FILE, DON'T PILE!
December 5, 2010
According to a survey by the one of the leading research and advisory firm for the information industry, two-thousand people throughout a variety of industries spend 5.4 billion hours a year searching for information about filing. Scary, isn’t it? So, how is your filing system? Filing is a life skill in which many of us are lacking. I admit I struggle with filing from time to time.
Admittedly, most of us could simplify our filing systems. Throwing those records in a box and sticking it in a closet is not a sufficient system. It needs to be simple, but not super simple. A beginning researcher might have an accordion box with a few folders for each surname, and one for the To Do lists. For a while, this might work but once the research starts pouring in, this system will not work.
The better systems use a sturdy four-drawer filing cabinet with drawers that fully extend the length of the drawer. This will last you the rest of your life, move after move, and be an excellent investment. Consider adding a couple of two-drawer cabinets.
My four-drawer cabinet holds alphabetized “Surname Files.” How you file within these files might change with the surname, depending on how much research you gather on the family. One of my two-drawer cabinets holds various “Teaching Handouts” and “Speaking Syllabuses.” In one drawer of the other two-drawer cabinet, I have my “Morgue,” or copies of articles I have written that appeared in various journals over the years, etc. The other drawer holds “Special Topics” collected on subjects of special interest to me. Researchers might only need the four-drawer cabinet. I do not take clients, but if I did, I would need a cabinet for “Client Files,” and one for “Finances.” Since I wear many hats, I do warrant these three cabinets. Remember, if you buy it you will fill it!
I use only hanging folders in the file cabinets but when I remove files I leave the hanging folder behind and place the papers I remove in a manila folder or my desk drawer file to keep my desk clear. Both of these folder types come in the box-bottom type for expanding to two to three inches in depth. I often buy the yellow or orange folders, but I never attempt to color code my files. I tried it and it did not work. When I am working and need to file something, I want to do it then and get on with it. If I have to run to the store to replenish a depleted folder color, then it is not beneficial to me at all. Been there, done that! Color-coding to me is not simple or efficient.
When your files increase to the point of getting out-of-hand, then re-organize them in a three-ring binder, label it, and place it on a bookshelf. I have some in five-inch binders. When these are full, they present a weight issue, so now I restrict my binders to only three-inch ones. My other tips for a fantastically simple filing system are to always alphabetize and use only generic names. File by a specific subject and title, rather than having a miscellaneous file—or toss it. Always add new items to the front. Place an index of the drawer contents just inside the drawer front. Purge to prevent stuffing, and store extra folders by the side of the cabinet (not inside). In our family, Friday is file day.
Having a simple filing system and a specific day set aside for filing saves hours of valuable time hunting. My system may not be perfect, but it works for me. I have tried several but I prefer this system because it is “filing friendly.”
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.