Evernote for Genealogy · Genealogy How Tos

E-files, paper files, and in-between – organizing your genealogical research

In this post, I’m going to talk about 3 basic categories of filing: paper; a mix of paper and e-files; and e-files only. We genealogists are so good as ferreting out the secrets hidden in our documents, but what on earth can we do with the documents once we’ve found them?

© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10).

10 reasons for paper-based filing

In this scenario, you use the internet to find documents, and once found they’re printed and filed.

  1. You have made a set of binders which are your goto research tools.
  2. You want to keep your research completely private and off the internet.
  3. You are not a fan of technology.
  4. You don’t see a need for using electronic files in your current research methodology.
  5. You like the act of writing on documents, and are comfortable using tabs, flags and post its to keep your documents pristine.
  6. Your research consists primarily of things:
    • hard cover books
    • family bibles
    • photo albums you want to preserve in their original format
    • original copies of documents
    • memorabilia and keepsakes
  7. Having hard copies of everything is reassuring and is a tangible product of your years of work.
  8. You are comfortable with your current budget for office supplies.
  9. You have the space to keep your files together in one place, or at least in no more than 3 places. For example, you keep the photos in a spare bedroom, the files on a bookshelf, and your working files on the dining room table.
  10. Your family is interested and wants to see your work. (Lucky, lucky you.)
© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10).

10 reasons for keeping both paper and e-files

In this scenario, you jump back and forth between using paper and electronic documents, and are efficient at being able to cross reference between both platforms.

  1. You like using your printed documents as reference.
  2. You prefer reading your research in hard copy.
  3. Your research encompasses original copies of documents, and <250 electronic folders on your computer.
  4. Your paper-based research materials are becoming too cumbersome to take with you on research trips.
  5. You’re beginning to find good online sites.
  6. You can easily find the documents you’ve saved onto your hard drive.
  7. You don’t tend to use your computer’s search functions.
  8. You want to be careful about software costs.
  9. You want to keep backup copies of your work.
  10. You use the dual systems to help manage the costs of both office supplies and software. For example, I would print documents if they were 10 pages or less.
Keeping it simple

10 Reasons for using a document management system like Evernote

In this scenario, you may still use paper for on site note taking, but the majority of your work involves an electonic platform of some type.

  1. You want to be able to search within your files, not just the file names.
  2. You have more than 250 electronic folders.
  3. You want to keep backup copies of your work.
  4. You are researching many family lines at once.
  5. You want to use your laptop and smartphone as research tools.
  6. You visit research sites where you are not allowed to bring anything other than a phone and a laptop. (Both the Chung Collection at UBC and the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan are strict about what a researcher may bring into the room, but the Archives will allow a pencil.)
  7. You have a collection of digital photos and images that you’d like to combine with your genealogical work.
  8. You want to capture internet pages, online chat group discussions, and Facebook group forums.
  9. You want to share your research with your family, and they don’t live nearby.
  10. Printing everything you have would cost a ton and is impractical.


No system is free. Paper-based systems require paper, toner, a printer, mounds of office supplies, and the room to store all of that stuff. Electronic systems require a computer and software, and the wherewithal to stay on top of factors such as backup systems.

© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10).

Final thoughts

There’s no right or wrong system – the only question is does it support your genealogical research? Choose the organizational style that fits you, your research style, and your budget.

NEXT POST: I will discuss Evernote and its uses in genealogical research.



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