Genealogy | Data Forms Introduction

Typical family group sheet
Typical family group sheet

Protocols and Research Tips

In order to prevent confusion, and maintain universal standards, there are certain protocols as to how these forms are filled out. In a previous article, I’ve mentioned that the father’s/husband’s name is always shown first, at the top. There are other formats, protocols and those are explained here.

For purposes of illustration, I've invented an imaginary family, and created a family group sheet for them. (See to right.)

I've reproduced it several times, each time focusing on one aspect, with the pertinent area circled in red.

Dates follow a specific format to avoid confusion
Dates follow a specific format to avoid confusion


The accepted date format is as follows (for example):

1 January 2013 (or 1 Jan 2013)

We never use an all-number date, such as “11-1-2013,” because this can cause confusion when examining data from other countries, which may reverse the position of the month and date from what we are accustomed to in the USA. In the example here, then, that date could be interpreted as either November 1, 2013, or January 11, 2013. You see the problem; so, the month is always either spelled out or abbreviated, but never represented by only a number.

Note: Be aware and very careful of this month/date reversal trend when researching foreign documents. Records such as baptisms and census counts were not written by genealogists, and used the format with which the recorder was familiar.

Surnames are usually indicated by all CAPS for clarity
Surnames are usually indicated by all CAPS for clarity


The last name, or surname, is generally always put in all capital letters.

This helps to prevent confusion, especially in the case where a person has a first and last name that could both be first names, such as, “John Henry.”

By listing him as John HENRY, we clearly mark which is the surname.

Any confusion here could lead to endless wasted hours searching a wrong lead.


Sometimes the space for writing on these forms is limited, so there are standard accepted abbreviations used.

Some forms, such as the pre-printed one I’ve shown here, do already have some of these fields filled in with the full word. If you are taking your own notes, or making a copy for another family member, you can save space and time (and writer’s cramp/typist fingers) by using these abbreviations.

See chart below:

used when a date is uncertain
c or cir.
same as "about"
chr or chris
go far enough back, and church baptismal records may be the only birth record available
hus or husb
common-knowledge information or from a reliable source
never married
no middle name
used only if the person was known not to have been given a middle name; not used if the middle name is merely not known.
probable; probably
used to notate information that you reasonably believe to be true, but is not 100% verified.
useful if you find, for example, the given name but not the surname of a spouse. You'd fill in the first name, followed by "ukn" Or, if you don't know a name at all--this serves as a placeholder
wife of...

There Are So Many More!

There are tons more abbreviations that are or may be used, ranging from military rank identifiers to membership in fraternal organizations and some that are rather obscure and useful only to those who are deep into this research, such as professional genealogists.

There are also a significant number of abbreviations which deal with listings and sources for those doing genealogy for religions reasons.

In the interest of keeping it simple, I’ve not listed any of those. If you wish, you can do an Internet search for ‘genealogical abbreviations,’ and you’ll see what I mean. To list and explain them all would take an entire book!

You probably won't need all of the ones shown in the above chart, but they are probably the most common that are good to know, and which you are likely to encounter.

What New Information Lurks?

Examine my chart of a fictitious family. You will see all of the protocols I’ve just been discussing put to use. Now, though, once you have your research and interview data all combined into a family group sheet, you may discover something you did not know before about your ancestors, possibly even about your own parents or grandparents!

Once information is pulled together into a family group sheet, you can discover things you may not have known
Once information is pulled together into a family group sheet, you can discover things you may not have known

Search for Birth Records

Look closely at the marriage date for Peter and Julie in the excerpt at right. Now, go down to the first child, Charles, and look at his birth date. Whoopsie! Is this a transcription error? Or was this a shotgun wedding? Or, perhaps the child was a 7-month preemie.The only way to nail this one down is to search for actual copies of the documents, such as birth and marriage certificates.

The term of pregnancy will be shown on the birth certificate, so that will be the proverbial ‘smoking gun’ that tells you whether the child was premature or if it was an “oops, we’d better get married in a hurry” situation. If you can find the actual birth certificate, or its virtual copy online, that is best, as other records such as church documents won't have that additional information.

The occupation(s) of the individuals are often listed.  If so, this is another clue you can follow.
The occupation(s) of the individuals are often listed. If so, this is another clue you can follow.
The names of the couple's parents are a vital clue to tracing back the family tree
The names of the couple's parents are a vital clue to tracing back the family tree

Going Back Another Generation

On the birth certificate, you will also find information on the occupation of the parents, as well as the maiden name of the mother. This is a big help in going back further with your research, for you will know which is the right line to follow.

Everyone feels that their own family is unique, but once you start doing research, you will find that there are so many people with the exact same names that it can truly be staggering. So you need to be sure that you are following back, (to use the example in my fake chart), the correct Bradley Scott Holder who married Susan Barbara Meyer, and not a Bradley Scott Holder who married a Jane Holt Stuart.

Where Are They From?

Each section of this family group record has space for recording place of birth. The protocol here is, City, County, State, Country. So you can see that the father in this case was born in San Francisco, California. (San Francisco is rather unique, being one of very few cities that is its own city and county at the same time), hence the duplication of the city name; City of San Francisco, County of San Francisco, State of California, United States of America.

For the mother, you will see that she was born in the city of Susanville, in Lassen County, State of California, USA.

Notice the couple was also married in Susanville. (Circled in blue on the chart below.)

Birthplace data is very important in tracing the right lineage; you may also find things you did not know
Birthplace data is very important in tracing the right lineage; you may also find things you did not know


Moving on to the children, the first child was born in the same location as his mother, and where his parents were married. With the next child, however, the family has moved to Oregon, and by their third child, oh, my goodness--she was born in Germany! Well, now--quite the well-to-do jet-setter family we have here!

Not so fast. Look back at the occupation of the father: he’s in the Army, and at the rank of Captain, he is allowed to bring his family with him to assigned duty stations. So, no, they are not wealthy jet-setters. This is the sort of information you’d miss if you only looked at the birth places without supporting documentation. As you can see, that can rapidly lead to wrong conclusions.

Further research into military records would also give you the father’s specific unit, date of enlistment and his promotions through the ranks.

Spelling, oh, the Spelling!

You have to be very, very vigilant with tracking down names, lest you overlook an important clue. Back in the day, spelling was a rather arbitrary thing, and more phonetic than what we now have. So, when you look for the SMITHE family line, as in my example, the farther back you go, the more you have to be aware of either alternate spellings or spelling and transcription errors. The name “Smithe” could also show up as :

Smyth, Smythe, Smith, Smit, Smitt, Smitte, or any number of other such variants. Before you toss those aside as not relevant, search for other bits of data that do (or do not) match your family line to come to the right decision as to whom you include.

And by the way, if you are searching for a real “Smith” family, I wish you plenty of time and patience, as this is one of the most common surnames in the United States. In fact, it tops the list of the common names.

(I have a similar issue--I have a “Reed” ancestor, and that is also a very common surname, with its own maddening spelling variants.)

The links in the box to the right offer charts of all of those, along with their frequency rank.

Location, Location, Location

Just as with real estate, location is everything. You may grow up hearing that Aunt Sally was from Florida, and no further mention is made of the matter. Yet, when you try to search Florida records to find the particulars, she may not be there. Why is this? Well, the first possibility is that she was not born in Florida, but merely grew up there; her parents may have moved to the state when she was a baby.She herself may have no recollection of living anywhere else.

This could be the case with our fictitious family, and the last child being born in Germany. Once the family returns to the states, she will grow up wherever they finally settle down, and have little or no knowledge of Germany, depending upon her age when they return home.

Another nasty little curve the birth registrars like to throw at you is to insist that your birth be recorded exactly where your mother was at the time she gave birth. That means, that if you live in San Bruno, California, but the hospital is in neighboring Daly City, your birthplace on your birth certificate will show Daly City as your place of birth, ignoring the fact that that is not where your parents live, or where you will live upon being brought home. This happened with my youngest child. It is a bit irritating, not to mention confusing for genealogists.

Likewise, if mom gets caught short, and the baby is born in the car or an ambulance on the side of the road on the way to the hospital, that will be your officially listed place of birth--in whatever city and county it was at the time. Unless the hospital and place of residence are in the same city and county, or if the child is born at home, this will be an issue many folks will have to deal with.

So, just as with name spellings, don’t be too terribly rigid when searching for ancestors you thought were born in one place--it may turn out to be a neighboring town. Just double-check the rest of the facts, and if those all match up, you’ve learned something new of your history.

Birth certificates can deliver a wealth of information.

--Pun intended ;-)--

Sample Birth Certificate

Birth Certificates

If you can get your hands on birth certificates, so much the better. There is valuable information that can be gleaned from these documents.

Refer to the photo above (an actual copy with personally identifying information blacked out), but still shows what data can be had from just one document.

The letters below correspond to those that have been edited into the original"

A--Name the child was given at birth. This will help if there have been mistakes in census records, or of the person was usually only known by some nickname unrelated to their actual name

A-1-- Maiden name of the mother. This is useful, especially if there has been more than one marriage

B--Usual address of mother. This is important, as it tells where the family actually lives, instead of where the hospital is, as extracts of birth only list the city of the hospital, when the family may live in a neighboring town. Note that it also tells how long this person has lived in the state, and does so for both parents, (though I have not letter-keyed this on the father's side).

C--This is where you sort out the birth-date tangle illustrated above with out pretend family. The birth certificate states the term of the pregnancy. In the example below, you can see it was a full 9 months.

D and E -- Gives the ages of the parents at the time of the child's birth. This is helpful in placing them in census records as well.

F and G --The birthplaces of the parents are listed on these lines. This is such a goldmine for help in searching back another generation. It can help with those situations where someone grew up other than where they were born, and have no recollection.

H--Gives the occupation of the father, and on the corresponding line to the right, also of the mother. This is usually only a matter of interest, but it can help place them as the right person if they were located by means of a city directory.

Also found on the birth certificate is the signature of the mother, or whoever else provided the information recorded thereon. Normally, it is the mother, but it could have been the father, if the mother suffered complications and was unable to fill out the form; or it could be staff, in the case of adoptions. But usually, it is the mother, and it's kind of exciting to discover the ancestor's actual handwriting.

At the bottom is the signature of the attending doctor, and below, the signature of the registrar who took in the form. Also, you will see a much later date, indicating that this is a copy, and that is the date the copy was requested.

Addictive Hobby

The more digging you do, the more addictive this hobby becomes. The search and the challenge is just half the fun.

Discovering new connections to history, or new relatives is even better. New technology now allows for a DNA test to find actual living distant relatives. I think that is fascinating, although I've not done that--it's a bit too pricey for my budget.

Did you ever wonder why most of the people deep into this hobby tend to be senior citizens? Perhaps it is because they are retired, and have the available time to devote to the search. It also keeps you from moping about and feeling lonely.

What are you waiting for? Start your ancestor treasure hunt!

© 2014 DzyMsLizzy

More by this Author

Comments 8 comments

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

Great genealogy tips, Liz! I purchased my daughter a membership to but she became overwhelmed, being only a tween at the time. As an only child with only one set of living grandparents, she felt the need to explore her heritage. My dad quickly took over the account and found more information in a month than in his previous 5-10 years of doing research himself. He has now traced the family to before the beginnings of this country. It is amazing who you're even distantly related to and their stories. Because I did 23andme genetics testing (they have a connection to, I have had emailed connection requests from strangers who were up to a sixth cousin removed. It is mind-boggling.

grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 2 years ago from Philippines

Very useful information. We are making our own family tree, but the advice you give on capital letters, dates and added information is very good and will surely help us out.

ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

This is very useful and interesting information about Genealogy! I will follow your suggestions and tips when I fill in the details, which I plan to do in future.

Thanks for sharing!

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

@ FlourishAnyway--Thank you very much. I know what you mean about getting overwhelmed on Ancestry! It does not help that their "filters" are fairly useless--showing you anyway data you selected against. If you persist, however, as your father discovered, there is a wealth of information to be had. I am on my cousin's account, as I can't afford their membership prices, and I'm very grateful to him for that.

I'm glad you were able to do the genetics testing--I'm sure that is fascinating, and all kinds of fun to discover new relatives!

@ grand old lady--I'm pleased that you found the article useful to you, and I thank you for stopping by and letting me know.

@ ChitrangadaSharan--Thank you for your comment. I'm glad you found the information helpful.

Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

I have also had the problem where the place of birth is recorded as the next town over. Unfortunately the next town over might be less prestigious than the one you actually reside in, causing untold embarrassment for life. Useful tips here, voted "useful" ;)

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, Suzanne--

Yes, prestige is so important. ;-) I could indeed be cause for embarrassment in some circles.

Thanks for chiming in with your own experience, and thanks for the vote! Glad you liked the article.

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 2 years ago from Central Oklahoma

One of my mottoes is: 'Babies are born wherever Mom happens to be, not necessarily where she legally resides'! This was even more true back in the days when women would move in with a female relative who lived in the next town or county for her lying-in.

A cousin inherited a huge box of old family photos and letters, etc., one of which was a 1910-ish postcard from England with an "X" over one part of a 5-family home with the caption "Where Grandpa was born".

The 5-fam structure was known as a "railroad cottage" and at the time our gf was born, only railway employees could reside in them. Problem being that we knew for certain that our ggf had never been employed by the railroad, nor did the family ever live in that village, so how did his son come to be born at this location?

We'd never paid any attention to our ggm's siblings or their spouses, so it took many late nights combing UK censuses on Ancestry and marriage records in the BMD to determine that the occupants of "X marks the spot" were one of Great-grandma's sisters and the sister's navvie husband (a "navvie" being an employee of the RR).

Grandpa, of course, was the only one of ggf's and ggm's children born in that particular village, but now we know why! ;D

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Greetings, JamaGenee!

Oh, yes, babies are born where they are born. LOL When my youngest was born, I narrowly escaped being "awarded" a savings bond from Volkswagen of America for having her in the car! The car was an older VW "Beetle" with a failing clutch...almost failed the last hill to the hospital! LOL But, we made it, but yes, in a neighboring town to where we lived.

Thanks very much for sharing your story. It points out very well why it pays to keep on digging.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article