How to Organize Inherited Family Genealogy Research (Guest Post from The Family Curator)

by Sally J.

in * How to ORGANIZE Your Photos, * How to PRESERVE Family History Treasures, Free Articles / Blog

This is a guest post by Denise May Levenick, The Family Curator.

At my request, she’s offered an excerpt from Chapter 6 of her new book How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records (Family Tree Books, 2012).

This content is specifically about your ancestors’ genealogy research records and what to do with ones that you inherit.

Copyright, 2012, Denise May Levenick. All Rights Reserved.

_____________________ “” _____________________

Were you lucky enough to inherit your great-grandmother’s marriage certificate? and photograph? If so, you’ve certainly marked them for preservation and digitization. But what do you do with inherited genealogy research – computer printouts, census copies, family group sheets, and photocopies of old books?

Are you a second or third generation genealogist? Does research run in your genes? Does your family archive include boxes of genealogy research, printed pedigree charts, handwritten family group sheets, and carefully photocopied source material?

When my sister and I inherited our mom’s stuff, we had no idea that Mom was such a good record keeper. She must have heard the “Cite Your Sources” chorus because her files were filled with photocopied pages from books, web printouts, and copied correspondence. It’s a genealogist’s dream to find source material right there with the research, but what do you do when the sheer volume of material threatens to take over your own home or your own research materials?

First, go back and look at your goals in accepting the responsibility of your family archive. Do you want to extend your pedigree? Or are you working on family history book? Whatever your goal, you owe it to yourself to screen the new materials with an eye for moving forward. You do not have to be overwhelmed and burdened by someone else’s stuff.

In vetting Mom’s genealogy research I moved her original notes to a new plastic file box, eliminating any duplicated material I found.

I saved:

  • Mom’s handwritten notes
  • Email printouts and copies of correspondence
  • Books, articles, magazines I wanted to read

I didn’t save:

  • Genealogy society journals (donated to my local society)
  • Duplicates of census records and other sources I already had in my own research
  • Books I owned (I donated these)
  • Pedigree charts and family group sheets that duplicated my own information and research
  • Copies of stuff I had sent Mom

I made digital copies and discarded the paper originals for: Some research material from unknown sources; I didn’t want to lose the material, but it was more than one hundred pages, and I didn’t want to store it. My Scan Snap sheet fed scanner made quick work of the pile.

Organizing Options

1. Organize research by creator. Order a custom rubber stamp with the researcher’s name to identify his or her work.

2. Organize by family line. Identify work from other researchers.

Storage Solutions

  • Keep these materials separate from your own work in a designated file space.
  • Store paper files in plastic file bins. This is not archival storage.
  • Store historic documents in archival storage following appropriate guidelines in this chapter.


  • Keep pages together. Unless you are handling historic documents, use paper clips and staples as needed.
  • Remember your own goals; your inherited research should be a blessing not a burden.
Excerpt from How to Archive Family Keepsakes:
Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records by Denise May Levenick (Family Tree Books, 2012). Copyright, 2012, Denise May Levenick. All Rights Reserved.


Join the Blog Tour

Join the Blog Book Tour for How to Archive Family Keepsakes January 10-26, 2013 for author interviews, book excerpts, giveaways, and more. Visit the Blog Book Tour Page at The Family Curator website for the complete schedule.

Proceeds from the sale of How to Archive Family Keepsakes during the Book Tour will help fund the 2013 Student Genealogy Grant founded in 2010 in honor of Denise’s mother, Suzanne Winsor Freeman.

About the Author

In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” Denise May Levenick is a writer, researcher, and speaker with a passion for preserving and sharing family treasures of all kinds. She is the creator of the award-winning family history blog, The Family Curator and author of the new book How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records, (Family Tree Books, 2012).

Like to Win Free Things?

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It’s easy to enter to win a free copy of Denise’s new book or one of the weekly giveaway prizes. All you have to do is leave a comment below or at one of the other official tour blogs. Random winners will also be selected from social media comments on Twitter, FaceBook, and Google+.

Each blog tour post comment gives you one chance to win; one entry per post per day, please. Leave a comment at each stop on the blog tour and increase your chances of winning. The lucky names will be announced each Saturday during the tour at The Family Curator.

Robbi Ryan January 28, 2013 at 4:32 pm

That’s great information. Thanks for helping me give myself “permission” to jettison some unneeded duplicate information and to better store that which I’ll ultimately keep.

Lori Hellmund January 26, 2013 at 6:44 am

Oh boy! I think I am going to need help! The idea of throwing away anything makes me break out in a cold sweat. I’m looking forward to hearing all the great new ideas for organizing and archiving my family records.

Mardine Campbell January 25, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Thanks for the info. I always need help in organizing information. I have a lot of photos, both digitized and printed. Really need help with organizing them.

Robyn January 25, 2013 at 12:08 pm

More great information. Thanks Denise!

Tamara Arment January 25, 2013 at 11:48 am

With all of the grandparents and parents dead the photos and memories had been split up between the survivors. There are a lot of us grandchildren and I am ned to the youngest at 53. About 5 years ago I started tracking dow photos of the family and finding people who were still in the old community to identify them. Email and Facebook have helped tremendously in this effort. After I collected what I could I made copies of each RWCD and sent them to the family members who were interesed. This way the data was double checked and any corrections I sent out and folks could corect their own. Now, when I get new information, I just email it to the interested parties.

Cheryl Smallwood-Robert January 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm

I agree on going digital with as much as you can. The key is to have good back-up system. I use cds plus an external portable hard drive.

Carla Love Maitland January 24, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Wonderful ideas. I’m especially interested in the one about making digital copies of older documents, manuscripts, etc. I have the original copy of my great grandparents’ marriage ‘certificate,’ which is on a cardboard-type material & actually has their photos on it. It is NOT in good shape, so having it digitally copied is what I know I need to do. Thanks for these great tips.

Monica M. January 23, 2013 at 8:56 am

Great tips, especially for those of us who tend to want to keep everything (even duplicates) “just in case”.

Joyce January 23, 2013 at 6:59 am

Thanks for the info. Looks like a great book!

Pamela Smith January 22, 2013 at 11:23 am

Thank you for sharing some of your ideas. When you have boxes from 5 generations plus information from other individuals it makes it tough. You gave me some good ideas. Thank you.

Ginger James January 21, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Lots of great ideas. I like the stamp idea as well.

Marie January 21, 2013 at 10:32 am

Thanks for giving me the green light to get rid of duplicates. I have the tendency to want to keep everything.

Shelley Bishop January 20, 2013 at 10:16 pm

These are great, practical tips, Denise. I have some materials I really need to go through and archive, but figuring out how to organize them has been a stumbling block. Thanks for telling us how you did it.

Tina M January 20, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Love your information here. I’m going to save (into a document, not printed onto paper like I usually do!)
Rather than rubber stamp, I printed out small labels to put on the back. Just a thought.

Ginney Pumphrey January 20, 2013 at 8:59 pm

looks like a very helpful book

Denise Levenick January 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Glad you are finding some useful ideas along the Tour route.

Anne, you make a good point about migrating digital materials from one medium to another. External hard drives and cloud storage are good options today, but who knows where we will be tomorrow? We will need to stay current if we want our files to be usable in the future.

Thanks for visiting the tour! ~ Denise

Kathleen Gregory January 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm

I inherited the research material from another researcher. Much of it was genealogical society publications. I kept everything for almost 10 years, now I am looking for a home for these. The treasure was original handwritten letters from others with the same surname dating back to 1948. I put the letters in archival sheet protectors in a binder after scanning them to my computer. I like reading the old letters and I feel better having scanned them.

Pam H. January 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I like the custom rubber stamp idea to mark other researcher’s material you have received. It could be a real time and hand saver if you have a lot of stuff.

Anne Tanner January 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm

As long as you’re tossing originals, make sure that you have a way of reminding yourself to make sure your electronic copies still work. Remember the floppy disk? I wonder how many contain genealogical information that someone put there before throwing away the paper that does not have to be updated.

Carol G. January 20, 2013 at 6:01 am

Would love to own Denise’s book!

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