Let’s stay organized…

By now you have probably recorded quite a bit of family information which can become confusing if it is not organised and easily read and understood. Most genealogists and family historians use standard charts to help them organise their information. The two most commonly used include a four or five generation pedigree chart and a family group sheet for each family unit.

The pedigree chart is like the basic skeleton of your family tree showing your direct ancestors for four or five generations. It is quite easy to see where information is missing or not yet known.

Pedigree chart reproduced with QFHS permission

Family group sheet reproduced with QFHS permission

The family group sheet captures all the details for the father, mother and children in each family unit and this is where you can add information on your direct ancestor’s siblings.

You might find it useful to record what information you already have on pedigree charts and family group sheets or you might want to wait until you have had a chance to discover more information from other relatives. Many family history and genealogical societies have these types of charts on their websites free to download. The charts really do show what information you have and what still needs to be added.

There are also numerous genealogy software programs that can be used to store your data and produce a range of charts to save you handwriting the information or trying to draw a family tree by hand. We will look at these software programs in more detail later in this chapter.

Talk to other relatives

If you have older siblings perhaps they can remember more about your parents, grandparents and perhaps even great grandparents. Often the eldest in the family is the person who inherits family memorabilia, photographs, albums and old family letters. Or perhaps it is the youngest, or the only daughter. Ask around and see who may be able to assist you.

Remember to talk to family members outside of your immediate family such as aunts, uncles and cousins. It is vital that you do not leave it too late to ask the older generations about what they remember. They may be able to provide valuable information and memories that may not be captured elsewhere. While official documents can give you basic facts, only a living person can tell you family stories about what someone was like or what they did.

Questions to ask include:

  • full names and nicknames, if any, of family members
  • dates and places of birth, marriage, death, and burial
  • cause of death (this can be useful in determining any health issues within a family)
  • similar information should be gathered for spouses
  • addresses – where did the family live
  • what were the children’s names, dates and places of birth
  • what religion were they
  • where did they go to school
  • occupations and where they worked (this can be useful and may lead to other records)
  • did a family member have military service
  • are there any family stories
  • do you have any family documents (use the same list of home sources that you looked at earlier in this chapter)

From each contact with other family members, either in person, via telephone, mail or online, you will be gathering and recording information and starting to build your own family history archive. There are some standard rules that most people follow to ensure that they are tracing their own family history and not someone else’s. If you do not follow standard research practices you may inadvertently trace the wrong family or create a brick wall that you cannot get past.

An awareness and understanding of these basic rules or guidelines is essential.

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    “Family history is a learning process and you acquire new skills and knowledge as you progress.” ~ Shauna Hicks