Genealogy | More Data Forms

Keeping It All Straight

As we have already discovered in Part One, you don't go back very many generations before you have so many direct-line ancestors that you can no longer keep track of it all in your head. Well, maybe some people can, but not many of us, and certainly not I.

To help you keep it all straight, there are a number of data forms commonly used for entering the information you find. The most frequently used of these are:

· The Family Group Sheet

The Individual Record

· The Ancestor Chart (also called a Pedigree Chart)

· The Research Record (also called a Source Summary Form)

· The Census Record Form (fun, fun fun: they are different for every census year!)

As its name implies, the Individual Record keeps track of the information you have found for a single person.The Family Group Sheet, on the other hand, tracks an individual, his or her spouse and their children. It will take the children's information up as far as the name of the person they married, and in some versions, the marriage date. At that point, though, that child now needs to appear on their own Family Group Sheet as the husband or wife.

The Research Record, is where you can keep track of all the information you have found on a particular person. It should be kept together with the Individual Record, for it will pertain to just one person, otherwise, it would be very confusing and hard to find what you were looking for when you needed to refer back to the source.

What you fill into the research record is what information you found, the date you found it (if you wish to be that meticulous), the name and location of the source in which you found the information, including page number if a book, or film number if you were looking at microfiche. You can also make notes as to whether the information is a 'maybe,' is questionable and needs further verification.

The Ancestor chart is a much-abbreviated overview with minimal information. It shows the current generation at the far left, and is usually formatted to trace back from one individual; siblings' names are not normally included in this view. Only the names, places and dates of birth, marriage and death are shown for the preceding generations. As you go back farther in time, that information will be further shortened to only names and birth/death dates. These charts normally go back only about 3 or 4 generations, as that is all that will fit on the page.

Finally, the Census Record Form is essentially an exact duplicate of the page filled out by the census taker during that census year. You can then copy all the data you find on that family, complete with the information on that particular page of data. If you find the information on-line at a site such as, you can even print it out, but be aware you will need a pretty powerful magnifying glass to read it.

A Lot of Work--But Fun!

In the first article, I explained about how families relate to historical events. Here, we'll move on to the various kinds of 'official' charts that are in standard use, and include how to fill them out.

I will pull no punches--properly done, genealogical research takes a lot of paperwork. You'll be filling in all the various charts outlined above, and making many notes. The easiest way to accomplish this task is to fill information directly into a chart during your interviews with living people.

Once you've passed that stage, and are into doing research in other ways, it is still best to use old-fashioned paper and pencil to record your initial information.

Granted, there are a wide variety of computer programs out there for keeping track of your data, but we all know computers can crash and lose all your hard work for you. Therefore, with a project that takes this much effort, I strongly recommend that you never, ever throw away your hard-copies. Then, if the worst happens, you still have the data to input after the repair, instead of having to start all over again from scratch. There is sufficient work involved to make starting all over enough for most people to say, "oh, forget it!"

That warning aside, however, it is still a very rewarding and fascinating hobby, and well worth the hours spent playing detective. Some folks research their family history for religious reasons. That's not my angle, so I won't address that aspect in this article. My interest is purely hobby and curiosity.

Historical Note on Form Protocols

Let me get this out of the way first: genealogy record-keeping originated with men. Therefore the standard protocol is that the husband's name is first listed.

You don't have to like it--you just have to deal with it, because men back then were chauvinistic. (Back then? Still plenty of that going on in our era!) This way, there are no variations to confuse things. All records you search will be the same.

The further protocol is that the husband’s/father’s side of the family is always to the top of the page; the wife’s/mother’s to the bottom.

Now, To Fill In Those Charts:

Many if not most of these charts can be found online--just do a search for 'genealogy forms.'

The very first couple of charts with which you may want to work are useful both in the interview and later research stages. These are individual records, and family group sheets. As discussed above, the first one is for information pertaining to a single individual--very useful when interviewing any relatives. Be sure and photocopy a stack of them, so every time "Aunt Sally" goes off on a tangent about another relative, you can pull up a fresh sheet for that person, and thereby keep everyone in order.

Here's a tip: if you are interviewing live people, a tape recorder is an excellent tool to have in addition to your notes. Sometimes, folks talk too fast to keep up with by taking notes, and confusion and errors may result. By having the recording to back up your notes, you can replay the interview and stop/start it at your leisure and convenience, so as not to miss any important information or interesting tidbits.

Family Group Sheets

The family group sheet is where you combine all the individual data from those individual record pages, putting them in the family groups to which they belong. I find it best to use both of these forms together; paperclip several individual record forms to the back of a family group sheet, so you have the right ones together from the start of your interview or research process.

To be sure, you certainly could just make notes in a notebook, but combing through notes to find all the people who are related in one family's generational unit can be confusing, and it is easy to overlook information, or make errors.

The family group sheet comes in several formats--pick the one that suits you. I've illustrated 2 types for this article. I prefer the 1st type, myself.

In filling out the family group sheet, you will put in as much information as you know. The first section is for the husband's name. If you are beginning the journey with yourself (a recommended place to start), this will be your father. Fill in all the blanks for which you have information--his first, middle, last name, and whether or not there is a "junior," "senior," "III" or what-have-you suffix.

It is very, very important to get the dates, and any such suffixes added, for later on, you may run across a situation such as I did in my research, in which for about 4 generations, the people could not seem to think of any names for their first-born sons but "Nicholas" and "Hugh." The names alternated generations, so there were no "junior" or "senior" designations, but dates were missing, so it was very difficult to track down which Nicholas or Hugh belonged to which generation! Put in as much data as you can find--later generations of researchers will thank you for it!

Back to the form: it continues with birth date and place, marriage date and place, occupation, death date and location, and the names of that person's parents. This is also very important information in tracing the next generation back. Some forms also have space for a christening date. If this is available, include it--even if it is not of particular importance to you. As you go back farther and farther, sometimes church records are the only ones that can be found. There is also information to record the place of burial. This is a great asset: if you happen to live near the cemetery, headstones can offer up some missing information.

The next section on the page has the information for the wife (again, starting with yourself, this will be your mother's information).

Modern family group sheets, such as in my first illustration, seem to assume only two children in a family. Other styles have the children offset to the left side, with room for as many as 10 or 14! (Yes, they had families that large back in the day! As a woman, all I can say about that is, "Ouch!")

If you have a pre-printed form, you'll have to improvise with using additional sheets. If you are using a computer program to enter your information, you can add as many 'child' slots as necessary, or omit them altogether if anyone in of those collateral lines mentioned in my other article remained childless.

The information for the children pretty much follows the data for the wife and husband, and includes space for any spouses.

Family Group Sheet Example

This is the easiest style to use of the many available, for it keeps everyone in their own "box"
This is the easiest style to use of the many available, for it keeps everyone in their own "box"

Individual Report

Tracking Your Search

There is another form that is very useful in keeping track of what you've searched, for whom and where. It's called a source summary form. You'll need quite a few, because you don't want to mix up families--that will make it very difficult to re-find the data for any one family or individual.

Keep one of these forms for every individual you are tracking from your family group sheets; store them behind the pertinent family group sheet. I use standard 3-ring binders for my research and data. I have the binder divided alphabetically by surname, and a separate binder for maternal (mother’s) and paternal (father’s) lines.

As I said before, by the time you get back far enough, you'll have over 200 ancestors, and if all the paperwork is in one big clump, it's a very daunting process to organize it.

Now, what does this form do for you? It lets you record what information you found, where you found it, the date of the search, and what kind of information it was: on-line record; book; newspaper archives; census; cemetery records; birth certificate, etc. Then, when you go to input your data, you can include the source data, so any other researcher knows it is verified, and verifiable, and not 'hearsay.'

Hearsay is a big problem in this field of research. People will be told something, as a 'family story' passed along...and they write it down as fact. Sometimes it is fact; sometimes it is embellished fact with a basis in truth; sometimes it is an outright fabrication--not necessarily with intent to deceive, but just an off-the-top-of-the-head guesswork by perhaps someone indirectly related, or just a friend of the family.

Some folks are not very careful to sort this out, and that is one danger with searching on a site like Their database of census records, military, marriage, and so on is pretty much reliable. Where you have to be careful is in the 'hints' that show possible related people showing up in other folks' public family trees. Sometimes you get a good match, sometimes they came up with strange information, for which you yourself already have hard evidence, and you wonder, "Where on earth did they get that idea??!!"

Be very careful to sort out fact from fiction; truth from hearsay

Source Summary Form Example

The Census

Here in the United States, a Federal census is taken every ten years on years ending in zero. As of the original writing of this article in 2010, the census has already happened. The next one will be in 2020.

The census can be a valuable tool for research, but be aware that the most recent one is never available, nor is the one before that, or the one before that. In fact, the census records are not released as public record until 72 years later. This figure was established to protect the privacy of people still living. That number was chosen as the likely longest lifespan for most individuals.

Therefore, the most current census to which we have access is 1940; just released in 2012. The 1950 census will not be available until 2022. Even with the long time frame before release, we are already having folks living much longer--into their 80's and 90's, and therefore still living at the 72-year-release date. I wonder if there will be a change in the works delaying release until 90 or 100 years post-census?

Census Tracking Forms

There are specific record forms for tracking census data, as well. Every time the census is taken, government pencil-pushers have seen fit to change the data required, shift its position on the form, and what have you.

This means that there is a different record-tracking form for every census from 1790 forward. The one in my example happens to be from the 1930 census. As mentioned in the forms overview above, these forms follow the exact sequence of the official actual census documents, so it is easy to just 'follow along' and record the information for your individuals.

Census records can provide information such as occupation; whether or not English is spoken by all in the household; names of all the children--important if you are tracing those collateral lines--and some years even asked things such as whether or not there was a radio in the home. HUH?? And that is the government's business---why???

At any rate, the census is valuable in another way, as most show data on the prior generation, such as the birthplace of parents (head of household), and also of their parents. These are excellent clues to help if you have become stuck.

Can't Read That Writing?

Here is a website that will help you decipher those ancient, hand-written census forms:

Even though these are official records, errors were made. In my original article, I mentioned errors with an aunt's name, and with my father's name, one in one census, the other in a different year. If you are searching on, you have the ability to report an error and submit a correction. This information will appear on the Ancestry site along with the record--unfortunately, it does not get into the official government record.

As you go back years into older censuses, they were hand-written by door-to-door census takers, and deciphering archaic handwriting can be a challenge. There are also some problems with fading and smudging. The scanned-in or microfiche/microfilm copies available both on Ancestry and at the Federal Archives can be hard on the eyes. This is especially true of the Archives, because you are (at least the last time I was there) sitting in front of old-fashioned microfilm machines, and the eyestrain factor is fairly significant.

Sample Census Tracking Form

1930 Census Tracking Form
1930 Census Tracking Form

Pedigree, or Ancestral Charts

Now that you have a start with your data gathering, you are ready to start going back through the generations. For this, you'll put your data into a pedigree chart. WOW! You have a pedigree! You're not a mutt! ;-) This ancestral chart usually shows from 3 to 6 generations on a page, depending on orientation and size of fields.. Some are laid out vertically, some horizontally. It is a matter of personal preference-choose what suits you.

In my illustrations, I've put 2 types. I prefer the vertical layout, myself. The other thing I like about this style, is the cross-reference feature, in which you can continue going back further on a different sheet, and each individual is numbered, so you can easily follow the progression. For example, you will number each chart as you make it, in sequence, then, as you pick up the next chart, you will have, for example, "person #1 on this chart is the same as person # 16 on chart # 3." In this way, you can lay out an entire lineage; and yes, it can take up your whole dining table and more if you go back far enough.

Again, the male-dominated protocol has the father/husband's information to the top of the page, and the wife/mother's to the bottom. This carries all the way across the chart, so as you get back the male side is always in the upper box, and the female in the lower box, even as the main parental/maternal lines are initially divided top to bottom of the entire page.

I hope that was not confusing. Let me put it another way: while the paternal line as a whole will be at the top of the page, that isnot to saythat no females will appear there. Obviously your father had a mother (your grandmother), and her name will appear in the top section of the page, but in the box below your grandfather's name, and so forth.

Pedigree Charts

Vertical 5-generation pedigree chart.   I prefer this type, as it works well in a 3-ring binder, without needing to turn the binder sideways all the time to read the charts
Vertical 5-generation pedigree chart. I prefer this type, as it works well in a 3-ring binder, without needing to turn the binder sideways all the time to read the charts
Horizontal 6-generation pedigree chart.   I do not like this style as well, myself
Horizontal 6-generation pedigree chart. I do not like this style as well, myself

A Rewarding Hobby

Genealogy is a fun pursuit, and can involve the whole family. I found out many interesting things, including an ancestor who was in the Civil War. Hmmm...but...he was a Quaker...and they were adamant pacifists, and did not believe in war, at all, period, not for any reason! He was injured when an artillery carriage ran over his foot on the retreat from the Battle of Hanover Courthouse, indicating he was on or near the front lines! So, I'm left wondering, what was he doing in the Civil War??? A mystery I'll likely not be able to solve.

Getting kids excited about the family history can answer questions such as "why do I have red hair?" or make school history much more alive and less boring for them. There are very simplistic family tree designs with an actual tree image for helping the youngsters get started.

One word about the top/bottom protocol with these types of trees: in the tree-design charts, the paternal/male side goes on the left, the maternal/female side on the right. The starting person (you, or your child) goes on the trunk.

And that's your basic charting and record-keeping information. There are other types of charts I've not included, such as circular and fan, but those can be quite confusing for most people, and I don't care for them myself. In my opinion, they are more decorative than useful.

Happy sleuthing!

Article originally published 9-5-2010; revised 1-19-13.

© 2010 DzyMsLizzy

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Comments 14 comments

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Hi, this is a great way to teach people especially me!, how to do this, I haven't got much patience and I like knowing what I am doing before I start, it just feels so daunting not knowing where to start and what comes next, so great stuff, cheers nell

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, Nell!

Thanks for stopping by. I"m glad you found the information useful. Cheers!

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas

I got into genealogy for about three years...became obsesses with it. Hell, I would even hunt down your relatives if you were having trouble finding them. I just liked the search. Then the candle burned out one day when my file got corrupted and destroyed a lot of work. But, I have a great mental sense of where I came from on both sides and can talk off the cuff about it. So, in that sense it was worthwhile! Thanks for a good write! WB

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, Wayne--

Thanks for stopping by. I know what you mean. That's why I recommend keeping your original notes and hard copies of stuff--then you still have your data, and you don't lose all your hard work.

I had an incident in which I had to re-enter everthing from my hard copies---but it was not a crash--it was a new computer, and my old genealogy program was incompatible with the new OS. (No, it wasn't Vista--it was long before that--back when the "new" OS was Windows 95! LOL)

Hopefully, you still have that original info!

Glad you enjoyed the article.

michabelle profile image

michabelle 4 years ago

Very informative. I did my research the old way before computers and got myself into DAR and have a TON of papers and notes. It's not an easy thing to do but a bit like finding Easter eggs so can be fun! You sure put a lot of work in this site. It's very nice.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, michabelle--

Thank you very much. I know what you mean about "B.C." (Before Computers). I had all of my research on paper, and then entered it into my first genealogy program many years ago. I thank my lucky stars that a cousin of mine, who is a professional-level genealogist had advised me to NEVER throw away my original hard copies. It was excellent advice, as that first program eventually quit working, and the next one was incompatible, so I had to re-enter all that data! Then, it happened once again after a computer crash a few years back.

Thanks to that cousin, no matter what happens, I'll always still have my records. Through his research, I find I'm eligible for The Mayflower Society, but I doubt I'll ever join, as they are based 3,000 miles away, and I can't afford membership fees. I'm probably also eligible for DAR, but have not looked into it. For me, it was a matter of connecting boring history lessons to family reality, and making history less boring.

I'm very glad you enjoyed the article; thanks much for the compliments!

michabelle profile image

michabelle 4 years ago

Interesting that your objectives are similar to mine. I found so many stories to pass on to the children (and now grandchildren!,) it gave them a greater interest in history. Wish I'd have known the family connections to history when I was in school because I really think I'd have made better grades in [boring] history if I'd known my family had played such a large part. Thank you for the information.

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 2 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Liz, I have a friend (who incidentally turned out to be a 5C no removes by marriage) who proved her right to become a member of the Mayflower Society. For her, it was well worth the fees because she gained access to records not available to non-members. Although she and I have several collateral lines in common, my earliest ancestors didn't arrive in America until 1634. When she chides me about "missing out on the Mayflower Society", my comeback is that MY ancestors had the good sense to wait until HER ancestors had built and/or established basic amenities like houses, gardens, etc!

Like you, I could join the DAR through several RevWar ancestors, but never have simply because knowing I could is more important than actually becoming a member.

As for all those forms, every couple of years I go through my file tubs and toss reams of them that I meticulously filled out as a newbie in the 1980s after making sure, of course, that I'm not pitching any data that hasn't been entered in my database. However, I've kept information I received via snail mail back in the day from researchers on the same surnames, because about the time I think the information is no longer worth keeping is when I'll be contacted by someone for which it makes all the difference in their research, if to only prove a family tale false.

As for perserving family stories, I've just convinced an 88-yr-old out-of-state friend to start writing down everything she can remember about her childhood and working life (she was an R.N. in the E.R. of a major metro hospital). Stories she'd tell me in the course of a phone conversation that I'm not equipped to record or transcribe.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, JamaGenee!

Oh, your story reminds me of a cousin I found by accident back in the late 1980's. She and I already knew each other through a parents' group at our kids' school, and we were at a party together, at which my mother was already in attendance. My maiden name is French, and somewhat difficult for many to pronounce. But, when I introduced this lady to my mother, she looked startled, then said, "Do you spell that...." and proceeded to spell it exactly correctly. It was my and my mother's turn to be startled. "Yes! That's exactly right--how did you know that? Most people can't say it, let alone spell it!" She replied, "That's my maiden name!" You could have knocked the both of us over with that proverbial feather. Family history had not come up as a topic of conversation in the parents' group, so I previously had no idea.

We then did some digging, and found a common relative in Canada, who had an extensive (manual!) database, from which he could look up anything, even from first names, so detailed was his cross-referencing system. He found that we were something like 6th cousins 5 times removed. Not super-close, but amazing and fun to discover.

I also applaud you on getting your friend's stories onto tape! It will be a superb gift for her family, and it is something I regret not having done with my father, who was a great story-teller of his many childhood adventures (and scrapes).

Thanks so very much for your engaging comment.

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 2 years ago from Central Oklahoma

One good friend only has a passing interest in genealogy. "Passing" in the sense that when she worked at the gas company, she was in the habit of asking new female employees their maiden names and a male employee his mother's maiden name. By doing so, she discovered several "new" cousins of various degrees, but that was (and alas, still is) the extent of her interest.

A few years ago, her father went to a family reunion where he was given a 10 or 12 page descendancy chart all the way back to his earliest ancestors in colonial New England. His interest in genealogy is on a par with his daughter's, but on returning home he gave it to her to keep for her own daughter.

ANY descendancy chart, of course, is catnip to a genie. After reading the first page, my friend was flabbergasted when I announced I already had most of the people in the chart in my database! My afore-mentioned Mayflower friend and I, you see, had entered them while doing our colonial-period collateral lines. In fact, some of the non-genie friend's ancestors had married into three of my lines back then, but she and I had no common ancestor. I probably should've kept my mouth shut, as I've never been able to make her understand how we can have "common relatives" but no "common ancestor"! ;D

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hahaha...yes, that can be a bit of a stickler to explain...but if you go back far enough, there is bound to be a common ancestor in there someplace...even if its a 14-x great-grand parent. ;) Because those tangled" cousinships" eventually work their way back to that point...

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Pauldavidson77,

Thanks for the comment; I'm glad you liked the article. Thanks too, for the link to some forms folks might find useful.

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 20 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Another great genealogical hub from you, DzyMsLizzy. Very helpful and useful. Voted up!

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 20 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, Kristen,

Thanks so very much. I'm most pleased you liked this article and found it useful. Thanks, too, for the vote!

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