Tips For Success

Karen Clifford launched Genealogy Research Associates (GRA) over 30 years ago in Monterey, California. She loved performing research, finding clues and solving problems for her many clients. She began by filing all her clients’ materials in filing cabinets under each client's name. It quickly became apparent that the more successful she was, the more documents she acquired. Just keeping documents, maps, research planners, photos, etc., organized was reducing the time she could spend on research. Hiring people to do the filing was expensive. Furthermore, it was much easier to file than to retrieve. Each person filed according to their own mental schema—schema that were different than those use by people attempting to retrieve the documents. Frustration mounted.

Karen began a quest for the perfect filing system.  The goal was to be able to retrieve any document within 15 sections. She searched the internet, magazine articles and different books for the answer. She knew she needed organization and clarity in her company for its success. She also knew the filing system had to be simple. She needed a system for people of all ages and one that she herself could easily incorporate, because she had dyslexia. Her secretaries, researchers, filing clerks, and office staff were all in different stages of life. It needed to be simple enough that her staff, students and customers could master the system in minutes.

Karen did it! She didn't find one to use, but after several attempts, she developed one that met all of her criteria!

  • Every document could be retrieve within 15 seconds.
  • Materials were filed using a rule-based system.
  • The family unit is at the center of the system.
  • The stand-alone genealogy computer programs we used in the office (such as PAF, Ancestral Quest, Legacy, and RootsMagic) which would automatically assign an individual and family unit number for each individual, and those numbers would cross-references between families.
  • The materials are sturdy and long lasting so you can pass it on to your descendants.
  • The system is infinitely expandable.
  • The system supports your research endeavors.
  • The system can be used in a filing cabinet or be contained in 3-ring binders. 

Karen’s GRA Organizational System stood the test of time. It has worked for thousands of people! Professional researchers, hobbyists, students and beginners are finally organized and stay organized while they are doing their research because of its simplicity. 



WARNING: Inconsistency Will Break Any System

If you are not consistent no filing system will work. A major advantage of the GRA Organizational System is that it makes it easy to be consistent.

To help you decide if this is the system for you, return to the Home page, find the words in red at the bottom “Click here for the free lessons.”  Once on the new page, watch 30 slides that take you step by step through the filing system using the genealogy computer program you selected. Or maybe compare one system with another. Where possible, links have been made to the producers of those programs so you can obtain a free copy.  Please enjoy File Your Papers!



Tips to Guarantee Success

  • We have a so many clients that we do research for at the same time. In order for our company to be successful we have had to create quality control procedures to make sure all steps are completed. When one of our researchers is performing research at a repository, he/she writes the MRIN# at the top right hand corner of each document or record very lightly in pencil. The data entry clerks circle that MRIN# when they complete the data entry of the information into the genealogy program. Our file clerks check that each document has the MRIN# circled and if it is circled, they can file it. This has helped to prevent documents from being filed before the information is entered. 
  • Now I want to talk about the Rules listed above. Everyone's family is unique. I talk to so many people who call with a particular scenario and want to know how I would file information on a particular family member. For example: Parents had two daughters. Daughter #1 married and had four children. Daughter #2 had an addiction issue. Had a baby. Couldn't raise baby so Daughter #1 raises baby like it was her own but never adopted the baby. Where will YOU file the information you retrieve for the baby? Under Daughter #1's MRIN? or Under the MRIN# of the parents of the daughters? There is no right answer. Karen provided the skeleton of the filing system. There are times you will have to study a scenario and make a rule. This rule will need to be written out and put on the RULE page in the working binder so that anyone who takes over your filing system will know how to file if the same situation occurs again. I recommend the rules either be filed at the front of the binder so they are easily seen or under a tab labeled RULES. 
  • Our tabs are the standard size (8 1/2 X 11 and the tab area is 8 3/4) and do not protrude out past the sheet protectors. We have not found a need for them to do so because we do not have to put anything that can print out of our genealogy program into sheet protectors. Anything that can be reproduced has not need to be included in a sheet protector. Much of the information in our programs are always changing as we add new information.

    In our company, the only things we insert into our sheet protectors are: original certified records, handwritten letters, pictures, small items that cannot be hole punched or anything we feel cannot be replaced. 

    So, if I have a death record on my father that needs to be filed, I would look up his MRIN #. His MRIN# is 3. Then I would go to my binders and find the binder that would include Family Group #3. As I open the binder, everything shifts. Because I only have a couple of sheet protectors there aren't too many to contend with. I can see tab 1. Then in tab 2 there is a sheet protector, I can flip that over and very easily know 3 is right behind.

    We have a lot of students who work for our company as filing clerks. When a new clerk begins work, they never have a problem with the sheet protectors. I do notice they get faster once they learn and work with the system, as have I throughout the years.

  • We get a lot of emails asking if we ship to Australia. We certainly do, however, the shipping fees are quite high because of shipping international and the weight of the product. If you would like to send us an email, a representative will reply with the product and shipping costs. Orders are generall recieved in 6-10 days. 
  • For this filing system you are welcome to use any binder that you like. If you like the white view binders, they are available at your local Costco and end up being cheaper than buying from most other stores.
  • Some customers ask me about printing. They work consistently on client projects, enter the new findings into their genealogy program. They wonder how often they should print their family group records. I like to print quarterly. That way I know everything is up to date at least four times a year. Some people work really hard on one particular line and choose to reprint the information on that particular family maybe once a month. You will need to pick a time frame that makes you feel comfortable. 
  • I have received emails asking how to prepare the spine labels for the binders. Each binder is labeled with the appropriate information so that you can see what is included in each. For example:












    Family Group




    We create these in Word. Choose the portrait orientation, it fits perfectly into the sleeve of the binder. We make the name as big as we can so that we can fit the FGR number at the bottom. I always put the Family Group Records or other descriptions (Pedigree     charts, surnames, etc.) in a 12 or smaller font size. Then I highlight everything and center it, print it and cut it so that I can slide it down the spine.

    (Remember MRIN=Family group record #'s.) Next binder would be 36 – to whatever number you can fit in the next binder. Remember your binders will be a work in progress. The Family Group Records (MRIN#’s) on the outside of each binder will change as your binders expand with all the information you collect. I like to use the little post-it’s and write the Family Group Record numbers (MRIN#’s) on those as I begin filing the work on a client and have a better idea of how many binders, etc. I like to make new spine labels quarterly.








Below are additional online and printed resources to aid in organization:






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