Organizing Your Home Base (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Organizing Your Home Base[edit | edit source]

Few amateur researchers have the luxury of a whole room to set aside as a genealogical office or library. Most of us start out on the kitchen table with a box stored in a closet or under the bed. But the needs for storage space, a permanent family history desk, not to mention time and some peace and quiet, soon grow.

There are naturally benefits to consolidation of all your genealogy materials into one location. This section will deal with those items you will need close at hand as ‘desk needs’, and other items as ‘office needs’. The principle of storing something where you use it seems to work best.

At Your Desk[edit | edit source]

The most-used items are kept within arm’s reach, thus at my desk I keep these items:

  • Computer and its peripherals, computer manuals, labels, empty CDs/DVDs, most-used CD indexes.
  • Reading lights, magnifying light, stapler, tape, hole puncher, pens, several paperweights.
  • Calendar, telephone, phone books, lots of bookmarks, post-it notes, envelopes (small and business sizes of white and airmail), stamps, letter-scale and post office rates, horizontal files for paper (new white bond, used white, used yellow, used other colours), a copy of all local library and FHS brochures.
  • Useful general books, mainly How-To and reference materials, and subject binders.
  • Vertical slots for data arriving e.g. for my own family, and my 5 One-Name Studies, one for urgent pending projects such as letters awaiting sterling money orders before mailing, slots with a file pocket for each library I visit containing items to take there (notices, donations, items for people).
  • Horizontal files for ‘jobs’ and ‘filing’—done in odd moments and pile kept to a minimum.
  • My Desk Reference File—a simple duotang with my pedigree chart, lists of ancestral names and places, list of FHSs of which I am a member with my # and renewal dates, plus several small ‘reminder notes’ such as exact dates of British Censuses, roman numerals, temple codes and so forth.

In Your Office[edit | edit source]

Elsewhere in your office, keep the items that you don’t use so often, or don’t need at your desk. Filing cabinets containing:

  • Supplies and forms
  • FHS information
  • Files of first transcripts of parish registers, censuses read
  • Files for Record Agents used
  • Family Files (or binders)

Note on Computer Back-ups[edit | edit source]

Experienced users save their work regularly, say every 15 minutes, and make a complete back-up of new work every day. Occasionally a computer back-up will malfunction and today’s back-up will be a failure, to which the answer is multiple, dated, rotating back-ups. Most experts recommend keeping several back-ups on devices such as a portable drive, CD/DVD, or flash drive. You may also want to keep a bakup online through a paid backup website service or through a means of cloud computing like Dropbox. Sometimes corruption problems do not become apparent for a long time, and all of your multiple disks will by then have corrupt data. This can be disastrous for those with large files of genealogy. If you don’t want to have to type it all in again then the safeguard here is to make a permanent back-up every so often and never replace it. How does this work for the average family historian?

Absolutely Safe Back-up Scheme for Family History Data

P = Permanent, stored off-site
Disk A

Disk B

Disk C


Disk P1 – put in permanent storage
Re-use Disk A

Re-use Disk B

Re-use Disk C


Disk P2 – put in permanent storage
Re-use Disk A

Re-use Disk B

Re-use Disk C


Disk P3 – put in permanent storage

Back-up disks A, B and C would be stored away from your computer. If you have a break-in the thieves would likely take your disks as well as your computer equipment if they are easily found nearby.

The permanent disks would be stored off-site, for example in your bank deposit box, an office, or at a friend or relative’s house. They are a permanent record of your data as of that date and never get replaced. Thus if you encounter a long-standing problem you will have copies of your data for every 4th time you added something and would be able to recoup the majority of your work.

With this system you will have three sites where your work is stored: in your computer, somewhere else in your residence not near your computer, and one set away from home. Thus you are secure from loss. The exact number of rotating disks doesn’t matter—businesses often have one for each day of the week. Also, some folks make a permanent back-up disk daily.

Building a Basic Library[edit | edit source]

My own library fulfills my needs as the family historian of my own family, as a professional and as a One Name student. It is therefore larger than most, but contains the same kinds of materials, just more of each. A library of any size should be organized so that any book or item is instantly accessible. Sections I use include:

  • How-To and Reference books on genealogy and related subjects

  • Topographical books. I organize mine into country and county sections

  • Binders containing papers and leaflets for each geographical area of interest. The binder sections I have found useful are: Archives, Indexes, Maps, Places, and Sources for each county of England.

  • Occupations
  • Family History Society journals. After I have read and processed them they get filed in magazine boxes lined across the top of my bookcases.
  • Maps and atlases. My maps are stored in number order in their sets in labelled shoe boxes. Each set has at the front or side an overall map highlighted with the ones that I have. For a map in frequent use consider making a photocopy and laminating it to prevent wear on the original.
  • Computer manuals and instructions for your machines and indexes
  • Photography and postcards
  • Dictionaries
  • My own scrapbooks, photo albums, slide collection, and postcard collection
  • History and Biography books
  • Names including surnames, first names, place names plus
  • Genealogical Directories

Building a good family history library will involve many visits to second hand book stores and library discard sales. Go prepared with a list of what you have and what you need. Examples of these are shown in Charts 12 to 14.

My Library Collection: Example of Listing

Book of British Villages, Book of British Towns, Road Book of Scotland, Ireland.
Apprentices – SoG
Vols. 1- 25.
Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Latin, Norwegian, Old English, Portuguese, Russian, Scots Gaelic, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Welsh.
Highways and Byways
All EXCEPT Beds, C.I., Cheshire, Durham, Essex, Hunts, IOM, Lancs, Northants, Rutland, Salop, Worcs.
Kings England
All including Enchanted Land.
Victorian Photobooks
Beds, Bexley, Cornwall, Country Camera by Winter, Cumbs, Essex, Hants, Hereford, Herts, Kent, Lakes, Mddx, Norfolk, Salop, Somerset, Staffs, Suffolk, Sry, Ssx, Warks, Westmorland; Scotland, Lowlands, Highlands; Dublin.
Chiltern Villages by Burden, A Window on Winslow.
Story of IOM by Airne (2 vols.), Our Heritage (old postcards.)
Illustrated Lark Rise to Candleford, Clarendon Guide to Oxford.

My Map Collection: Example of Listing

Barts ½” (blue) All
O.S. 1” (Red) Eng and Scot 1-4 (blue), 85, 88, 107-8, 112, 116, 119, 131, 134, 136, 142-4, 147-8, 153, 156-7, 159, 163-166, 169, 170-173, 175-184, 186, 188, 190.

Local Histories Needed

Aberdeenshire Cruden, Ellon, Logie Buchan, Old Deer.
Devon Buckland Filleigh, Crediton, East Budleigh, Exbourne, Hatherleigh, Jacobstowe, Okehampton, Petrockstowe.
Dorset Bridport.
Norfolk Dereham, Kings Lynn.

A more extensive treatment of the subject of building a personal library can be found in the Heritage Series book, Organizing a Genealogy Library.

Finding Supplies[edit | edit source]

The local Family History or Genealogy Society usually has a Bookstall with items of general and local interest. They are the best sources for indexes of censuses, parish registers, etc.

The local Archives or Record Office would know of, and often sells, local histories, maps and research guides.

Thrift stores are a great source of inexpensive office supplies such as binders, paper, hanging file folders, bookshelves and lamps.

A wonderful convenience on the Internet for British and other researchers is Family History Books which now incorporates GENFAIR, the online family history fair with a secure credit card facility. Here you will find a huge number of family history societies and commercial suppliers of books, microfiches, software, CDs, FHS memberships, search services etc. Service is fast, 3-10 days from England to B.C., Canada, and it is so convenient for renewing memberships and buying all kinds of genealogical supplies.

See Cyndi's List webpage for her Organizing Your Research section for links to sites providing charts and forms. There is also an article on finding charts and forms online by Cavell. I hope that the list of suppliers in the chart below will be useful in finding other supplies. Send for their free catalogues.

Some Genealogical Suppliers

Name and Address Phone, Website and Email Notes

7363 Wilson Ave.
Delta, BC Canada V4G 1E5

Website: Bury Media and Supplies
Distributor for archival and
Canadian government supplies
See Family Search to find an FSC near you See the Wiki for Research
61 Great Whyte
Ramsey, Huntingdon
Cambridgeshire, England PE26 1HJ
Website: Family Tree
Good bookstore, British
Also see GenFair
Own publications plus good
bookstore, British emphasis

544 East Edna Place
Covina, CA 91723, USA
See Future Packaging and Preservation website.
Archival and preservation
GENEALOGY STORE 416-861-0165
1-800-580-0615 (in North America)
Genealogy Store website
Various resource materials,
books, maps, forms, charts,
archival supplies
Milton, Ontario, Canada
1-800-361-5268 (in North America)
See Global Genealogy's website
Books, maps, archival
supplies, CDs; Canadian and US emphasis
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
1-800-580-0165 (in North America)
See Genealogy Store website
Various resource materials,
books, maps, forms, charts,
archival supplies

12300 Bridgeport Road
Richmond, BC, Canada V6V 1J5
Website: ITMB
Hugh map stock
Website: Family Search Products and services that help
with family history
LIGHT IMPRESSIONS 1-800-975-6429
Website: Ligt Impressions
Archival and preservation
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
1-800-580-0615 (in North America)
Website: National Institute for Genealogical Studies

16 Foxhills Close
Ashurst, Southampton, Hampshire
England SO40 7ER
Website:CWandS Parkinson
Archival products and containers

Tallents House, 21 South Gyle Cres.
Edinburgh, Scotland EH12 9PB
Website: Royal Mail British postage stamps
PHILLIMORE AND CO LTD Website: Phillimore and Co. Publisher and retailer of huge
choice selection of British
genealogy and local history
7802 Allen St
Midvale, Utah 84047
Website: Preservation Source
Howlett Way
Thetford, Norfolk, England IP24
Website: Secol Ltd.
Storage containers for
photographs and printed
14 Charterhouse Bldgs, Goswell Rd.
London, England EC1M 7BA
(020) 7251 8799
Website: Society of Genealogists
Now only sell their own publications.

230 West Bulldog Blvd.
Provo, Utah 84604
Website: Stevenson's Genealogy Center
Inexpensive 8-, 12- and 15-
generation Pedigree charts
P.O. Box 60
Randolph, MA 02368-0060
Website: Bill Cole Enterprises
Archival and preservation

Office Procedures[edit | edit source]

Dealing with Incoming Paperwork[edit | edit source]

There is only one way to retain control over the inevitable pile of paperwork, and your sanity. This applies to replying to mail as well as filing research notes and document copies. Set aside a regular time for dealing with the incoming paperwork and DO IT!

Remember: If you don’t file it―you won’t find it!

Dealing with Family History Society Journals[edit | edit source]

I subscribe to about 20 family history journals; I carry a couple with me at all times so they get read whilst waiting for appointments or travelling. How do I recall all the neat ideas that I find and remember to write to the various indexes and contacts that are mentioned therein? I deal with journals efficiently as follows:

  1. Reading them with a highlighter pen in hand, flagging items I need to act on or refer to later. I then put them in one magazine box at my desk for processing. When it’s full I process them, otherwise the situation gets out-of-hand. It’s good for practicing self-discipline!

  2. Processing which involves acting on items such as:
  • Writing letters, buying indexes or books by mail, and filing research ideas.

  • Noting useful indexes, sources, articles and fellow researchers in myVade Mecum (Latin = ‘go with me’, a handy reference book), actually a computer list sorted by alphabetical categories such as topics and families. The chart below shows a sample from my Vade Mecum. From time to time one can go and print off all the references pertinent to a topic of current interest and work with them.

  • Photocopying interesting items to add to family files or topic binders.

Sample from Vade Mecum List

Item Journal Code Vol.-Part-Page
1851 exhibition FTM 11-10-22
Aberdeenshire burials CD ABD 84-9
Addresses Archives GSD 5-282
Appledram MIs SS 14-2-61 14-2-61
Army Australia FTM 18-8-43
Army cyclists FTM 18-8-22
Army Kings German Legion FTM 18-8-70
Chowings vicar at Jacobstow GM 25-11-446
Chowins masons Dartmoor K 8-5-189
Chowins masons in Devon DFH 97-25
Gardener in Greenwich M interests 94-vi
Gardiner in Kent NWK 9-6-interests

3. Filing journals in date order. I file mine in magazine boxes on top of bookshelves, alphabetically by county for England, putting miscellaneous ones in other convenient spots.

It is far more efficient to make notes about items in a Vade Mecum and then file journals where you can find them quickly, than to end up with huge piles of bookmarked journals ‘that you’ll get to someday!’

Your Bibliography File![edit | edit source]

Be sure to record every source that you have searched. At any time during your research you (or anyone else) should be able to study your records and see what you have already done.

SO RIGHT NOW!! set up a bibliography file for the reference books and documents that you have consulted. This can be a simple 3" x 5" card file, or one of the many computer indexes available with word processing or genealogy programmes, or separately. Include standard details of Title, Author, Date, Publisher and then a reference to Your File Names/Numbers where the information found in it has been noted. You decide whether to file by Title, Author, or Subject. Just be consistent and make sure that it will work for you. To be effective it must be used, and this requires self-discipline. Be very particular about filing references as you add each new piece of information and each new source, including negative searches.

Each ancestral file should refer back to each of the references consulted for that person or family with a brief note (e.g. Marriage 12 June 1854 from Smith 1968) and the Bibliography will then give you the full details of Smith’s book published in 1968.

Multi-Purpose Numbers Chart[edit | edit source]

For keeping track of a whole host of items, a Number Sheet (1-1000) can be found in the Appendix. Each number can simply be highlighted when it is done, and for numbers over 1000 simply head further sheets ‘1000s’, ‘2000s’ etc. These can be colour-coded to indicate paternal and maternal lines. Some examples of uses include:

  • Checking off which 1891 census Piece Numbers I have read.
  • Summarizing which maps in a long, numbered series I possess.
  • Noting which ancestors have been identified, using the Sosa-Stradonitz numbers. These can be colour-coded to indicate paternal and maternal lines.

Numbering Systems[edit | edit source]

Do you need a numbering system? If you can’t think of a good reason—don’t bother!

Names are easier to work with, and your head can keep track of several hundred. When numbers get into the thousands, then a numbering system can help you organize ancestors into groups of one kind or another. However, most genealogy programmes are capable of counting, sorting and printing out lists of descendants or ancestors of a named individual. Some will also tell you how any two people are related. Any numbering system needs to be flexible enough to add newly discovered ancestors, descendants, spouses, and siblings without going into hysterics. The author has devised a simple numbering system that may be useful to others.

Parameters used for Christensen Numbering System

Why do I need a numbering system? I want to see at a glance which family line a person belongs to
What is the simplest system to use? No more than 5 digits in the ID number
Is it expandable? Yes, indefinitely
What is the simplest framework to use? Sosa-Stradonitz Ancestral Numbers
How do I read a number? Number is the ancestor (see a pedigree chart) Letters indicate relationships
Is this system suitable for use in filing? No, because there will be many people with the same number.

The Sosa-Stradonitz Ancestral Numbers: This system, first used in a family history published in 1676 by Spanish genealogist Jeronimo de Sosa, has now become the standard. Number 1 is the person whose pedigree you wish to chart, 2 is his or her father, 3 the mother, 4 the paternal grandfather, 5 the paternal grandmother etc. Thus all males have even numbers and all females odd ones, with the exception of number 1 which may be either. Any person’s father is twice his/her own number and their mother twice plus one e.g. number 6’s father is 12 and mother 13.

The Christensen System uses letters to show relationships to the ancestor.

Siblings—get the lower case letters a, b, c etc. added to my ancestor’s number. These don’t have to be in date order, so if I find another sibling then I just assign another number.

Spouses of siblings, and ancestor’s spouses that are not my direct ancestors get an upper case ‘S’ added to the base number. To keep it simple I only use S for the ancestor’s generation. All spouses of descendants are counted as descendants.

Descendants of my ancestor (except my direct line of course), just have an upper case ‘D’ added to the ancestor’s number. To keep it simple I use D to denote descendants (including spouses and step-children) only from an ancestor. Thus I use 62D rather than the form 31aD. This tells me at a glance which ancestor’s family this person belongs to, which is all I need to know. Some examples are shown in the chart below.

Examples of Christensen Numbers

13 Ancestor (mother’s father’s mother)
13a, 13b, 13c, 13d, etc. Ancestor 13’s siblings
6S Ancestor 6’s other spouse who is not my ancestor
57D Descendant (and his relatives) of my ancestor 57
88fS Spouse of sibling 88f of my ancestor 88

The National Genealogical Society (of USA) has a handy reference booklet called Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families and International Kin by Joan Curran, Madilyn Crane and John H. Wray. It explains the common North American usage of the Register System (New England Historical Genealogical Society) and the NGSQ System (NGS Quarterly).

Additional Help[edit | edit source]

Also see Organizing Your Information (National Institute)


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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