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Creating a Genealogy Work Space

Updated on March 11, 2015
Virginia Allain profile image

I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.

My Genealogy Room

Working on your family history goes much easier if you have a dedicated space for your computer and files. I'll share with you the room we created for my genealogy work.

Most of us don't have an unused room sitting around waiting for us to change it into our genealogy room. What we might have is a guest room that is seldom used.

To get the room to serve several functions, we've installed a murphy bed. That lets the genealogy room easily turn into a guest room. My husband can also use the room for his music project. He's digitizing all our vinyl and music tapes.

(photo by Virginia Allain)

I Became the Family Historian

When My Mother Died

For years, my mom researched both her family lines and my father's. Over that time, she accumulated massive amounts of documentation.

In addition some of her aunts, who had no children, left her their collections of family history materials. This included family diaries, photo albums and even memorabilia like a World War I helmet and World War II ration stamps.

She had a room in her home called The Writing Room but it doubled as her genealogy work space. At the time of her death, my sisters agreed that I should take care of the family archives. In January 2013, my husband and I packed up 25 boxes of papers and books and drove from Kansas to Florida with it all.

I was now the family historian and had to store and organize all this material and make it accessible online for the rest of the family.

(photo by Virginia Allain)

A Genealogy Room Needs Lots of Storage

Shortly before acquiring my mother's papers, we converted one room of the house to a combination guest room/computer room. We didn't realize how soon we would fill all those shelves and cabinets with the family papers.

The large doors on the left side conceals the murphy bed. To convert the genealogy room into a guest room, I just open those doors and pull down the bed.

On each side of the bed are open shelves that hold books of family history and binders with genealogy charts and other research. Below the open shelves I store files in banker's boxes (out of sight behind the doors).

The tall doors on the right conceal a table that folds out. That creates a great workspace for sorting family papers or photos.

Below that, you see a long file drawer and two shallow drawers.

(photo by Virginia Allain)

Choose a Murphy Bed with Storage around It - You Can Even Buy One from Amazon

To get a whole room like I have where all the cabinetry matches and is customized to your needs, you will probably need to go to a Murphy Bed store. Usually those are in larger cities.

The components have to be anchored into the wall. We preferred having their professional installer set up our room.

You can buy them from Amazon and install them yourself if you're handy or hire someone with experience.

Murphy Bed with 2 side cabinets
Murphy Bed with 2 side cabinets
I believe that this one is just the patterns for making it yourself.

There Are Many Different Styles of Murphy Beds

Where to Get Murphy Beds - To Create Your Own Combination Genealogy Room/Guest Room

I've shown above some Murphy beds that Amazon has for sale. There are companies that specialize in these. Here's the one I used.

The Computer Area in the Genealogy Room

More shelves, more file drawers and two computer monitors. I love it!

Note that the work table will open out right behind the chair. I'll be able to sit there to sort files, then swivel around to put dates into the computer.

To the right of the computer is the printer/scanner. Get one that can scan negatives and slides easily. They make them with a template that holds those items in place while scanning them into the computer.

Some Scanners for Digitizing Photos, Negatives and Slides - Plus a Book on the Topic

Important Needs for a Genealogy Room

  • Good lighting
  • Lots of plugs for the computer, scanner, etc.
  • Good Internet connection

Veho VFS-002m Slide & Negative Scanner for 35mm & 110 Instamatic Negatives
Veho VFS-002m Slide & Negative Scanner for 35mm & 110 Instamatic Negatives
If you already have a computer printer, then you can add this to cope with your slides and negatives that you want to scan.

Work Surfaces

  • L-shaped desk
  • Good-sized table to spread papers out
  • Cork boards to post projects, charts and maps

Scan Negatives and Slides the Right Way

Scanning Negatives and Slides: Digitizing Your Photographic Archives
Scanning Negatives and Slides: Digitizing Your Photographic Archives
I found out that at first I was scanning my photos in at too low a resolution. It's a good idea to study up on the recommendations before scanning hundreds of slides, negatives, etc.

The Genealogy Room Converts to a Guest Room

When guests arrive, I'm too busy entertaining them to work on my genealogy. I simply store all my research in the files or on the shelves and close up the work table behind the folding doors.

I pull down the bed. The room has a closet where I store the bedding and the pillows. There's a folding luggage rack in there for their suitcase too.

Here's how the room looks with the murphy bed opened out. Ready for guests!

We've even set the computer up with a guest account so they can check their e-mail during their visit. That keeps their computer use separate from our accounts on the computer so no worries about them accidentally messing with my genealogy records.

There Are Varied Work Tables - That Fold Away

When you are working on a big project, you need space to spread out your family papers. When I sort the family history, it can take days. I don't want to use the table in the dining room and have to put everything away for meals.

Having a work space like this, lets you have continuity without disrupting the family.

Sewing & Craft Cart/Table with Drop Leaf, Bishop Pine
Sewing & Craft Cart/Table with Drop Leaf, Bishop Pine
This one folds into a small footprint, but opens out to create a decent sized work area.

Do You Have a Special Place for Your Genealogy Work?

Vote in the poll

See results

Tell Me about Your Genealogy Work

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    • Virginia Allain profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Allain 

      6 months ago from Central Florida

      Deborah, thanks for sharing your methods. We can learn so much from each other. I need to do some relative visits (once we get past the pandemic) so your tips are helpful.

    • profile image


      6 months ago

      I absolutely Love your room. How exciting to have a space like this one to research in.

      I have my genealogy color coded. I have 2 - 4 drawer legal size filing cabinets. One file cabinet is color coded - 1 drawer blue files, 1 drawer green files, etc.. the other file cabinet has photo albums, old bibles, locations files and office supplies in it.

      I have a cooler bag on wheels with an extended handle that I turned into my research bag. In the bag I have, a color coded notebook for each family line. In each notebook I have a pedigree chart, a list of surnames, my personal instructions on how I want to use the notebook (for consistency), a source documentation cheat sheet from FamilyTree, a research log and to-do list for each person, logs and to-do's are in alphabetical order with names written in the top right hand corner and the pedigree chart number on my grandparent's pages. I also have a color coded pocket folder in the notebooks to put in copies of documents, photos, etc. that I find when researching somewhere besides home.

      I also have a lot of small bags in the zipper pockets and side pockets with small first aid kit, camcorder, camera, quarters, pens, highlighters, office supplies like color coded sticky notes, color coded dots, small stapler, staples, staple remover, paper clips, binder clips, etc., and small portable scanner.

      In the research bag, I have a black notebook with resource pages in it and a black notebook with blank forms in it.

      Then I have 4 small color coded notebooks in a small zipper bag that I keep in my purse in case I'm somewhere and need to write down notes or something that I think of, or if I'm at a relatives house and they start telling stories or giving me information so I can jot it all down.

      I also have color coded usb's in a small usb case with all my genealogy computer files and scans on them, that I keep in my research bag or purse.

      I have color coded large notebooks, that stay at home, for when I have a person that I'm researching that has lots of information and photos. I feel that is to much to store away in a filing cabinet and I like to look at it often. I keep everything in my notebooks in sheet protectors. I get 20 of them for $1.00 at the Dollar General.

      Of course, I have my genealogy program on my pc and all my files and scans.

      Sorry so long!! yikes!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Great post! Thanks for sharing how you set your room up. I love the folding table idea! (Although that would require me to actually clean up the table when I'm done working!) I am fortunate to have a 3 br house all to myself so I have a guest room and a room that will eventually become the genealogy room, plus I am turning the formal dining room into an office for household/work stuff. My genealogy is almost completely paperless but my mother is itching to get her mom's boxes and boxes of genealogy research out of the house. I like your storage system, it looks so neat and tidy!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have many lenses on my family history. I have over 20k names on my tree at I had a very nice scanner that I was scanning photos and negatives and it was stolen. Mom has one barely used if she will part with it we can scan her hundreds of boxes of photos, documents and negatives. Wish us luck. Awesome lens Virginia!

    • Joanne Reid profile image

      Joanne Reid 

      6 years ago from Prince Edward Island/Arizona

      I've played around the edges for most of my life but now I am making it my "career"! Thanks for this wonderful lens.

    • heytoto profile image

      Karen Kolavalli 

      7 years ago from Lexington, Kentucky

      What a great work space! This is a room design that really works!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am just about finished converting my sons old room into my personal work space...and a guest room, hope to be in it next week, and yes, I started working on or family Genealogy and am looking forward to having room to pick it up again.

    • Virginia Allain profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Allain 

      7 years ago from Central Florida

      @grannysage: I have to scale down my genealogy work when we are at the summer cottage. I can only bring one file tote and one binder with me.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I sure need to get a space organized for my genealogy work. I just completed the paper work for Daughters of the American Revolution and am anxious to get my official document like my great grandmother had.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have a whole box of photos that need to be scanned, but space in the RV is very limited so getting out the scanner is a big project. What a wonderful work space you have created.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      You show a dream office here. It's really beautiful. Congratulations.

    • Cari Kay 11 profile image


      7 years ago

      Would love to have a dedicated space. I'm at a number of brick walls now but after some time I'll get back into it :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Your job as a family historian is such a hard one but what I really want to say here, I hope I got an office like :)

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      7 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thanks for sharing. What a wonderful work space you have created. We'd all like to have one like yours, I'm sure! Neat! ;-)

    • Jogalog profile image


      7 years ago

      My husband has done a bit of research online and it is fascinating.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      This is a great idea - I need to think about maybe doing this - I have photo albums by the 50's! and old photos to sort through, and I would love to create an organized family presentation for all the kids as a keepsake for generations - your idea of using a workstation dedicated to the task is something that would work for me (if all I had in that area was photo genealogy stuff then I wouldn't get side tracked..I hope)


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