5 Steps to Begin Researching Your Ancestry –Paper or Digital Part 3

Step 3: Paper or Digital?

Paper or Digital? is the 3rd part in my 5 Steps to Begin Researching your Ancestry seriesHere we will have a look at whether to go with a traditional paper filing system,  a digital program or a combination of the two.   The other two in the series are:  Step 1 : How to Begin Researching Your Ancestry  or Step 2: Start with what you Know.

Paper Organization

There are so many ways to organize data these days and so many digital programs available that it’s so hard to decide which to choose.  I’m going to be honest with you – I tried several different methods to organize all my info when I started out.  The internet was full of ideas and I wanted to try them all! Since I love am obsessed with paper, I spent hours printing out all kinds of charts & forms that I needed a binder to hold them all.     I purchased 16 more binders – 1 for each of my surnames on both my parents sides. Then I bought a binder for each of my children and used them to hold all the copies of their documents and pictures, etc. creating a timeline of their life.  Let’s not forget the colored paper and file folders I couldn’t live without! And can we talk about notebooks? I have no shortage of those either.  I was so busy trying to make everything look so pretty and prove I had the best system(s) available that within a few months everything was a hot mess.  I had paper on almost every table in the house and I owned so many binders I had to buy a bookshelf  (which I love) to hold them all. Pretty was nice but I needed to find something that was easy to use, maintain and functional.  And I needed it to store well.

Files After much research I came across a webinar tutorial on the Legacy Family Tree website  hosted by Mary E.V. Hill and I knew I had found the perfect paper system for me.  In this easy to use color-coded system paper filing system (which I set up in a weekend) I was really able to streamline the way I organize my paper files and de clutter my home.  And it is seriously the best system I’ve ever used.  The cost of the whole project I set up was under $50 – but it is possible to create one for less by modifying the supplies you use.   These are the supplies I used :

Pros of Paper

  • You have a hard copy readily available
  • There are several ways to organize including binders, files or note books
  • You don’t need access to the internet to input information
  • You can research/write anywhere, anytime, anyplace

Cons of Paper

  • Lots of paper clutter to clean/file
  • Takes up valuable real estate in your home
  • Initial cost factor can be expensive
  • Forgetting to file paper
Digital Programs

There are so many genealogy programs available these days for download that it can be hard to choose. I actually use a few but that’s only because I like to test out the different functions of each. Currently I use  Legacy Family Tree 8.0 and Family Tree Maker (which is no longer available unfortunately). While I love the use of a paper filing system I also really like the convenience of using a digital program.  Since so much is available online these days I can research and enter the info in one step which cuts down on a lot of time.  It also doesn’t require a lot of effort as the program does most of the work for you. You input the data and it calculates the information. It’s that simple!

Both these programs have  easy learning curves and create some wonderful charts. Here’s a list of a few other free more popular downloadable genealogy programs:

Any of these with work fine for both the novice or seasoned researcher so it really is just a matter of personal preference.  But which ever program you use make sure to source your information as you enter it or I promise you WILL regret it later.  I’ll write more about sourcing in the near future. And as with any online line program don’t forget to back up your files!  I upload mine to my server, an external hard drive  and even email copies of my files to myself!

Pros of Digital

  • No or minimum paper clutter to look at/clean up
  • Programs chart your relationships for you and create files when needed
  • Many available in free download so cost is minimal
  • Uses minimal real estate

Cons of Digital

  • Requires some time to correctly source each document
  • Requires backing up files frequently
  • Varying difficulty in learning curves
  • Needs commitment to photocopy/ take pictures of all documents, photographs, etc

I use a combination of both these systems to research.  I also keep a couple notebooks and index cards to carry around with my should I need to go to the archives or a Family History program which I then come home and transfer it to my Family Tree program.  I also use EXCEL but not as a replacement for my  genealogy software program since it doesn’t have the same built in capabilities.

Time to start entering that info you found and setting up your system.  Let me know which method you prefer and which program you use and what you like/dislike about each. See you soon!

**Full disclosure: Article may contain affiliate links for which I may receive a small compensation for if purchases are made to help keep this site running.


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