Learn Genealogy – Good Filing Habits from the Start!

As you begin your quest for your ancestors, here are a few tips you should know from the start.

Stay Organized from the Start!

Stay organized.  If you make an effort to stay organized from the start, years from now when you or others retrace your steps, keeping your files and notes organized can be a huge time saver.

Keep documents, notes, photos, etc. by surname, either in physical notebooks or folders (if you’re not a fan of computers) or the same in electronic folders on your computer.  In these files, you’ll want to save scanned documents, photos, research notes, any and all evidence to piece together an individuals life story.

I keep an electronic top level surname folder such as “DOE” and then file individuals folders within the “DOE” folder or notebook for each person. For example, inside the “DOE” folder or notebook I might have a list of folders that say…


  • DOE Ellen
  • DOE John James
  • DOE Mary

I name all of my files with the same nomenclature. Use all caps for the surname, then the full given name. For example, “DOE John James”. If there is a line of men with the same name, such as John James Doe and his son John James Doe, Jr., I’ll add their birth or death year to differentiate between the two men. Such as “DOE John James b 1867” (the b is for birth) and another folder “DOE John James b 1889”. This will allow you to find your file immediately and is a structure your future generations can follow easily.  Then it would look like this…


  • DOE Ellen
  • DOE John James b 1867
  • DOE John James b 1889
  • DOE Mary
File Folders Start with Surname Followed by Given Name

I’ll also create a folder for family groups, by surname, to file things like family group photos or family history manuscripts I’ve collected. This type of folder would be called “DOE Family Group Files”.


  • DOE Ellen
  • DOE Family Group Files
  • DOE John James b 1867
  • DOE John James b 1889
  • DOE John and MARROW Jane
  • DOE Mary

By naming the married couple John James DOE and Jane MARROW this way, it is a clue to look in the MARROW surname file for her details too.

For couples, such as a husband and wife, often I’ll have documents together such as marriage certificates, I’ll file them in a folder titled “DOE John and MARROW Jane.”  Then when the files are sorted alphabetically, the files usually will group close together. You should note a woman’s maiden name (if known) in the file name (as I’ve done here with MARROW) referring to her maiden surname.

Keeping files (scanned documents) grouped and named this same way will save time during the research phase, as all of your documents can be accessed quickly and easily as you need them. 

Make sure you have a back up of your files.  I use a cloud service that constantly backs up my files. In the days before computers, I mailed copies to my sisters as a backup. This way, if my house burned down (heaven forbid), all of my years of research was saved. Today, my computer is constantly backing up, even while I sleep, so I’ll never lose anything.  I also use Ancestry and Family Tree Maker as my software of choice, which gives me an additional back up of my data.

Physical family artifacts are scanned or photographed, logged with it’s resource attached and filed in surname notebooks (if possible) in archival plastic sleeve. They can be found at any office supply store.  Some family heirlooms will not fit in a notebook.  For those items (such as bibles, war memorabilia, etc.) archival boxes will protect those items.  They can be found by searching for “archival materials or boxes.”

This is my method, it works well for me.  You may have another method that works for you, if so, tell us about it in the comment section.  However, whatever filing method us use, make sure a stranger looking at your records, could navigate them easily, long after you’re gone.

While this information may not be the fun part of family research, it’s the nuts and bolts that will hold your research train running smoothly down the tracks.

Comments are welcome below.  Was this helpful?  Do you have a system you like?  Tell us about it in the comment section below.  Also, I’m curious… Can you fill out the poll below?

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Research Notes Poll

All North Carolina Counties

Alamance (Formed in 1849)

Albemarle (Formed in 1664, Abolished 1739)

Alexander (Formed in 1847)

Alleghany (Formed in 1859)

Anson (Formed in 1750)

Ashe (Formed in 1799)

Avery (Formed in 1911)

Bath (Formed in 1696, Abolished 1739)

Beaufort (Formed in 1705)

Bertie (Formed in 1722)

Bladen (Formed in 1734)

Brunswick (Formed in 1764)

Buncombe (Formed in 1791)

Burke (Formed in 1777)

Bute (Formed in 1764, Abolished 1779)

Cabarrus (Formed in 1792)

Caldwell (Formed in 1841)

Camden (Formed in 1777)

Carteret (Formed in 1722)

Caswell (Formed in 1777)

Catawba (Formed in 1842)

Chatham (Formed in 1771)

Cherokee (Formed in 1839)

Chowan (Formed in 1668)

Clarendon (Formed in 1664, Abandoned 1667)

Clay (Formed in 1861)

Cleveland (Formed in 1841)

Columbus (Formed in 1808)

Craven (Formed in 1705)

Cumberland (Formed in 1754)

Currituck (Formed in 1668)

Dare (Formed in 1870)

Davidson (Formed in 1822)

Davie (Formed in 1836)

Dobbs (Formed in 1758, Abolished 1791)

Duplin (Formed in 1750)

Durham (Formed in 1881)

Edgecombe (Formed in 1741)

Forsyth (Formed in 1849)

Franklin (Formed in 1779)

Gaston (Formed in 1846)

Gates (Formed in 1779)

Glasgow (Formed in 1791, Abolished 1799)

Graham (Formed in 1872)

Granville (Formed in 1746)

Greene (Formed in 1799)

Guilford (Formed in 1771)

Halifax (Formed in 1758)

Harnett (Formed in 1855)

Haywood (Formed in 1808)

Henderson (Formed in 1838)

Hertford (Formed in 1759)

Hoke (Formed in 1911)

Hyde (Formed in 1705)

Iredell (Formed in 1788)

Jackson (Formed in 1851)

Johnston (Formed in 1746)

Jones (Formed in 1779)

Lee (Formed in 1907)

Lenoir (Formed in 1791)

Lincoln (Formed in 1779)

Macon (Formed in 1828)

Madison (Formed in 1851)

Martin (Formed in 1774)

McDowell (Formed in 1842)

Mecklenburg (Formed in 1762)

Mitchell (Formed in 1861)

Montgomery (Formed in 1779)

Moore (Formed in 1784)

Nash (Formed in 1777)

New Hanover (Formed in 1729)

Northampton (Formed in 1741)

Onslow (Formed in 1734)

Orange (Formed in 1752)

Pamlico (Formed in 1872)

Pasquotank (Formed in 1668)

Pender (Formed in 1875)

Perquimans (Formed in 1668)

Person (Formed in 1791)

Pitt (Formed in 1760)

Polk (Formed in 1855)

Randolph (Formed in 1779)

Richmond (Formed in 1779)

Robeson (Formed in 1787)

Rockingham (Formed in 1785)

Rowan (Formed in 1753)

Rutherford (Formed in 1779)

Sampson (Formed in 1784)

Scotland (Formed in 1899)

Stanly (Formed in 1841)

Stokes (Formed in 1789)

Swain (Formed in 1871)

Surry (Formed in 1771)

Transylvania (Formed in 1861)

Tryon (Formed in 1768, Abolished 1779)

Tyrrell (Formed in 1729)

Union (Formed in 1842)

Vance (Formed in 1881)

Wake (Formed in 1771)

Warren (Formed in 1779)

Washington (Formed in 1799)

Watauga (Formed in 1849)

Wayne (Formed in 1779)

Wilkes (Formed in 1777)

Wilson (Formed in 1855)

Yadkin (Formed in 1850)

Yancey (Formed in 1833)

Reminiscences of Randolph County, An Excellent Resource

Reminiscences of Randolph County by J. A. Blair, 1890

Online is a book called Reminiscences of Randolph County, [North Carolina] written by J.A. Blair in 1890.

This book is available for free online at the Internet Archive and can be read page by page on the archive.org website.

It can be very helpful in researching Randolph County ancestors, especially since it was published the same year of the missing federal censuses of 1890.

In the upper right corner of the website, you can search any text or by surname, taking you directly to the ancestors you seek. After your text search, be sure to notice the bar at the bottom of the page pointing out all of the instances of your search.  This allows you to quickly scroll through your search results.

Lastly, you can download a copy by PDF or ePub version of this book.

This is a true Randolph County treasure!

Back Creek Monthly Meeting Cemetery Images

Original Back Creek Monthly Meeting House

Quakers have called North Carolina home since the late 1600’s. Randolph County has a “Friends” church called Back Creek Monthly Meeting that began in 1789. It is still active today.

Found in Entry Hall at Back Creek Monthly Meeting

While visiting the cemetery, looking for Henley ancestors, I captured many images of both the church and some of the tombstones in the cemetery.  I’ve also restored some of the early images of the church.  Go here to see Back Creek images.

Also, know that many of the tombstones were removed from this cemetery.  The Pastor told me that they had been removed decades ago because they were not in compliance with the churches policy of the time. It was considered to self-serving to have your name and only initials were allowed at the time. So many headstones were removed by the church. While there are large areas of this cemetery that appear to be open, I was informed that this cemetery is full.  Today, names and dates adorn the tombstones.

Also, Find-A-Grave has many tombstones from Back Creek, but few of the church itself. Be sure to check both locations for your ancestors.

Please give proper credit to photographers when posting or copying images.

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