One of the most important tenants for excellent research is organization. Through the course of your genealogical research you’ll come across enough brick walls without creating a few of your own because of poor organizational techniques. Throughout our Getting Started series, we’ll talk a lot about different organization techniques, but first let’s look at some of the basic forms that we recommend to help keep your ancestors straight!
All of these forms are available on our Forms & Resources page.
Ancestor / Pedigree Chart
One of the best organizational tools for collecting basic information about your ancestors and their relationships is the Ancestor Chart. These charts will give you a visual overview of 4-5 generations of your family. Each chart is numbered and contains numbered generations with basic information for each individual – birth, marriage and death dates and places. At the end of each form is a cross-reference number that will allow you to continue the chart on another page.
This quick “at-a-glance” form will give you a quick reference for the holes in your research that will help you plan what information you’ll want to research in the future.
Family Group Sheet
Once you’ve begun your research you’ll quickly find that the Ancestor Chart isn’t detailed enough to record all the information about each family in your tree. The Family Group Sheet is the next step in data collection. Family Group Sheets are usually two-part forms. The first section records details about the “parents” of the family, their birth dates and places, marriage date and place, occupations and death dates and places. The second section records the details about each child (birth, marriage and death). Record all of the children for the parents, not just your direct ancestor; sometimes it’s through the brothers and sisters of your direct ancestor that you can learn more clues!
Having all of the information about each family condensed into one sheet can be extremely helpful when developing your research plans for the future. We recommend filling in as much information as possible and, like the Ancestor Chart, looking at the areas that you were unable to complete or have incomplete data as a way of determining your next steps for research.
How many times have you started a task or an errand only to find out that you’d already done it before? This is a common pitfall in genealogy research. Once you start researching more than one line (and who can resist not doing this?!) who you’ve talked to and what records you’ve requested will quickly become confusing. A correspondence record is exactly the type of form that you’ll need to keep track of all your information requests!
Genealogy research relies on accurate documentation of your sources. Not all information is as simple as a photocopy; you’ll also want to document what you didn’t find. Keeping a research log handy will make it easy for you to record each source that you reviewed during your research trip, what you found (or didn’t find), where you reviewed the source and any special information about the source. A complete research log will help make your research trips more effective by giving you a quick reference for sources that you want to review again later as well as prevent you from revisiting sources that weren’t helpful or didn’t produce the evidence you expected.