There are many ways you can get bogged down in paperwork, notes to yourself, post-its all over your desk and computer, and scratch pads filled with – well, writing scratches! Excited by the search, you may do the following: scribble down the few details you are interested in, ignore the rest of the details on the same page, forget to put down the actual web site url (address), and move on. Oh dear – six weeks later, you come across this piece of paper under your keyboard, realize that you need the other details you had ignored, and you simply cannot find your source again! Nor can you remember how you got there in the first place. Too common a finding, and there are ways to avoid this problem!
Take a moment right now, and in your family tree software program, pull up you and your direct ancestors in a Pedigree view. This view shows You on the extreme left, and has your ancestors listed out from you in lines going out to the right side of the paper. You can specify how many generations you wish to show on this view. I usually use 6 generations since that allows me to see quickly where I need to do more research; however 4 or 5 generations are fine too. Remember that you are #1 on the chart, your Father #2, Mother #3, Father’s father #4, Father’s mother #5, Mother’s father #6, Mother’s mother #7. Print this summary report – or do it by hand on paper.
The purpose of doing this is to use this Pedigree view as a summary page of your ancestors for research planning.
Now, use a Family Group Sheet – either download one on familytreemagazine.com/forms/download.html or copy a form out of a genealogy book from the library, or from other sources online (see cyndislist.com). Or, make your own chart by writing your parents’ names at the top of a lined paper sheet, husband on left, wife on right. Leave about 2-3″ below them, and list children in order from oldest child to youngest, with about 3/4″ below each child. Go over to the back of the page if there are too many children to list on one side. You are number 1, but other siblings will be your father’s number plus a letter: example, your oldest sister will be “2A”.
For each person on the Family Group Sheet, write out their full correct name with nicknames and/or other added details (Prof., Jr., Major, etc.), and the basics: b.(birth), m. (marriage), d.(death), bu. (burial), and fill in the dates and places. For your Father Mother as well, write in their own parents’ names plus their parents’ marriage date/place if known. Continue these b.m.d.bu. details for all children listed.
Note at the bottom or the back of the sheet the sources for these details on the family unit. As each person has a # or letter to identify them, you can list that beside your proof note. Example: your parents’ marriage details may be found on a marriage certificate in a photograph album you have; a death date/place by the gravestone in the specific cemetery (photo?); a place for any item may be “family story”. Write each source down, and don’t be surprised if one source will fill in several details, or that one detail may have several sources!
You can do a Family Group Sheet for each family unit you have on your Pedigree sheet. Pencil in the data you can only guess… “likely, Winnipeg Manitoba” or “m. abt. 1910 in New York or New Jersey”, so that you can see what you need to research, and where. Once you have this done for several of your family units on your Pedigree sheet, you can pull out a new sheet or form: a To Do List. On this sheet you will start to list information you need to look for, with a best-guess as to what might provide a source document or clues.
Right away, you may see that you have a large number of relatives in both Toronto Ontario and Winnipeg Manitoba to research, or a family line or two that used to live in Syracuse New York. This will help make your research more efficient when you go to look for grandparents in the late 1800s in Toronto and all their siblings as well as children.
Additional Forms or Charts could be: Correspondence Log sheets to keep track of your emails/letters to and from government offices or relatives about specific ancestors or families; a blank Census chart of each year of the country’s censuses when tracking family members as they move (or don’t move); perhaps a Military Records Checklist with columns of each relevant war period. There are a number of useful forms most searchers find very practical.
There are many forms and charts available on the Internet to help you build your family tree with the best details, the most correct details, and to help track down relevant documents. It can be helpful to also have a summary sheet listing most of the potential documents which could be useful for your research; e.g., “Questions to Focus Your Research” form – see link at end of article. Some researchers also like to have a sheet for each individual “Research Checklist for [Specific Individual]” which would list life events, dates, details, repository, specific source,reference/archive information, including address plus Internet address if found online.
I hope you can see that using forms or charts can make your research much more efficient, and more thorough as well. In the end, you should have a family tree in which you can support each detail of your ancestor’s lives with sources and documents. Now all you need to do is add photographs, newspaper articles or obituaries, personal stories and more, and you have a rich family tree to share with others in the extended family.