Top tips on organising your family history research


15 July 2019
2013_03_15_09_46_02-95440.jpg How to organise your family history research
Get your family history research under control with these tips for organising both paper-based and digital genealogy research.

Get your family history research under control with these tips for organising both paper-based and digital genealogy research.

Discover great new ideas for organising your family tree findings with these tips from the Family Tree Facebook and Twitter communities.

Organising paper records

Paperwork split into each grandparent in a different colour folder. I’m currently wondering about photos and considering fire proof boxes... Also have family videos which show both sides of family and storing/ sharing these are proving tricky. Keeping track of what I have and not repeating stuff is hard! Using Ancestry for actual tree.

Sian Critchley

File under original surname. Especially the women. And don't assume the women were uninteresting either.


My tip would be doing screenshots of online trees and printing them off, they can easily be enlarged or shrunk to fit an A4 sheet, obviously not your whole tree, but a couple of generations.

Siblings & Niblings

Create a working family tree that you can take out and about to record offices, libraries, etc. You can then update your ‘main’ tree when you write up your research notes from that particular trip. I’ve also found keeping a research notebook is very useful as again I can cross reference this with my files at home, allowing me to quickly see what I’ve searched and when, even when those searches drew a blank. This has saved me from many a duplicated search.

Rachel Bellerby

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Organising digital records

I use my Ancestry tree. I make notes on the person’s page as a custom entry to add sources of info and thoughts on where to search next. Its great fun.

Carole Griffiths

I use Family Tree Builder from MyHeritage. I have digital folders for every person in the tree that I have documents for, and separately maintain an Excel spreadsheet to record what documents I have for each person (census, BMD, military records etc.) so I know what to look for rather than searching for the same thing again as it's easy to forget with a large tree!

I have an instant backup setup for the tree on my laptop to Google cloud storage for any changes in any folder. This is invaluable, particularly as I had a hard disk failure recently and could have lost 10 years work!

Jon Cole

 I use Family Tree Maker plus Ancestry. I have some birth, death & marriage certificates but prefer digital copies. I use a big diary, calendar and software to track work in progress. I find I come back to individuals as more information becomes available. I also have a main tree but also 11 others I use for research & cross checking. I have also purchased the Family Tree Maker 2019 & just waiting for it to be released. Family Creator is also a great software so I can print books or make PDFs. I go through phrases of intense research then nothing for a month. It’s because of my job & available time

Cliff Ottley-Thistlethwaite

Working with paper-based and digital records

I use Ancestry and synced Family Tree Maker. I scan all documents and put them in folders on my computer. I also have binders with sections for each family section with a section at the back of each for correspondence. Not sure anyone else could follow it so I’m writing chapters that are printable with stories added and will create a PDF document .

Ann Longwood

I use Family Tree Maker and prefer digital as it takes up less space. My notes are in plastic envelope-style folders with each folder being a family group eg: Curtin, Carpenter, Pryor. My old correspondence is now scanned and emails are saved. I have a folder for some close / immediate family members who served in the Defence Force, including one for me.

Joanne Curtin

I have a folder for each great grandparent’s family but only keep paperwork for direct line plus any odd photos or certificates I collect. On Legacy I have my whole tree backed up on Legacy Cloud and a stick. I have a private tree on Ancestry. I currently use RootsMagic for my husband's tree but intend to buy Family Historian.

Kate Holloway

I have an online tree on MyHeritage only (will eventually put it on Ancestry too, to get more hits from distant relatives). I also have a mammoth family tree which I laboriously update on many Powerpoint slides that I eventually tape together. And my main organising tool is an Excel spreadsheet on which every person has a number - a new discovery is added at the bottom, whoever they are, doesn't matter which generation or which side of the family.

On the MyHeritage tree and the Powerpoint tree, we all have our number beside our name. Excel spreadsheet shows BMD info, census addresses, Griffiths Valuation, and a comments column for things like date of emigration. Couldn't do it without the spreadsheet! I also keep paper files - each of us has our own plastic wallet in a lever arch file (numbered, of course) - and online folders for elctronic docs, again numbered against THE spreadsheet.

Bridget Fitzgerald

I use digital and notebook with an A4 notebook for each surname: record A married B, date & location. Each place of residence. Father's names. Sponsors. Dates of birth and death for both, followed bya  list of children and relevant details. When they marry I open a new page and cross reference.

Mary B O’Connor

Most of my FAN (family, associates & neighbours)-club research is a giant one-place-study. For that, I photograph whole sources and file them by repository/record group/item. My genealogy software links to the correct image within the folders. For smaller projects, the FAN's records would be used in research reports of the person of interest, so I file the records in a subfolder of the person of interest. I add the FAN-club to my database and link the records from there so I can easily find them again.

Yvette Hoitink

Clooz software is intended to help you catalogue the names that show up in the same record. I have been wanting to get all of my downloaded images catalogued in Clooz, but I keep chasing bright shiny objects instead. In Family Historian, I link people using Associated Person. On Ancestry online trees, I link profiles with weblinks, which is a tip I got from one of Crista Cowan's Barefoot Genealogist videos.

Jan Murphy

I use RootsMagic for my tree but all my research notes, random findings, newspaper clips etc are stored in EverNote. Documents in image form are stored on Google Drive. I have a folder for each of my 4 grandparents, then 1 for every surname.

Genealogy Stories

I keep everything digitally organised in one place on my website. I used @darrinlythgoe's TNG sitebuilding software to build it. I'm not good with organizing paper, but family members can print charts, docs, etc straight from my site.


I file by family unit in both digital and paper form.It’s easier to study paper records for details missed the first time round with a cup of tea in a comfy chair. I'm not a fan of research logs because of the tendency for a "tickoff" mentality to form and result in missing something in the records ticked off and so forgotten.

Jacqui Kirk

I use Family Tree software and keep transcriptions of everything I've found in the research notes. It's coloured red if I have the actual image and black if I just have the transcript. Each direct ancestor has a timeline in the notes too.

Jo Murphy

QUICK LINK: Free downloads to help you organise your family history

(image copyright Tuck DB Postcards)



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