The Joy of Office Supplies (for Genealogists)

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

If there were a twelve-step program for office supply addicts, I would be both a charter and life-time member. While I am fairly safe around an office supply catalog (I make great lists, but usually never get around to placing the order), I am completely ungoverned in an actual office supply store – or heaven forbid, in the exhibit hall at a genealogical conference.

I spent a recent Monday morning cruising the aisles of my local Staples store looking for interesting items to share with you, as well as an evening cruising some web sites that offer products that will tempt you, even if the office supply compulsion is not one you currently share. I have made no attempt to be inclusive in my sources for supplies, nor in the supplies themselves, and have used representative companies and examples. You may have your favorite sources, either locally or on the web, and I hope you’ll share them and your favorite office supplies with other blog readers, or send them to me via my Facebook page.

  • Organization is one of our biggest ongoing projects. It is also one of the areas in which the office supply store provides many creative and effective solutions. A clear arrangement of our documents, photographs and other materials allows us to locate individual items, analyze our ongoing work, and plan our research objectives more successfully.
  • File folders are one of the best ways to organize our (non-electronic format) work, whether arrangement is by family, by location, by year, or some other category pertinent to your research. Hanging file folders provide flexibility, whether you use a filing cabinet or a series of banker’s boxes. If you have a lot of material, you will want to look for the “box-style” hanging folders that can accommodate up to 3½ inches of material in one folder. I like to use individual file folders within a hanging file folder for additional flexibility and to allow for subcategories within a topic. Using different colored folders can provide visual orientation. Take the time – and spend the money – to purchase acid-free folders. If your office supply store does not have them (look for Pendaflex™ folders), they can be purchased from University Products. I personally don’t like to use the type of folders called “pockets” that are shaped like envelopes (three sides closed) as I find them awkward to see into and retrieve materials from.
  • If you prefer to organize some of your materials in a binder, there are many choices from which to choose. My favorites are D-ring binders as I think they lay flatter when opened. If you plan to carry a binder on research trips, consider its weight and choose one that will be convenient to transport (think airline space restrictions and costs). You may want to choose one of the lighter weight varieties with more flexible and light-weight covers. You can arrange materials within the binder using tabbed dividers. There are many choices: alphabetical dividers; numbered dividers with 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 16, 24, 31 or 32 tabs; dividers with write-on/erasable tabs; dividers with tabs that can be printed on your computer, and more.
  • Regardless of your organization, clear labeling is important. Avery™ makes labels that can be attached directly to your folder or sheet protector. In addition, this company makes removable label pads in sizes such as 1×3 and 2×3. These brightly colored labels are perfect for labeling photograph boxes, file drawers and other larger storage items. Also, consider using clear labels as a convenient way to complete a large pedigree chart. These labels blend with the background and can be easily removed when updates or corrections become available. Post-it-Notes™ also provide a simple way of tagging a file with your reminders or new ideas for future research.
  • I recommend using top-loading sheet protectors to protect the materials placed in binders – and even in file folders – rather than the side-loading variety. I have no real reason for this preference. I simply have found the top-loading format easier to use. Sheet protectors are available in various weights. I recommend the heavy-weight as they are less prone to tear and provide better protection. Archival quality/acid free sheet protectors are readily available in office supply stores.
  • If you want to store family photographs or negatives, you will want to purchase archival quality boxes and sleeves. A wide variety is available on the University Products website.  If you are organizing and storing CDs or DVDs, consider the Avery CD/DVD jewel case insert paper (Avery #8693) and the CD/DVD label system (#8942 for the label, requiring use of the Avery CD applicator). While all of my CDs have often not-so-neat labels handwritten in Sharpie pen, I can picture a much more professional looking result if I started using the labeling options.

Organization, labeling and sound preservation practices will insure the continued safe and accessible storage of your materials.

  • Research trips provide a great excuse to buy office supplies!
  • Cite Your Sources! Sticky-Notes,” one of my all-time favorite items, is available from Fun Stuff for Genealogists, Inc. How many times have you found THE document necessary to provide long-sought proof for your research and then have forgotten to document completely where you found it – or you can’t remember which citation in your notes went with which document in the stack of copies? These sticky notes are just the thing for you. Sold in a pack of three pads (fifty sheets per pack), these 3×4 pre-printed sheets provide a place to write title/name, author, publisher/address, date, repository, call number/page number, ISBN, date found, web or email address, and miscellaneous information. Simply stick the completed note on the copy of the document and you will have everything you need to cite your source when you write your report or enter the source in your genealogical software program. These notes have saved my sanity (and the timeliness of my research report) many times. They are so popular, that they quickly sold out at the recent National Genealogical Society conference in Salt Lake City.
  • Carry a sheet of pre-printed, self-addressed labels (Avery labels work well with any printer). These labels are helpful if you are ordering photocopies for pick up at the institution where you are doing your research or for copies to be mailed to you. Pre-printed labels save you a great deal of time when you are filling out request slips and prevent someone’s mis-reading your handwriting.
  • A piece of yellow translucent film placed on the microfilm-reader screen can often help you read pale images by providing additional contrast. It is possible to buy sheets specifically for this purchase, but I have found that a piece of yellow overhead transparency film does the trick.
  • Other items you may wish to consider include a (very) small stapler with extra staples, paperclips, as well as mechanical pencils with extra lead and erasers. The “Genealogists Never Make Mistakes” retractable eraser solves the problems caused when the eraser in your mechanical pencil has been used to the point that it can no longer be removed in order to add lead. You will also want a retractable highlighter (for your copies only, because highlighter on items to be photocopied does not show up well); or perhaps one of Post-it’s combination highlighter and flags, or pen and flags.

Magnifiers are very handy items to use when you research. I love my Magnabrite™ dome magnifiers. I have a big one that lives on my desk and a smaller one for travel. More inexpensive magnifiers can be purchased in your office supply store. In the visit to my local store, I found a 4x dome magnifier, a 2x 8½x 11 sheet magnifier, a 2x bar magnifier (looks like a ruler), and a 2x pop-up light magnifier, all for under $10.00 each.

You may also want to consider the following:

  • When you are buying printer paper, make sure it is acid free. It is usually readily available at office supply stores in a variety of weights and brightness factors. If you always use acid-free, you will have eliminated a preservation concern.
  • Do you want to provide family histories for your relatives, historical society or library? If you do so frequently enough, it might be worth investing in a manual comb binding machine. Such a machine can be purchased beginning at about $100.00.
  • Do you frequently visit an archival institution or library that provides minimal (or no) space at microfilm readers to set your laptop? Instead of balancing it clumsily for several hours, consider purchasing a small lap desk. There are many designed specifically for laptops (full size or mini).

The ideas I’ve shared here only scratch the surface of possibilities – I could go on and on. Office supplies are indeed a joy to genealogists and a trip to your nearest supplier, or an online search, will provide you with many applications for your research. Have fun!

Leave a Reply

Next ArticleSaints and Sinners Finding the Extremes in Your Family Tree