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Genealogy binder in progress

Ask Bindertek:

My grandmother recently passed away and I inherited family photo albums and documents which have made me curious about our family’s history. I’ve started some research and am thinking of displaying our ancestry in a book or binder. Do you have any suggestions?

Delving into your ancestry can become an intense undertaking—both emotionally as you discover more about your family history, and physically as you become overwhelmed with the sheet volume of information available to sort and store. Experts say that organization is key to retaining easy access to your documents, and we agree.

Many genealogists choose binders to house their documents, so you’ll find lots of information on using a binder-based organization system for your genealogy research. Binders offer a sturdy outer shell and can be transported with less risk of damage, unlike file folders. Popular organization systems involve color coding and/or labeling binders by surname, family branch, or type of document. View binders allow for more personalization—create an attractive front cover page and slip it inside the front pocket, though all Bindertek binders have a spine label pocket and we offer replacement spine labels for relabeling as needed.

The size and style of binder you choose depends on personal preferences, storage space, and the types of documents you’ll be storing.

  • Classic 3-Ring Binders will integrate with existing hole-punched documents and accessories you likely already have. These are available in multiple colors for color-coding and different spine widths.
  • 2-Ring Binders are less widespread, but offer the ability to flip through pages from the top without having to go through the whole stack to locate a document.
  • Post Binders feature a post mechanism instead of rings, which avoids putting pressure on the holes punched in documents. They’re more troublesome to frequently add new pages to though, so they might be best for finalized collections.
  • Archival Binders offer the most storage per binder, up to 1250 pages for the largest size! Of course, these binders are extra bulky and heavy.

Note: If you have original documents or copies sent to you from an international location, you’ll need to opt for a European 2-Ring Binder. These are designed to hold A4 paper, which is slightly narrower and taller than US letter size paper, and use a different hole spacing than a US 2-Ring Binder. Head on over to our subsidiary company Empire Imports if you need European sized supplies for your genealogy binder.

As far as how to organize your binder itself, we bow to the expertise of genealogists who have much to say about the subject! Check out ideas from FamilySearch, Shoestring Genealogy, and The Armchair Genealogist to get started, or borrow a book from your local library. Ideally, you’d settle upon an organization system as you first delve into your family research, to ensure documents and notes stay organized from Day 1. No matter the nomenclature you decide upon, rely upon accessories to keep your paperwork in order.

  • Archival-quality sheet protectors are a must for delicate documents that need to avoid hole punching.
  • A binder envelope, which secures with Velcro, could be used to hold notes or miscellaneous papers waiting to be categorized.
  • Wide index tabs are designed to display even when using sheet protectors, which tend to stick out more than regular papers and can obscure the tabs themselves. If tab width isn’t a consideration, you can choose from all kinds of tab sets including custom tabs.

If you have precious files stored digitally, like birth certificates, photos, and videos, consider making paper copies or transcribing them. Digital files run the risk of becoming corrupt or obsolete, and you should plan to have a level of redundancy built into your genealogy organization.  Since paper isn’t immune to getting lost or destroyed, the reverse is true and you should scan important original documents as a backup.

Lastly, decide if your organization system needs to be easily browsable or understood by family members. Are you planning to lend your binders to relatives, or will you instead share a summary of your findings with them? Creating an indexing system or master list of document locations will help others locate files as needed, especially if your collection grows to span multiple binders.

With a few supplies and lots of patience, you’ll be on your way to creating a keepsake genealogy binder that you and your family members can enjoy for generations to come.

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