Frequently Asked Questions

Where do the regular green hanging files fit into the plan? What do I put in them?
Answer: Use the standard green files for Locality Files - files for counties, states and countries where you are doing research. Where were your ancestors from? That's the Localities you will be making files for. Put a county history in a Locality File, or a good map of the area. Things like that. I keep all the marriages for Cumberland Co., New Jersey in my Cumberland Co., NJ locality file. 

How do you organize the information when there is a second marriage in the family due to death or divorce?
Answer: Since each couple gets their own folder, you add a second folder for the second marriage. File the folder with the first marriage folder. I keep the marriages in the order they happened. The labels look like this:

JONES, Thomas b. 1891 m1
SMITH, Sarah b. 1895

JONES, Thomas b. 1891 m2
BROWN, Mary b. 1900

JONES, Thomas b. 1891 m3
DAY, Mrs. Ann b. 1892 m2 

How do I file the brothers and sisters of my pedigree ancestors with their families?
Answer: Using center-tab manila folders, create a file for each non-direct-line brother or sister of your grandparent, as the parent of a family. File these center-tab manila folders behind the direct line parent's folder.

  • Use center-tabbed manila folders for collateral line (aunts and uncles) families.
  • They are not a part of the alphabetical filing system, but are filed right behind their parents, in birth date order of the related children (not the birth date of the spouse).
  •  Put a colored dot in the upper right hand corner of the family group records of non-direct-line children to quickly see they are non-direct-line. The color of the dot should be the same as the color of the parent's line.

How do I figure out where surnames belong on my pedigree charts?
1) In the front of your first box put a complete copy of your family pedigree charts in a hanging file folder. This is your map and guide to your pedigree surnames.

2) In the front hanging file of each surname put two items: 

a) A copy of your first 5-generation pedigree chart, where you are person #1. Highlight all the people with that surname on the 5-generation chart. 

b) A copy of the pedigree charts where that surname appears in your pedigree lineage. This may be one chart, and it may be many charts, depending on how much you know about your ancestors with that surname. You can print pedigree charts from your computer genealogy program starting with the first person who has that surname on your pedigree chart.

REMEMBER: Your computer database has an "Alphabet Browse" or "Find Individual" or "Index" feature. Enter all people into the computer database. Then you can find a person later by checking the "Alphabet Browse" or "Find Individual."

REMEMBER: Pedigree charts have numbering systems. A database program such as Legacy uses computer generated numbers to build your pedigree charts to identify people.

How do I deal with each couple belonging to the same surname?
Answer: Make a folder for each couple. File each couple in a hanging file, in alphabetical order by the husband's first name, behind the hanging file with the pedigree charts for the surname of the husband of that couple. The label on the file folder will have a colored stripe to remind you what color that family belongs to. 

If the surname is, lets say, Smith, and there are two husbands named John Smith, file the more recent one in front of the older one.

What about color coding?
Answer: Color code your pedigree by the lineages of your four grandparents. All the folders of the ancestors of one grandparent will be marked with the same color: 

Grandfather's lineage on your father's side: all folders marked BLUE

Grandmother's lineage on your father's side: all folders marked GREEN 

Grandfather's lineage on your mother's side: all folders marked RED 

Grandmother's lineage on your mother's side: all folders marked YELLOW 

Do I put the surname folders in alphabetical order?
Answer: Alphabetize the RED ancestors as one group, the BLUE ancestors as another group, the GREEN ancestors as another group, and the YELLOW ancestors as another group. Each group should be alphabetized separately. Doing so will allow you to move all of one color into another box when your box gets too full.

My Red lines now fill two boxes!

How do I organize digital images on my computer?
Answer: In Documents, make a folder named Genealogy. Within the Genealogy folder make folders for the different types of genealogy records you find. For example, make a Bible Records sub-folder, a Cemeteries & Sexton Books sub-folder, Census Helps, Census Records, Church Records and so forth. They will be in alphabetical order.

Within a folder, such as Cemeteries & Sexton Books, make sub-folders for each cemetery or cemetery's sexton books. I call one folder by the name of the cemetery - tombstones and a second folder by the same name of the cemetery - sexton books.

What about using three-ring binders?
Answer: I use three-ring binders with archival sheet protectors to store valuable photographs and documents. I also sometimes use a three-ring binder for a project such as joining the Daughters of the American Revolution or researching in depth one particular individual. There is a place for three-ring binders but they quickly become cumbersome if that is where you try to store all you genealogy records. I much prefer the file folder system for most of my genealogy research.

Three Ring Binders and Organization

There are many different opinions about the value of using three ring binders to organize your paper files. Having asked many experienced researchers their opinion on the value of using three ring binders, I offer the following summary of their feelings:
1. Many researchers said when they first began to do genealogy research, they created notebooks for each surname on their family lines. However, they soon found they had too much information and switched to using a file folders system because it is more flexible and expandable.
2. Many researchers keep valuable, original documents, family histories and stories, and photographs in archival quality polypropylene sheet protectors in three ring binders. They make photocopies of documents for research file folders and identify them with a number code. See: Eliminate Genealogy Clutter by Sherene Henrie Whiting.
3. Some researchers like to put a single, challenging genealogical research problem into a three ring binder, with tabs for the family group records, To Do Lists, Research Logs, notes, and documents they are working with.

SUMMARY: There is a place for three ring binders in genealogy organization. In the long run, however, you will probably be happiest setting up the basic hanging file organization system based on color, and then supplementing the basic setup with three ring binders, as you find a need for them.


Set up a couple folder for you and your spouse, and also individual folders for the two of you. Then create folders for each of your children and grandchildren. They will be so glad to have a place for their certificates, letters to you, programs from baptism and graduation and awards over the years.