Genealogy Research: Conquering Your File Cabinets

Here’s a tip for you.
I have five multi-drawer file cabinets packed with correspondence and genealogical notes gathered over the past 50 years.

Keeping this old genealogical correspondence in just one spot means that I am the only one with access to it. I decided that it’s time to get it online and, where appropriate, available to everyone.

photo of genealogy correspondence

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

I want to make the change from paper files to online files – and where possible, to go paperless.

Where to start?
I started with the first file drawer – evaluating the files, one folder at a time.

Looking at the information I quickly decided on a few guidelines:

  • Only post material of lasting value
  • Don’t post correspondence from living people
  • Don’t post notes, data about living people

Online family tree sites let you post scanned items as photographs and as PDF documents. So – I can scan and post a one-page letter as a JPEG file, or – if I have multiple pages – I can scan and save them all in one file as a PDF document.

photo of a genealogy letter

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

I can take that compact PDF file and add it to my online family tree, attaching it to the person who wrote the letter to me as well as to the historical persons mentioned in the correspondence.

screenshot of a genealogy letter online


That correspondence is now preserved and is instantly discoverable by me and by anyone else researching the same family lines.

Once I have the file scanned – and online – I can then decide if I need to keep the original paper copy or if I can opt to go paperless and toss the paper copy.

Genealogy Tip: Put your old family history notes online – preserve them and make them available to others. You’ll be glad you did.

Related Articles:

How to Scan, Save & Share Your Family Photographs Online

The digital age is a new world for genealogists. We need to have not only research skills but the ability to scan and digitally preserve the many documents and photographs that we use daily.

This gives us the 21st century opportunity to add the actual genealogical documents and even photographs of our deceased relatives to our family tree software on our personal computers, or on an online family tree.

This online sharing of genealogy work enables anyone—be it family members or other researchers—to easily see your family history findings and the supporting documentation instantly.

Yes—it is a great day for genealogy!

Scanning to Digitize Your Family Photos

Scanning is easy and a home scanner can be purchased for a nominal cost at most stores. Copy centers and even drug stores routinely offer scanning services often for just $1 per image.

You are scanning and preserving your family’s past so you’ll want to make sure you do it correctly. Start by reading Geoff Rasmussen’s book Digital Imaging Essentials (Middleton, Idaho: Author, 2013). 150 pages.

cover of book "Digital Imaging Essentials" by Geoff Rasmussen

This easy-to-read instructional book tells you everything you need to do to prepare and follow through on digitizing and preserving your family’s documentation. To buy a copy visit the Legacy Family Tree Book store.

Scanning is as simple as putting the old photograph or document on your scanner and pushing the start button.

screenshot of a scanner in operation

Within seconds the image is scanned and sent to your photo image processing software.

I use Google’s Picasa. It is free and has all of the features I need to crop, trim, sharpen and enhance my scanned document or photograph. Within a few minutes I have a digital copy of the item ready to be attached to my genealogical files.

Backup & Storage of Family Files

I keep three copies of my genealogical files.

This redundancy builds in an ongoing backup of my research in three locations, and helps to ensure that my latest research will be easily discoverable by any of my cousins 24/7.

I store my genealogy information—along with the digital copies of my photographs and documents—online on and In addition, I keep a copy on my laptop using Legacy Family Tree genealogy software. I have an external hard drive to back up my laptop and I also use the online cloud storage service Carbonite. There are many options for cloud storage available to ensure that your family history records stay safe even if something ever happens to your local hardware.

Upload and Share Your Family Photos & Records Online

It is easy to put your family pictures and records online. Here is how you do it on FamilySearch.

First you open the personal page of any relative.

screenshot of the ad photo feature on FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch

Click on the Photos tab and you will see the green add symbol. Click on it to add a photograph for this person.

screenshot of the attach photos feature on FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch

Simply drag and drop the family photo you scanned to this plus sign and the application will grab it and attach it.

Take a moment to edit your family photograph by identifying each person.

You can add the date and place the photo was taken and any commentary associated with that event.

screenshot of the edit photos feature on FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch

That’s it—you’re done.

screenshot of FamilySearch page for Tuan Dieu Ly

Credit: FamilySearch

It’s that simple to preserve your family photos and make them easy to share online with family members and other genealogists.

It is important that genealogists preserve their family information online. By putting their genealogy research and supporting documentation online, genealogists are able to share it with all researchers.

Begin preserving your family’s past by digitizing your research and putting it online today.