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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

How to Downsize Your Genealogy Files

How to downsize your genealogy paper files

Why on earth would a family historian spend time downsizing their genealogy source materials in their home? They do it because otherwise, all of their research efforts will be poorly managed at their passing if they don’t.

Preservation minded family historians likely have no one who wants their family history or would burn their genealogy room if they don’t organize and preserve the best material. Or, the information will be stuck in an attic never to see the light of day unless a flood or tornado dislodges the items from their dark sanctuary.

For that reason, genealogists would do well to consider how they can increase the chances that their family history sour materials and discoveries will survive long after they stop climbing the family tree.

The Key to Downsizing Genealogy

In a previous post, I discussed the need to digitize your photos, documents, and genealogy data before you can decide what to ultimately keep, give away, or trash.

After you digital your genealogical significant items, how do you make a final decision about what to keep and what to give to new homes?

You have to think in terms of long-term value. When you think of long-term value, you will know how to disperse your family treasures and archives. You will know whether you are the best repository for your documents or if they belong somewhere else.

Choose Your Families Before You Downsize Your Genealogy

Before you sort through the genealogy papers and photos trying to downsize your files, piles, boxes, and rooms full of the source material, you need to decide what family lines you want to spend your time and resources on preserving.

You have:

4 – Grandparents 8 – Great-Grandparents 16 – 2nd Great-Grandparents 32 – 3rd Great-Grandparents 64 – 4th Great-Grandparents 128 – 5th Great-Grandparents

If you retained all applicable genealogy information on these individuals you would have around 254 files, binders, and photo albums. Once you add in files for their children, grandchildren, and the like, you have a sizeable collection.

Give yourself permission to just focus on physically curating the lines that interest you most. You are not banishing all of the remaining material to the trash pile. Instead, you are going to find a researcher or a library or archive that will gladly receive your collection and make it available to future researchers!

That’s the key… you’re preserving your family history by ensuring records, photos, and artifacts are in the best possible location for long-term preservation.

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Evaluate What Genealogy to Keep

Once you know what family lines you want to keep in your family archive, then you still have some downsizing to do on your genealogy record collection.

Sort through your genealogy files and remove duplicate copies of photos and keep the best version. Trash photocopies of census records that are readily available online. You can even recycle family group sheets and pedigree charts once you transfer the information to a genealogy program or online tree. And sift out things that no longer have the value now that you have a digital version of the document, photo, or artifact.

  • Keep the original family Bible for the surnames you are curating.

  • Keep the quilt sampler from a specific great-grandmother.

  • And keep the treasures that are so sentimental that you would cry buckets of tears if you never saw them again.

You will still want to make plans for where the items in your keep pile will go when you can no longer care for them, but for now, find new homes for everything else.

Stack of paper files and folders with overlay How to Downsize Genealogy FIles

Learn More Tips for Downsizing Genealogy FIles

If you want more tips on what genealogy documents and resources to keep and which to downsize, order a copy of Downsizing with Family History in Mind which not only teaches you how to sort your collection but provides you with reference guides to refer to as you work through your downsizing project.

If you have specific questions about whether you should keep or discard an item, drop a line in the comments section.

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