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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 family memoirs and 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?

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