how to, organizing, professional genealogy

Don’t open that box: 5 tips for organizing your family history stash!


Even genealogists know the mess! Boxes of unsorted, unlabelled photos, random newspaper clippings on distant relatives, usually thrown together into stacks of unlabelled boxes after a relative’s death. You name it, most family historians have it. My goal for my “vacation week” is tackling one of those boxes that has been sitting for over 20 years.


So, it’s the New Year and you’re thinking about attacking a box, organizing, and possibly culling out a few things. What’s the first step?

  1. Decide if it really tells you anything about your branch of the family. My family kept photos of second, third, and even fifth cousins, articles written by great-uncles and more. It’s not logical or even feasible to  keep all of it. Don’t feel bad about getting rid of things. Most museums do the same thing when they decide an item no longer fits their collection goals.
  2. Decide where the unwanted items should go – and send them there.   This doesn’t mean throwing stuff out. I may not have room for the photos of my grandfather’s second cousin, but an ethnic heritage center was thrilled to receive them, and they’ll be accessible to a family historian researching his branch of a family.
  3. Divide the material by type. Unless you’re a scrapbooker, you probably don’t want family letters mixed with family photos.
  4. Divide the material by age. It will be much easier to organize family photos if you don’t have the 1950s mixed with the 1990s.
  5. Get started creating the final product! Don’t just throw the material back in the box… Getting started on an album or a scrapbook can seem daunting, but do you really want to leave the rest for someone else to organize??????

Good luck! Contact me with questions… and in the meantime, I’ll be putting the 1940s into an album! 🙂



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