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Principles of Family History Research Use Appropriate Forms
Begin by carefully recording and organizing your information so important facts and clues will not be lost. To help record the information you already know about family members, you may want to use standard genealogical forms such as family group records, and pedigree charts. These forms are familiar to other researchers and assure that your findings will be understandable to others. The forms, used by most researchers, can be purchased at genealogical stores, the Family History Library, Family History Centers, and most genealogical libraries.
Computer Programs for Generating Forms
You could also use computer programs to generate these forms. After you type genealogical information once, these programs can generate many kinds of forms such as completed family group records and pedigrees. For example, the Personal Ancestral File computer program makes it easier to cite the sources which document events, and allow you to even add customized events to a family group record. Computer programs allow you to make frequent updates and share information with others while limiting the mistakes caused by redundant typing or writing of information. For further details see Using a Computer for Genealogy. The 2009 edition of the book "Secrets of Tracing Your Ancestors" by W. Daniel Quillen recommends creating forms that work for your unique research goals. Templates can be easily created by anyone familiar with common everyday programs such as MS Office applications. When designing such a template be sure to keep it simple and universally applicable to all researchers needs with emphasis on including blocks for key source information so that research can be duplicated by others who may later rely on it to proof a familial relationship.
The Personal Ancestral File program can be downloaded for free starting at the FamilySearchTM Internet Genealogy Service home page at http://www.FamilySearch.org. There are several other commercial computer programs you can purchase which also help you keep and organize genealogical information. For more information about various programs see Not Sure Which Genealogy Management Software to Use?
Family Group RecordFamily group records (also called family group sheets) are forms with space to record information about the parents and children in one family. Good family group records show names, dates and places of births, marriages, and deaths (see the example to the right). You can enhance their value by citing the sources that document these events in the lives of family members. If you use computers to generate family group records, you also can easily display additional events such as censuses, change of residence, land purchases or sales, wills proved, and any other events in the family members' lives. The most useful family group records display as many events and sources as possible. Recently there has been a trend of amateur researchers creating photographic family group record templates which requires that source and possibly other information be transferred to the reverse of each group record to make room for small portraits of each family member. Family portraits are being incorporated into many form templates to help researchers increase the preservation efforts of priceless family images right along side the key vital statistics of their ancestors and other relatives. Click on the link above to print or download a family group record.
Start research on a new family by compiling a well-documented family group record. This will help you gather, correlate, and analyze information. A well source-footnoted family group record bristles with clues to help you find further sources. For a more detailed explanation of their value see Family group record: roadmap for researchers.
You may need additional pages for large families. While modern family group records are usually letter size, other sizes such as legal size have been common in the past and can still be used.
Create a family group record for each couple on your pedigree chart. A four-generation pedigree chart has eight couples, so you would make up to eight family group records for such a pedigree.
For a person who married more than once, make another family group record for each additional marriage, especially if the marriage produced children.
Pedigree Chartpedigree charts, sometimes called “Ancestor” or “Lineage” Charts, have space for four or five generations (parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.) There is space for full names, dates and places of birth, marriage, and death. See the example at the right. Ancestral lines can continue onto other charts. Some pedigree charts display fewer generations for simplicity and, in doing so, allow plenty of room to include whatever researchers may value most; ancestor portraits, ancestors' siblings in birth order, source information, or customized compiler comments to aid the other researchers in verification or overcoming their next brick wall relative. Click on the link above to print or download a pedigree chart.
Prepare a Research Log
A research log (or calendar of searches) is a list of the source you searched, or plan to search for each objective, ancestor or family. It includes notes about what you found (and didn’t find). Most logs are kept in the order that records are selected or searches are made.
You may have a research log for each objective, locality, ancestor, or family. Most researchers prefer to keep it simple with a set of research logs for each family they research. There are varying formats for research logs depending on what information is to be sought out. The Research Log can now be downloaded from the Wiki: File:Research Log.pdf
A research log is crucial to successful research. It will help you:
- Keep your research organized.
- Keep your research focused on one objective for one individual at a time.
- Avoid duplicating searches of sources without good reason.
- Easily review and share search strategies with other interested searchers.
- Document the facts found during research.
- Record information about the records you searched in an orderly manner.
- Identify what is found or not found for each objective.
- Locate a record that was searched earlier if you need to check it again.
Effective research logs will include:
- Ancestor's name
- Research objective(s)
- Date of search
- Location and call number of the sources searched
- Description of the sources, including complete information on author, title, and year
- Comments, such as the purpose and results of the search and the years and names searched
You may also use your research log to identify:
- Your document number or reference to findings
- Quality of the source (if indexed, legible, language, etc.)
- The place where the person you are searching lived
You may purchase a basic log at the Family History Library, at Family History Centers, or at genealogical stores, or you may create your own. One research log may start with three areas for vital records for birth, death, and marriage and then have several areas for other common life research subjects such as education, employment, military service, photos, etc. For more details about research logs see the wiki article Research Logs, and Prepare a Research Log in Step 2 of this article.
Suggestions for Recording Information
As you record information, be consistent in the way you write it. Someday, other researchers may use your information or notes as they continue research on your family. The following suggestions are practiced by most genealogists, and are easily understood by all researchers.
- Names. Write names in the order they are spoken (first names, then middle name(s), then last name or surname.) You may want to capitalize the surname to identify it. Use maiden names for women.
- Dates. Write the day, then the month, then the complete year (23 May 1891). Always write the month, or use an abbreviation. Never use numbers for months. Other researchers may not know if 6-8-50 means 6 August or 8 June, or 1750 or 1850.
- Places. List all jurisdictions, in order from smallest to largest. Give the town (or parish or township); the county, province or district; then the state; and the nation last. For example:
- Stephenstown, Renesselaer, New York, United States
- Ansbach, Oberfranken, Bayern, Germany
- Do not use abbreviations. They can be confusing. Take, for example, the abbreviation WA. To some, it means the state of Washington. To others, it means Western Australia.
- Commonly, researchers use native spellings for all places or levels (jurisdictions) except for the nation. For example, the native name of Bayern is used instead of Bavaria. Always indicate the name of the country.
- Sources. Be sure to fully identify the source of your information. If a person, give their full name. For a book or other document give the complete title and other information. For suggestions see Cite Your Sources.
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