Quarterly laying around that you don't need? You can donate those to your local genealogical society or library (to find one, try our list of helpful web sites organized by state). If you only need 5 pages of a 250-page magazine, you can keep yourself organized and cut down on paper by scanning those pages on a scanner. That way, you can keep the pages on your computer for later reference and other researchers can benefit from a "like-new" magazine.

Sort Your Internet Bookmarks
Lots of researchers bookmark genealogy sites as they come across them online fully intending to check them out later. As part of your spring cleaning, don't just delete them! Why not take an hour or two to go through those bookmarked sites and see what you can find? Then, you can organize the ones that you think you can use into folders by topic so that you can use them later.

Backup Your Family File and Upgrade Your Software
Everybody knows that they should backup their family file on a regular basis but not everybody does. As part of your spring cleaning, take the time to copy your family file to a separate disk or CD-ROM and put it in a safe place so that you'll know where to find it. (You might even consider contributing your family tree to the World Family Tree project for safekeeping.) While you're at it, why not look into upgrading your family history software to the latest version? There might be some features that will help you stay organized all year long.

Organize and Scan Your Photographs
Organizing photographs is a job that takes some time but is always very interesting. As you organize and attach captions to photographs from decades past, you get to see how members of your family dressed and lived. This particular spring cleaning exercise is always more fun if you think of it more as an opportunity to time travel than just a clean-up task.

About the Author
This article was written by staff.

Learn More
• Discuss this topic with other researchers
• Have a question about researching your family history? Ask an expert
How-To Article: Follow the Clues — Dating Your Photographs
How-To Article: Step-by-Step — Documenting Your Sources
Ask an Expert: Remember Bookmarks Online

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