Sunday, January 21, 2018

Color Coded Genealogy Filing System

Quick Background:

Almost 20 years ago I was using binders. There are two basic ways to organize paper files in binders. The first is by family and the second is by document. I am a very visual person and I like to see all the documents for a family so that is what I chose. However as I did more research if I stuck with one family per binder then I wouldn't have enough storage and when I went to go visit someone who wanted to see my work they were too bulky. If I put more then one person in a binder then it was difficult to organize them in a logical order that I would remember. 

Finally in case there ever was a need to evacuate my home quickly I wouldn't be able to grab all my binders. I decided I wanted to use file folders so I could grab which ever family I was currently working on and go. In the case of an emergency I can also grab the file boxes along with photo boxes and leave.

This system has worked for me and as I have added more research it has a natural flow that works with how I think. Each section has a video!

The Basic System

I found a system on back in 2000 and tweaked it. I looked for it again and it is now gone. However on the Facebook group "The Organized Genealogist" Kaye M. posted the originator of the system was Mary Hill. You can find the base of my system here: The FamilyRoots Organizer Color-Coding System .

The basic concept is to choose 4 colors one for each of your grandparents. Then you divide that into four tabbed sections one for each of your great-great grandparents.Finally you create a file for each of your direct line ancestors and their children. The direct ancestor is on the right tab and their children have middle tab folders.

You file documents in the family folder the person was living at at the time of the event. For example a birth certificate is filed with the parents but an individauls death certificate would be filed in the folder with them as an adult. (I will explain more later)

The system then has you create location files and "hold files". See the website for examples.

System Set Up

YouTube Video Basic Supplies for Color Coded Files

Color Coded Supplies

Labels I use for my system

I have also used these for my personal files
Colored Dots

File folders and Hanging Folders I also use Office Max Hanging Files

Tweaking the System Round 1

YouTube Video Explaining Color File System

YouTube Video Explaining Files for Resources

YouTube Video Explaining What Goes in a File

Color coding: I followed her suggestion and did one for each line of my grand parents. I followed adoptive lines. In the future as I get more on my biological grandfathers I will use orange and purple. I used black for resource files.

Color system in Rootsmagic 

System at a Glance
Resource Files

Sections: I only divided the sections into two so I only have 8 total sections in the pictures.

Folders: Instead of manila folders with colored labels I purchased colored files. This way at a glance if I have a folder out I know which family it belongs too. And more importantly I liked the way it looks. 

****I do NOT file original photos or one of a kind documents. These are preserved in archival binders and a copy is digitally saved and occasionally copied and put in the file.***

File placement: In the original system they have direct ancestor folders on the right and then children of the direct line in the center. This means if you bought a pack of files you were only using 2/3 of the box. Originally I took my first line of ancestors and filed them alphabetically using all three tab locations. Then I put their children's files directly behind them. This allowed me to use all the folders. So it looked like:

Overview children are filed by birth date behind parent
Non-Direct line are filed behind original parent and
then grandchildren filed. Used manilla folders with dot. See
Tweaking round two for my new system.

Each document is labeled to match digital file
before filing

Example how documents are filed digitally
Name, Birth year, Event Year, Event

Extra Folders: Instead of having short term and long term holding files in each section I created the following folders:

  • To Enter: Items I have not yet entered into my genealogy program. For example my mother just gave me a handleful of documents so I put them in the folder until I have time to enter them. I do not file anything I have not entered into my system. That causes problems down the line. Having one for the four lines of the family makes it easier to find if I do need to pull it out. 
  • To Do: Once I enter the item in my database if I need to act on it then it moves to my "to do file".  I don't use this as often as I used to since I can now just save files or print how many copies. But I still use this if I need to preserve and item and file a copy with the family. 
  • To File: Self explanatory. Documents I need to file after entering. I use this if I need to create a file for a family or need to end a research session early. 
  •  Surname Index: If a document has multiple names (ie birth index) instead of getting filed in a group folder it gets filed here. When a new ancestor is discovered a quick look at this file will see if they are in any of the indexes. 
  •  Temporary Files: If a document can't be connected to a current family member it goes here. Now I only save new information for this file digitally.
Resource Folders: Instead of just location files I included research tips and extra forms. With everything online now I don't use these as much but I found the original print out of this system and my original folder order in my "organization" folder so it I am keeping it.

Locations Folders: I have divided them into two sections. USA where the left folder is the state, the center is for County Level, and the Right for City.  The second section is for Other countries. Left for country, center for states or municipalities, right for city.  

If a name has changed I create a file with the old name and new so I know to check. In my Rootsmagic program I put a history of each location if the name has changed. You could also include one in the of folder.

Tweaking Round 2:

YouTube Video Color Coded Files by Generation

Changing Order of Folders: I found adding children and then grandchildren behind a direct line ancestors was starting to get unruly. I redid the folder to show the left tab to be direct line, the center tab to be their children, and the third tab to be their grandchildren.
New system. Direct line stripe at top, children color dot, grandchildren triangle


  1. I too spring-boarded off Mary Hill's method, so we have many similarities, yet also some differences. What's great is that we can all tweak these methods to fit our own personal styles of filing. I do love using a color-coded system! Thank you for sharing your method.

    1. I agree! I gleam a bit from all different systems. And over time I add or subtract based on my needs.

  2. Thank you for posting the videos. I just watched all five. Now to gather supplies so I can start. It's intimidating, so I keep putting it off! I think the best way to completely understand the system, is to do it!

    1. You are welcome! If you need any help let me know. Once you start creating the files it pulls together quickly. And as you can see I write on the files with updates and then once a year update any file folders that have changes.

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