Documents, deeds and dust

Family documents include certificates of birth, christening, marriage, divorce, and death. These may be extended to include military papers, old land deeds, copies of census reports, naturalization papers, etc. Letters, postcards, and old photos may also provide clues to an ancestor's whereabouts at a given time. They also augment our understanding of the lives these people led. This makes your family history "come alive!"

It is one thing to collect these precious documents, but it is quite another to arrange them sensibly. If you are just starting out go here for an explanation of your first steps.
File folders suffice until the day one is dropped, spilling the contents in a dishevelled heap. Besides, if a birth certificate mentions both the father's surname and the mother's maiden name, whose surname folder should hold the document? Duplicates for both files run up the cost not to mention doubling the file space.

Acid-free document folders of top-loading sheet protectors provide an excellent alternative. They are portable and easily read. The documents can be handled without fear of deterioration. Pages of various sizes can be made uniform. Do not tape smaller documents to a piece of A4 paper.  Tape causes documents to deteriorate faster. Merely place the document in a sheet protector, with an acid-free page of paper to separate it from the reverse side document.

As for filing the documents in an understandable order, use a numbering system. As each document is received, it is put in the next page protector and given the next available number. Notation of that number is made on ALL family group sheets it documents. For the birth record mentioned above, notations should be made in the following places on family group sheets:

    1.    individual - where he/she is a child
    2.    individual - where he/she is a spouse
    3.    father - where he is listed as spouse
    4.    mother - where she is listed as spouse

As folders become full, another is added. Some people suggest keeping all like documents in a single notebook. This involves using more folders, however, all the census records would be found in one folder, separate from the birth records or the marriage records, etc.

Although much has been written giving suggestions for organizing your documentation, it ultimately remains your choice. After all, it is YOUR family history. Please remember that others need to readily identify your method of organization. They need to distinguish between known and proven ancestors and names of "potential" ancestors whose relationship you have not yet determined. No matter what organizational system you use, be sure to label known ancestors and relatives clearly and keep "potential" ancestors in a separate area altogether!

Documents support the family relationships that a genealogist traces. Without documentation, the family history is reduced to nothing but hearsay evidence. People who read a family history need to know exactly:

    1.    Which sources have been searched even if nothing was found, and
    2.    which sources have been searched with a copy of the document included in the family history.

As time goes by, more documents are becoming available through the use of indexes, microfilm/fiche and computers. Additional information may come to light to prove or disprove previous research. Citing the sources and maintaining good document files are therefore essential activities of a good genealogist. Apply the detail carefully. 

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