Saturday, September 7, 2013

Scanning and more scanning

I have been putting this off for years but I am finally scanning my paper documents.  I used the excuse that I had a letter sized scanner and couldn’t scan my legal size documents.  That worked for a while until someone on the Technology for Genealogy Facebook Group page told me I could scan my legal size docs by using the feeder at the top of my machine.  Sigh…

At the same time I am scanning I am also updating my filing system a bit.  I am still using the same system but I am making it a little better.  Just a few little changes like labeling the outside of the sheet protectors with my cool new label maker and putting multiple documents of the same type into the same sheet protector if they are for the same person. 

I have binders for my paper documents.  Each binder holds a different type of document.  Within the binder the documents are in sheet protectors and filed alphabetically.  On the outside of the sheet protectors I have a label on the edge which makes it easy for me to flip through the book and find what I am looking for.  Here are the binders I have:

  • Birth Records (birth certificates, delayed birth certificates, birth announcements in the paper, etc.)  If a person has multiple documents I file them together in the same sheet protector.
  • Death Records (obits, funeral notices, funeral cards, death certificates, coroner’s reports)
  • Marriage Records (licenses, certificates, banns, announcements in the paper)  I put divorce records in here too.
  • Bible Records (photocopied pages, transcripts)
  • Probate (wills, administrations, inventories, guardianships, announcements in the paper)
  • Deeds (land and otherwise)
  • Federal Land Records (warrants, patents, land entry files. I do keep these separate from the regular county land deeds because they are a completely different sort of document)
  • Military Records (compiled service records, pensions, discharge from draft, etc.)
  • Church records (rolls, minutes). Church vital records go in the respective vitals records binders.
  • Social Security (I couldn’t figure out what to do with SS5s (social security applications) so I ended up with another binder)
  • Newspapers (everything other than the already above listed announcements. This would be things like stories where the ancestor is mentioned. I happen to have a lot of murders in my husband’s family so I have all of the clippings for that)
  • Court Records (most court records will be in probate but if an ancestor was part of a lawsuit, dispute or a witness to something it will end up here)
  • Artifacts (this is where I would keep personal letters, any scraps of interesting paper found in someone’s personal effects/estate, I have things like old report cards, papers from someone’s workplace, driver’s licenses etc. in here)
  • Census Records (the ONLY census records that are in here are ones that are not available online. I have some agricultural census records, industrial census records and mortality schedules that I got from state archives. I do not print online census records. If I did I would have 200 binders just for census records.  I do save the pages on my hard drive)

The only paper records I keep are those things that I have collected over the years that are not available online.  Any documents that I find online are just downloaded and saved on my computer.  For example, I have paper copies of Confederate compiled service records that I ordered years ago.  I now get them from Fold3.  I save the file to my hard drive but I don’t print out a copy to put in the binder.  So, I have more things on my hard drive than I do in the binders because everything in the binders is on the hard drive but so are all the documents that I found online and scanned. Eventually I will start tossing some of my paper documents.  It is hard for me to let go so it will take some time.  My ultimate goal is to get down to just a couple of binders that have nothing but true originals.

E-mails that I receive do not go in these binders! The above binders are only for actual documents  I have three blog posts that talk about nothing but what I do with emails.

My Inbox is Empty
E-Mails Part II
E-Mails Part III

I have matching folders on my computer. They have the same name as the binders which makes it really easy for me to find things. I decided against using any sort of numerical system for filing.  I understand things better if they are written out.  Here are some examples:

In my birth records binder the documents are labeled with the persons full name and year of birth.  This is on the label on the outside edge of the sheet protector so that I can find people easily.  This is not the full citation that is printed on the document itself.

In the birth records binder you will see:
Lewis, Gordon Sanders 1927 (year of birth)

In the death records binder you will see:
Lewis, Gordon Sanders 1991 (year of death)

In the marriage records binder you will see:
Lewis, Gordon Sanders and Miriam Wood 1946 (year of marriage)

In the deed records Binder you will see:
Lewis, John to Jackson Maddox, 1850 (year of deed)

In the folders on my hard drive you will see a little more info.  Why?  In the binders I can file more than one document in the same sheet protector, for example, a death certificate, an obituary and a funeral card.  However, on the hard drive each document is separate.  I could roll them all into one file but that is way too much work for me.

In the birth records folder you will see:
Lewis, Gordon Sanders, birth certificate 1927

In the death records folder you will see:
Lewis, Gordon Sanders,  death certificate 1991
Lewis, Gordon Sanders, obituary 1991
Lewis, Gordon Sanders, funeral card 1991

Okay, I know you computer gurus are screaming right now because I am not following the “rules” for file naming.  I don’t care.  I have never had a problem with the way I name my files and it makes sense to me so I will just take my chances.

You might also be wondering how I find documents if there is more than one person named on them?  I file the document by principle person.  If I use that document as a source for someone else there is a place in Legacy to record the file name.  For example, if I used the Lewis to Maddox deed as a source for Jackson Maddox, there is a place for me to record “Lewis, John to Jackson Maddox 1850” right on the citation page as a hint to me.

It is going to take me awhile to get everything scanned in but the side benefit is that I am examining the documents again which means I might see something I didn’t see the first time around. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis



  1. Scanning up to A4 size (or probably US letter Size for yourself) is easy on a normal machine. I found, though, that I had lots of oversized docs, including maps, and stuff that had been rolled up and wouldn't lay flat. I eventually discovered a small battery-operated scanner that I could just drag over things - including those rolled up items. It put stuff on a memory stick and worked well, except for photos mounted with the old-style photo corners - it just snagged on them and forced me to try and pop them out.

  2. I am a techno dweeb so it takes me time to figure all of this stuff out :)

  3. Good thing you finally gathered enough motivation to scan those documents. It’s easier to store and retrieve them when they’re in digital form, plus, as long as you save multiple files, it will be hard to lose them. Also, unlike paper, pixels don’t deteriorate over time. By the way, I love how you filed your documents into categories.

    Curtis Pilon