Category Archives: Organizing Your Work

Get Books Organized and MORE with LibraryThing!

Are you using LibraryThing to keep your book collection organized? I have to admit that I have known about LibraryThing for a long time and have even looked at it before. However, it wasn’t until this summer that I decided to get serious about using it.

LibraryThing Home Page

LibraryThing is ridiculously easy to use. First, it is free if your book collection is limited to 200 titles or less. If you have more than that, it is $10.99 per year OR $25 for lifetime use.  That is a real bargain!

To become a member, just use the box at the top right corner of the screen to created a user name and password. You’ll be set to go.

The dashboard is your control center for LibraryThing:

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Dashboard View

Before entering any of your books, take a minute to scroll down the dashboard. There is a ton of information here. On the left top corner are general categories of information to what can be found on LibraryThing. In terms of your own catalog, there is a profile and introduction to the site at the top. Your own collection of books will appear just below that once you’ve entered them.

Your collection includes thumbnails of the covers of your most recent entries and shows the tags you’ve assigned. As yo continue down that home dashboard page, there are Recent Automatic Recommendations, based on the topics of your own books. There are also links to “hot topics” in the chat area, a spot to add local events and a section on “This Day in History.”

The right hand column is for news. The best news is that if you want to log into your LibraryThing account on your phone, there is now an Android app:

Android App

You now know a LOT about LibraryThing and we haven’t even gotten started entering books. It’s really simple and quick:

Add books to your library

At the top left side of your dashboard, just click on Add books to your library.

Several Methods to Add Books

Books can be added by title, author, ISBN or even manually. I haven’t tried searching on Amazon, etc., but I have a few old elementary school textbooks that I collect and when no ISBN was to be found, I searched by title and/or author and found all of them one way or the other. I used Add Manually for three very recently published books that didn’t show up even by the ISBN.

Next, I added tags to each of the books so they might be searched and found by others. To tag a book, click on the title and a screen opens just for that one book:

Adding Tags Is Simple

My main purpose for using LibraryThing is to keep track of the books I already own so I don’t buy the same one twice. I have done that – not many, but a few times – and I’d rather not buy more than one copy. 🙂

If you are a totally book addict and want to participate in chat groups, online reading circles and/or review books, LibraryThing offers all those opportunities.

The very, very top of your dashboard is the place to make those connections:

Top of Dashboard

You can edit your profile and add your photo if you want. Connections are automatically set up for you based on categories into which your book titles fall. I have several genealogically related connections along with Christmas collectibles and old school reading books.

Recommendations brings up a long list that includes your book titles and titles of related subject matter. You have the option to review and recommend if you wish. Reviews brings up a list of your titles that others have already reviewed.

There are also searchable links for Groups you might want to join, Talk (chat about various topics) and More, which is a great little category.

More LibraryThing

More is the feature that links you to Features, FREE books and Community help. The free books include those provided to LibraryThing early reviewers (of soon to be released books) and those that members want to give away. The books available (provided by publishers) comprise a VERY long list with a mix of paper, e-book and audio formats. The give away books are mostly e-books with a few hard copies.

I hope I’ve convinced you to take a look at LibraryThing. It’s a great organizational tool, but it’s also a terrific way to expand your book horizon.


Becoming an Organized Genealogist

Organizing genealogical research seems to be an on-going and forever topic. I remember it being discussed back when I first started in 1980 and it remains a hot topic.

I will be the first to admit that organization is one of my strong points. I’m a “bean counter” and have always been able to easily visualize patterns and how to arrange things. (Just so you don’t think I’m a total braggart, I am also the first to admit that I don’t have a creative thought in my brain. I appreciate art and music, but both are way beyond my abilities.)

The fact is that, in the 35 years that I’ve been researching my family tree, the organization methods I use haven’t changed at all. Only the receptacles for the information have changed.

Back in 1980, my first documents, correspondence and photos immediately went into file folders that quickly turned into off-the-shelf notebooks, with each item cataloged by family surname.


Surname notebooks then were arranged in ABC order by the name of the head of household. I also decided to house each document under the family head where the person resided at the time the record was created.

For example, a birth record for “X” was filed in the section containing his/her father’s household. However, when “X” married, the marriage record was the first item in the new adult household. I chose to keep the system consistent using only the male heads of households. If there was more than one marriage involved, the records for the later married households remained in the original first-marriage household.

A death certificate would also be filed in “X”s adult household. If I found documents or photos for children who reached adulthood, but never married, they remained as part of their parents’ life records.

Eventually, the notebooks became top quality archival albums because I was lucky enough to inherit many old family photos and documents. I wanted to make sure that I, the current caretaker, provided the best care I could until they pass to future generations.

University Products Archival Albums

(By the way, the only company I have ever used is University Products in Holyoke, Massachusetts. They aren’t inexpensive, but some of their customers include the Library of Congress and top ranked universities and they carry almost anything you could ever need in terms of archival supplies.)


I have further sectioned the albums and labeled them by family branch, so I have four groupings – one each for my paternal and maternal branches and one each for my husband’s paternal and maternal branches.

Through the years, I’ve gone digital and, if you are a follower of Empty Branches, you know that I just completed the switch-over. I thinned out my archival albums considerably by chucking all the photocopies I had because they were deteriorating to the point when I could barely read some of the pages anymore. If a scanned version of the record was available online, I saved that instead. All of my original photos and documents are safely back in their archival album homes.

I ended up with about 10,300 images. How are these organized? Exactly the same way as the earlier paper files – by surnames. The surnames are all grouped sub-grouped under an umbrella folder called “Genealogy.” Now, for some families, I have few photos and/or documents and one surname folder on my computer works perfectly. It is small enough that I can easily find what I need.

However, some surnames have tons of items in the folders, like “Stufflebean,” home to thousands of photos and documents. I renamed each digital image with enough of a description that I knew to whom the document or photo related and what the circumstances were, say, if it was a family reunion picture or something along those lines.

I started to save each image using this format: SurnameFirstnameEventDate. However, I dropped that for a first name, surname, event and date format because I quickly discovered that I would rather hunt for a photo of my father-in-law through a list of 125 “EdwardStufflebean”s than scroll through 2,564 Stufflebean images to get to the middle of the alphabet and look for the picture of Ed that I wanted.  A suggestion in a Facebook group was made to me to tag my photos and I might start doing that, but for now, this system works very well in terms of locating what I need.

I also considered creating separate computer folders for each male head of household when a surname folder was large, but decided against it. The difficulty with that system is that if a document involves several family members who are each adult male household heads (for example, I have several files of lawsuits) or a photo has multiple families in it (like a family reunion), then it isn’t as easy to determine where to house the record.

I use this format exclusively with all of my direct lines. What about collateral lines, like my cousins’ families? I could set up separate sections in both the archival albums and the computer folders, by surname, but I have chosen to house them under our common ancestor. Therefore, my first cousins’ family photos and records are filed in the sections set aside for our common grandfather. However, digital items are named with their surnames to be able to easily identify them.

I even have items inherited from my great grand-aunt and first cousin once removed, who were respectively, my grandfather’s aunt and his first cousin. They are filed in the section pertaining to my great-great grandfather because that is our common ancestor.

There is certainly more than one way to organize family history information, but I have found that my method is simple, easy to set up and worked equally as well in the pre-internet era as it does today.

How do I back up my work? I have my files on my hard drive, on an external hard drive, on a large flash drive and in the cloud with three different companies, two of which are by subscription.

Am I paranoid? Maybe a little, but I have no intention of losing all my digital items to one computer crash. In case of a fire, family running out the door has strict instructions to carry as many archival albums as possible with them. 🙂