Reference Centre, Genealogy 101

Organize your Records

The physical act of research is like every other function.  It requires a set of tools and the knowledge of the purpose of each of those tools.  A similie can be drawn to that of a surgeon's surgical instruments.  Some of those instruments are used only for specific types of operations while others are generic and can be used at every operation such as sutures and clamps.  So it is with the housekeeping, or organizational, tools of genealogy.  Some of the charts you are about to be introduced to, once filled in, will not be used again until some new piece of information is discovered while other charts you will carry with you to research facilities to use as a guide in your search.  Appendix 1 is a quick-reference chart that sets out a short description of all of the housekeeping tools that you will be introduced to in this article.

During the organizational phase of your research your time will be dominated by the preparation of research logs, several different family charts, inventories, and the storage of precious original documents, photographs, and negatives.  As new resources are searched and new information is learned you will discover that record keeping and organization are essential to keeping your research progressing in an orderly fashion.  You will also discover that the housekeeping tasks of organization require just as much time to complete as the physical act of research.

Your aim during the organizational phase is to arrange all of the information that you have collected into a clear and consistent presentation.  It is also during this process that you will start to gain an almost first-hand knowledge of who the members of your family were and what they were about.

Research logs, family charts, and, in particular, your descendancy chart are your roadmaps to the discovery of your ancestry.  Your research logs will be of benefit when you talk to a librarian, genealogist, or fellow researcher while on your quest as that log will reveal quickly to that other person where you have visited and what stops you need yet to make.  Your descendancy chart will provide that other person with some sense of your objectives and may prompt him or her to suggest a resource that is still unknown to you.

Surname or Family Files

Surname or family files are the proper repository for all of the information that you will collect concerning a particular family throughout your search.  Accordingly, one of your first tasks towards organizing your information should be to buy a box of 8-1/2" by 14" (legal size) file folders.  Label each file folder with one surname of each distinct family in your ancestry.  For example, if you only have information back through both sets of your grandparents then you likely have four distinct surnames with which to begin - your own surname, that of your mother, and those of each of your grandmothers.  The function of the file folders is to store copies of your organizational and housekeeping charts, your research notes and copies of the documents that you may acquire about your ancestors.  You will also accumulate fragmented pieces of information during your research about families of the same surname - news items, correspondence from other researchers seeking ancestors of the same surname, and so forth.  You will also collect references to your ancestors from many sources, not all of which, while in their raw form, will have a place in your family book but may, at some future date, become useful in tracing earlier generations, descendants of collateral family branches, or assist in preparing biographies of family members.  Do not keep copies of Family Group Charts or Biographical Charts in your family files.  Those charts are best inserted into a separate binder or a family book.

Eventually, you will discover that you will have to add subfiles to your Family Surname Files.  You should aim to start a separate file for

  • correspondence, in which to keep copies of all of your incoming and outgoing correspondence concerning the surname;

  • hard data, such as census and parish register transcriptions, directory listings, tax lists, and your Proof Logs and Research Logs;

  • family charts, which you will keep strictly for maintaining your lineage, descendancy and family group charts;

  • biographical data, such as newspaper clippings; obituaries; Wills, inventories and other estate documents;  school reports;  awards;  the typed version of your family history interviews with family members;  et cetera and,

  • a file strictly in which to keep material that  refers to the surname but which does not refer to your particular family of that surname.

Keep up-to-date copies of your research and proof logs as well as your ancestral lineage and descendancy charts in your surname files.  If there is someone with whom you will be corresponding routinely, write that person's name, address, and telephone number on the outside front cover of the surname file folder with a brief note of their interest in the surname - individual's name, place and time period.  This simple act will save you a great deal of time, at some future date, that would otherwise be spent sifting through the papers in a file to find that person's address.

Keep a photocopy of all documents in your family file folders.  This will save the wear and tear on your family book's pages as well as the wear and tear on your shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints.  After a family book grows to a weight of five pounds or more, or a full 3" binder, you will not want to be handling that book too often.  Having a copy of all documents in your surname files will also serve as a backup should you ever lose or misplace the copy from your family book.  Most importantly, having a copy of the documents in your family file will enable you to store and preserve your original documents in a separate archival-safe and fire proof location.

Make a photocopy of a topographical or street map of the area in which your ancestor lived.  If your ancestor was from the British Isles you will also require a copy of the parish map depicting the parishes of his or her native county.  Place those photocopies in your surname files.

From the above, you are likely starting to sense that the surname file will become an important organizational tool for your research.  You should also be gaining an idea of just how fast a family file will grow.  Unless you start immediately to organize the material that will accumulate in your surname file it will quickly become an unruly mass.  Buy a box of heavy gage brass fasteners (available at office supply stores) of 1" or 1-1/2" in length.  Brass fasteners are known as known as split pins in Britain.  Use a separate brass fastener punched through from the back of your papers, to secure your separate bundles of documents:  correspondence, which should be arranged in chronological order with the most recent at the top of the fastener;  news or other published articles;  and, all hard data such as transcripts from church registers, census returns and civil registration indices.  Maps should remain loose in your surname file.  All charts and research logs can be secured together with one fastener.

On the inside front cover of your family file attach a sheet of ruled paper on which to start an inventory of the documents, photographs and other memorabilia that is in your possession relating to that family.  Over the course of time you will discover many uses for and benefits of such an inventory.

Charting your Ancestors

Ancestral Lineage Charts

The Ancestral Lineage or Pedigree Chart is one of the essential tools of your research.  This is the chart on which you plot your direct ancestry.  As each generation of ancestors is added to this chart it will take on the function of a direction sign pointing you toward new goals for your search.  It is also a tool that can be used when talking to a family member, librarian or fellow researcher about your family for it visually and immediately sets out what you know about your ancestors and what critical information you need to find.  The lineage chart will also be used as a guide to setting up your family books.

Before completing an Ancestral Lineage Chart it is best to become acquainted with its various and unique features.  Study Figure 1.  The very first element that people tend to notice are all of the horizontal lines spreading out left-to-right across the page.  Each of those lines is used to record one person's name.

Notice that each line is numbered in a very defined pattern starting with number 1 on the extreme left-hand side of the page, number 2 at the top of the next column to the right, number 4 at the top of the third column to the right and so on through to number 15 at the bottom right-hand corner.  Person numbered 1 is you.  Person numbered 2 is your father and person numbered 3 is your mother.  Persons numbered 4 and 5 would be your father's father and mother, respectively, and so on down through each succeeding number.

Notice that all males will have an even number on this chart and that all females bear an odd number.  Each generation back in the table will begin with a paternal male ancestor bearing a number that is a calculated by multiplying the previous generational number by 2.  For example, your father is number 2, his father - the next generation back in your ancestry - is number 4.  Your father's grandfather would then be at number 8, which is 4 x 2.  Your father's great-grandfather would be number 16, which is 8 x 2 and so on back through the generations.  The wife of each male ancestor is represented by a number that is calculated as follows:  the number of the male ancestor plus one.  Your father's grandmother would then be at number 9, which is 4 x 2 + 1.  Your father's great-grandmother would be number 17, which is 8 x 2 + 1 and so on back through the generations.

All ancestors who fall between a certain set of numbers, for instance numbers 8 through 15 would represent all of your great-grandparents and all ancestors that fall between the numbers 16 through 31 would represent all of your great-great-grandparents.

Below each line is an area where the birth or christening date and place can be recorded for each person.  Also notice that the death or burial date and place can be recorded for each individual.  As is sometimes the case, you may have all of the details of both the birth and christening, or both the death and burial for one particular ancestor.  In such an instance, record the date and place of birth in the pre-printed area with a note of the christening date and place in the space immediately below it.  Similarly, record the date and place of death rather than burial.  Again, add a note of the date and place of burial in the section immediately below the death particulars.  The marriage date and place need only be recorded once for each couple.  Accordingly, for convenience only, that information is recorded with the data of the male ancestor in each generation.

The next three elements of the lineage chart pertain to the numbering of the charts.  At the top of the chart there is a space to write in the number of the immediate chart.  On the extreme right-hand side of the chart, under the name of each ancestor in that generation you will find a small line that reads 'continued on No. _______'.  When you obtain information concerning a parent of one of your great-grandparents - individuals numbered 8 through 15 - you will have to start a new chart in order to plot the new information.  In order to save some confusion later, you will find that the best course of action is to write in new chart numbers on those lines now.  Start with the number 2 in the topmost space and number sequentially down the page for each ancestor to number 9.  Now you are ready to start a new chart at any time and not be lost in a quandary as to the number that should be used at the top of the new chart.  Bear in mind that Figure 1 is a four-generation chart.  The numbering of the continuation charts will be different if you are using a chart that depicts five or more generations.

The final chart numbering element is located, on our example, at the bottom left-hand side of the chart.  It is a line that allows you to cross-reference the immediate chart that you are working on to a previously completed chart.  See the line that reads 'No. 1 on this chart is the same as No. _____ on Ancestral Lineage Chart No. ______'.  This line will only be filled in when you begin a new chart, either to chart the information about a great-great-grandparent or when you have reached the stage of needing to plot an ancestor in your eighth generation back.  Again, bear in mind that Figure 1 is a four-generation chart.  The actual generational number will be larger if you are using a chart that depicts five or more generations.

An example of this element in action is:  If you are using the four-generation chart in Figure 1 your great-grandfather is person numbered 8.  The information pertaining to his parents will be shown on chart number 2.  When you begin your new chart always repeat the information for the ancestor on the previous chart.  In other words, you will have the complete data for your paternal great-grandfather recorded twice.  First, he will be shown as person number 8 on chart number 1 and, second, he will again be shown on your new chart numbered 2 but as person number 1.  Accordingly, the line at the bottom left-hand side of our Ancestral Lineage Chart would read ' No. 1 on this chart is the same as No. 8 on Ancestral Lineage Chart No. 1.'.  The person whose name will appear on line number 9 on chart 1 will then be the same person as number 1 on chart 3 and so on down the line to the person whose name will appear on line 15 on chart 1.  She should become person number 1 on chart numbered 9.

If you intend to use the numerical system of the lineage chart it is essential that you ensure all numbers are added in the proper sequence.  Always complete the chart reference numbers in all areas on each chart.  Most lineage charts bear the same format as the example given with this text.

All formats of the lineage chart have the same purpose - to record direct ancestral lines.  Different publishers, however, may include, exclude or rearrange some elements of the basic chart.  Regardless of the format in which a lineage chart appears or whatever title it is given, the fundamental elements of these charts are identical worldwide.  The presentation of information on a lineage chart is also universally understood.

Now that you have been grounded in the elements of the Ancestral Lineage Chart you are ready to learn the rules for filling it in.

1.  Write all information on the lineage chart, first, in pencil.  In this way any recording errors can be quickly erased.  Furthermore, information that is not complete at the time that you fill in your lineage chart can be easily up-dated at a later time.

2.  Write all surnames in capitals.  This will help to quickly identify the surnames from the other data on the chart.  Surnames can be written either preceding or following the given name of an ancestor but writing the surname first will add to the quick identification of family surnames later.

3.  All women must be identified by their maiden surnames, not by the surname of their spouse.  If you do not know the maiden surname of one of your female ancestors, leave her surname blank for now.

One question that is frequently raised in relation to starting a lineage chart is whether or not to begin with name of your child.  The answer is, 'No'.  If you have several children you would have to complete a lineage chart for each child showing that child's name in position number 1.  Secondly, even though at some future time you may decide to trace the ancestry of your spouse, you will find that you will tend to be more interested in tracing your own ancestry first.  Lastly, lineage charts become unwieldly if too many direct but divergent ancestral lines are incorporated at the beginning.  In each generation you will be doubling the number of individuals and doubling the number of surnames.  The descendancy and Family Group charts are the correct place to incorporate your children's data while any ancestry of your spouse that you may have at hand should be written into its own Ancestral Lineage Chart.

Dates written into your lineage chart should be expressed as:

Date, in numerals;

Month, in three- or four-letter forms;


Year, in four digits.

This method for writing dates will save much confusion in future and will provide clear information to any person reading or building on your research.  There is nothing more confusing than trying to determine whether a date that had been written as "3/12/57" or "12-3-57" is intended to signify the third day of the twelfth month, or the twelfth day of the third month.

As a future guide, dates that have been written as 3/12/57 generally are in the format of month-date-year.  Dates that have been written as 12-3-57 are generally in the format of date-month-year.  This is a guide only and you may find that some cultures reversed the formats.  Years expressed in only two digits can signify any century.  Is it 1757, 1857, or 1957?  The Italians have an interesting method of expressing years on documents.  The year is expressed as three digits such as 957 or 892 with the first of the three digits representing the century year.  Thus, 957 represents 1957 and 892 represents 1892.  I would not recommend that you use this system, though, as not many people are familiar with this method of writing the year.

Places should be recorded starting with the smallest political division up to the largest.  For North American and some British ancestors the formula would be:

City or town, township, county, country

For some British ancestors a smaller geographical area known as a parish would be added making the formula:

City or town if applicable, parish, county, country

For most Irish ancestors it is necessary to add two additional geographical descritive areas known as the townland and barony to the parish, making the formula:

City or town if applicable, townland, barony, parish, county, country

This formula should be followed for all of your ancestors and can be applied, with modifications, to suit the political divisions of any country worldwide.

Ahnentafel Chart

There is one dramatically different type of lineage chart.  It is the Ahnentafel (pronounced "ah-nen-ta-fel").  Study Figure 2.  That chart is, in essence, an outline of a lineage that commences with a more recent ancestor being assigned to the first generation.  The parents of that individual are then assigned to generation numbered two.  Grandparents are assigned to generation numbered three and so on back to the earliest known antecedent.

Each person within each generation is also numbered.  Paternal antecedents are listed first in each generation and within that pattern the husband will be listed before the wife.

When all individuals are known for any one generation it is fairly easy to determine at what point in the list one's maternal antecedents are shown for exactly the top one-half of the individuals listed in a particular generation will be paternal antecedents and the remaining bottom one-half of the individuals will be antecedents in the maternal line.  When all individuals are not know for any one generation, or in the event there is a surname repeated or encountered on both lines of ascent it becomes very difficult to determine, quickly, which set of parents relate to an individual in the preceding generation.

Ahnentafel charts, therefor, are best used to condense a lengthy lineage to one or two pages.  However, as this type of chart is not designed to necessarily include specific information of births, marriages and deaths, it should not be used to share your research with others.  Unless other researchers have intimate knowledge of the parties listed in this type of chart they will only become hopelessly confused and quickly disinterested in the information so presented to them.

Family Group Records

Once you have completed your Ancestral Lineage Chart you are ready to compile Family Group records.  See Figure 3.  This is the chart on which you will record the family data that you have for each of your families but for which there is no place on a lineage chart.

The most obvious example of the operation of a Family Group chart can be drawn from your own immediate family.  Do you have brothers, sisters, a spouse, or children?  Other than a brief notation of your spouse's name, information pertaining to those other members of your immediate family cannot be recorded on your Ancestral Lineage Chart.  Ideally, a Family Group record should only be started when the names of at least one parent is known.  However, frequently, in genealogical research you may come upon information relating to the brothers and sisters of an ancestor long before you discover the names of that ancestor's parents.  A perfect example is the information that may be found recorded in a family Bible.  In family bibles you will often find dates of marriages and deaths of individuals who seem to have no immediately recognizable relationship to the family other than a shared surname.  Those are often records of events of brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles.  In such a situation a Family Group chart should be created and the parents' names left blank save the surname of the paternal ancestral line.

As with the Lineage Chart, the Family Group record appears in a relatively standard format worldwide.  Each Family Group Chart starts with the information - names and vital statistics - of one set of parents.  Start creating your Family Group Records by making up one record for each couple that is shown on your Ancestral Lineage Chart.  Again, record all women by their maiden surnames.

Below the parental information is a section where the name and vital statistics pertaining to each child in a family is to be recorded.  You will also notice that a separate column has been provided beside each child in which the name of a spouse and the date of the marriage can be recorded.  There is also a space at the bottom of the Family Group record where a chart numbering system can be employed.  Some, but not all, Family Group charts will have a space within the body of the children's information in which to record the numbers of the Ancestral Lineage Chart and the personal history or biographical chart on which that particular child appears.  There will be only one child on a Family Group chart that will carry a Lineage Chart number.  That child is your direct ancestor.  It is sufficient to leave the space blank next to any other child's name on that same Family Group record.

Prepare your Family Group records carefully for it is easy to enter a child with the wrong parents.  You will also likely have information concerning the families of your adult children as well as of the families of your aunts and uncles - the names of their respective spouses and information about their children.  Prepare a separate Family Group Record for each one of those families.

Descendants or Descendancy Charts

The descendancy chart is frequently the most misunderstood and, consequently, the most under-utilized tool in the range of genealogical charts.  It is, however, the most important chart in that it guides the way to the discovery of earlier generations.  The information recorded on a descendancy chart can also lead to the discovery of as yet unknown cousins.  Its' information can open back doors to ancestral knowledge once all direct resources have been exhausted.  These last two mentioned attributes cannot be found using only a lineage chart.

Information that is missing from a descendancy chart can highlight problematic or questionable areas of descent or assent.  In turn, that missing information may steer you toward a different research goal.

The Descendants Chart can appear in a variety of formats:  drop-line, narrative, and although more commonly found as lineage charts, the descendancy chart can appear in a fan or circular shape.  Whatever its' form, the descendancy chart has one function and that is to record all of the known descendants of each ancestor along with the details of their births, marriages, deaths, and offspring.  You will discover that it is the only chart on which you can carry every piece of vital information concerning every person in the family collective on a few sheets of paper.

The easiest format to learn, use and update is the drop-line descendants chart.  Its format echoes the format of the pedigree charts that were and still are drawn by the heralds of Europe.  The genealogical descendancy chart, however, allows for the inclusion of all descendants of a particular family.  Whereas, an Heraldic chart was designed strictly for the purpose of recording the descent of an heir or heirs of a family.  The first traces of the evolution of an all-encompassing descendancy chart can be found among the eighteenth-century records of the solicitors of Great Britain who were often called upon to discover the rightful heir to a piece of property or a large monetary bequest.

Study Figure 4.  It is a drop-line descendants chart in modern format.  Starting at the top of the page you will see that the earliest known Nutt ancestor is joined to his spouse, Mary Herman, by a long straight horizontal line.  Mary's christening date and place have been written under her name.  Note that Thomas Nutt's year of birth has been estimated by subtracting his age at the time of his death from the year of his death.  Above the line joining the two spouses is written the date and place at which Thomas Nutt and Mary Herman married.  Below the horizontal line are a number of short vertical lines, each one signifying a child born of the marriage of Thomas Nutt and Mary Herman.

The childrens' names and dates of christening and death are also included.  In this example it was not necessary to include the childrens' birth or death places as each event took place in the town where their parents had married.  A notation to that effect has been added in brackets after the date and place of Thomas and Mary's marriage.

Note also that under the names of any children who had died without leaving any descendants, a short horizontal line has been drawn.  That line signifies that there is no descent issuing from those individuals - a clear visual signal that can quickly circumvent needless pondering over how the events of those children’s lives would contribute to your search.  You would also know instantly that something was amiss should another researcher claim to descend from one of those children.

All children should be recorded on the Descendants Chart in order of their birth placing the first child at the extreme left end of the line.  You will see on Figure 4 that by ordering the children by ascending year of birth that there is not much time available for the appearance of an unknown child in the family of Thomas and Mary.  The only possibility that an unknown child exists would be if he or she had been born after Matthew but before Christian.

On the other hand, again looking at Figure 4, there are two children of Thomas, Jr. that can possibly lead to the discovery of distant cousins and, hopefully, more knowledge of common ancestors.  Neither the marriages nor the burials of Thomas Stone Nutt and Elizabeth Tamar Nutt had been found at the time Figure 4 was prepared.  Therefore, it is possible that those two children migrated to a different part of Kent, England, or emigrated to another country.  Similarly, neither marriages nor burials pertaining to two brothers of Thomas Jr., Stephen and Matthew, have been found.

Your descendancy chart should continue right down to the entry of your own birth, marriage, and children.  Only the space constraints of Figure 4 have limited that chart to so few generations of descent.

If you happen to have already accumulated data of several ancestral family branches you may find it necessary to prepare a descendancy chart for each family group.  Looking again at Figure 4 you will see how the relationship between the Nutt descendants has been referred to the charts that record the descendants of the Milsted, Gregory and Ruck ancestral families.

For comparison of the modern descendancy chart to a chart that emulates an Heraldic chart see Figure 5.  The most striking difference between the two chart formats is that Figure 5, except for Matthew, all of the children of Thomas Nutt and Mary Herman have been eliminated.  Succeeding generations also only record one descendant.  As heralds were primarily occupied with establishing the line of descent of an heraldic heir only a brief narrative may be provided of any other family members, if at all.  Heraldic charts seldom record the names of a female child unless that child is the only surviving child and, therefor, the heiress.  Two other points you might take note of on Figure 5 are that marriages were signified by a equal (=) sign and deaths by a small cross (†).  A small cross placed under a marriage symbol was used to denote that the line stemming from that marriage had become extinguished with no surviving male heirs at some point in that line of descent.

As with every good genealogical search, in drafting a descendancy chart you must start with yourself.  If you are the only child born to your parents then write your name and particulars close to the bottom, but in the middle, of the page.  Draw a horizontal line about 3" long centered above your name.  Draw a short vertical line down from the horizontal line to connect to your name.  Place a short upright vertical line at each end of and extending upwards from the horizontal line.  Add the names of your parents - your father on the left and your mother on the right.  Add each generation back along your ancestry in the same manner.

As it is likely that one or both of your parents had brothers and/or sisters, draw a horizontal long enough to accommodate recording those siblings names and vital events.  As with your Ancestral Lineage Chart, prepare your descendancy chart using pencil first.  Your first practice charts should be neat enough so that you can easily read the information.  After you are satisfied with the chart that you have drawn you can go back over the pencil with a pen in a much neater fashion.  It will take you several practice runs to prepare a descendancy chart to your liking but the effort you put in now to learn how to do it will bring its rewards during your physical research.  You will also soon discover that you have several generations of descent as well as many people recorded on one sheet of paper.  The most important point to remember while drafting a descendants chart is to be sure to connect each person with either a horizontal or vertical line, as the case warrants.  Figure 4 was prepared using Microsoft Publisher 97.

Figure 6 is also a descendants chart, but in narrative format.  It sets out most of the events relating to all of the known descendants of the Nutt family through five generations and totalling some 153 people.  The narrative format lends itself well to communicating data of numerous descendants in a few pages.  It is often the format used on publication of family books owing to its' text-based representation of a family which is less costly than graphics to produce.  Note that each generation is distinguished by a system of numbers that are unique to every individual in that generation irrespective of family line of descent.  New generations are also marked by a progressive series of indentations.  Narrative charts also permit the inclusion of a few brief biographical notes concerning an individual.

Some computer programs that can generate narrative descendancies will draw long vertical lines along the left-hand side of the page to connect the children in each generation signifying that they are brothers and sisters of one another.  That feature, however, has its limitations and can be quite confusing to the less experienced researcher.  Once one generation of a narrative descendancy chart stretches over several pages the reader is confronted by page upon page which have seem to have a series of meaningless vertical lines down the left-hand side.  It can be quite tedious to have to stop to count the number of vertical lines on a page before discovering what generational number is then being recounted.

Manual preparation of a narrative chart can be somewhat of a challenge.  It is absolutely imperative that each generation be represented by the same depth of indentation from the left-hand side of the page and same style of numbering as the one preceding it.  In other words, each child in generation two must be indented to the same depth and numbered with the same style of number no matter how many generations of descent or pages of paper might separate them.  The style of numbering used for one generation cannot be precisely repeated for another generation.  In other words, if you begin numbering generation one with an Arabic numeral 1, then generation two must employ a different style of number such as a roman numeral - I - in either upper or lower case - I or i.  The third generation of each family would then have to be represented by yet another different style of number and so on down through the various generations.

The narrative descendancy chart does have one drawback.  As you can see by comparing Figures 4 and 6 the narrative format does not provide a clear and easy-to-assimilate visual representation of a family collective.  Therefore, the narrative descendancy is best used to transmit large amounts of data to another researcher.

Over time you will discover many uses for your drop-line descendancy chart so keep it handy at all times.  As this chart is a graphic visual representation of your entire family it should be the only chart you need to take with you on research field trips.

Through drafting and continual editing of your descendancy chart you will start to gain a knowledge of the family that cannot be gleaned from merely preparing or reading a biographical sketch.  The descendancy chart provides the 'big picture' of the family.  You will begin to see patterns of employment emerge, naming patterns of children within the family collective, patterns of predominantly male or female births, multiple births e.g. twins, and patterns of migration.  Most importantly, you will begin to sense opportunities for research into records that you may never have otherwise considered.  Occasionally, it is necessary to go through a back door in order to obtain information about your direct ancestors.  Every person shown on the descendancy chart is potentially a key that can open that back door for you.  You will also see many opportunities for discovering as yet unknown kin by studying the people on your descendancy chart.

Biographical Chart

Now that you have completed the first steps of the organizational phase of your research you may wish to start composing biographies of your family's members, even if in point form.  Although you will be most interested in preparing biographies for your direct ancestors you should not neglect compiling the biographical information of other family members that you may already have in your possession.  The Biographical Chart is the tool to be used to record historical and personal vignettes about your family's members.  Their military, academic, or career achievements;  their physical characteristics;  where they lived;  their hobbies and interests;  and, their volunteer and religious activities when finally set to paper can breathe life into any ancestor who otherwise would have remained a flat one-dimensional figure.  Any snippet of information about a family member's life will add an extra dimension of richness and depth to your biography.

It is on the biographical chart that you would also record, for posterity, the family lore.  If you have been unable or have not had the opportunity to substantiate the elements of a family story include a qualifying statement to that effect.  If your future research renders the family lore inaccurate, record the story as it was told to you adding to it the results of your own research.  Always include a note about the sources from which you gathered your information.

Add a brief time-line of well-known historical events to each individual's biography.  Compose your time-line from events that occurred in your ancestor's native country and region as well as events that were occurring worldwide.  Some historical facts to consider would be the ruler of your ancestor's country;  the artists, musicians, and writers;  popular writings of the time;  the state of religious, economic, and judicial systems as those existed contemporary with your ancestor's life and so on.

As an example, let's say your ancestor lived between 1757 and 1833 in England.  That ancestor would have lived through the establishment of Canada as a British colony, the withdrawal of France from occupation of North America (excepting Louisiana), new taxes and duties, the Boston Tea Party and subsequent American Revolution, 'no popery' riots in Scotland and England, the French Revolution, the prohibition imposed by British parliament on corn imports, widespread crop failures during 1816, the great English depression of 1819, and the 1831 Reform Bill riots in Bristol.  Your ancestor would have lived to see the reigns of three monarchs - George II, George III, and George IV, twenty-one British prime ministers including William Pitt and the Duke of Wellington.  Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was the man of the hour on the high seas and Louis Braille fathered the raised-dot system of writing used by the blind.  Cornelius Vanderbilt was making his first millions but Andrew Carnegie had not yet been born.  William Clark was exploring the United States Pacific Northwest while Davy Crockett blazed trails of his own.  Lazzaro Spallanizi was laying the groundwork in artificial insemination (a technique which was to eventually revolutionize animal husbandry) and tissue transplantation, while Count Alesandro Volta invented the electric battery.  The hot-air hydrogen balloon was invented by the Montgolfier brothers and marked man's first air flight.  Carl Phillip Emmanuel and J.C. Bach along with Beethoven were the celebrated musicians of the time.  Your ancestor would have been acquainted with the artistic works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, J.M.W. Turner, Jean Antoine Houdon, Francisco Goya, John Constable and the written works of Mary Shelley, the beginning works of Edgar Allen Poe, the poetry of William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the novels of Sir Walter Scott.  Each one of these points of historical interest provide an opportunity for you to research the impact of new inventions and politicians on your ancestor's life.

If your ancestor lived in a foreign place incorporate a description of that place.  If possible, include a topographical or street map of the locale. A postcard or photograph of the place will also add some interest to your biography as well as a vivid element of their life.  If possible, add a photograph of the church they attended.  If you are unable to find any suitable material at your library try searching the internet and then consult a travel agent or write to a tourist information centre or association in your ancestor's native country requesting brochures of the area in which your ancestor lived.

Although the Biographical chart does appear in many formats the essential elements of the chart should remain in tact.  See Figure 7.  At the heading of each biography there should be a place to record the person's name, their vital statistics, the names of their spouse and their parents.  This chart also provides a prime place to affix a photograph of the individual.  If a numbering system has been used for the Ancestral Lineage and Family Group charts, the same system should be carried over into the biographical section.

Lastly, page numbers should be assigned to each biography.  In this respect it is almost impossible to maintain a sequential page numbering system throughout all biographies while maintaining the continuity of one ancestral family's story.  You will discover that as time progresses and your family research evolves you will be able to compose even a one or two paragraph narrative about many family members.  Each of those short narratives should properly be assigned to a separate biographical chart.  Therefore, some method needs to be employed to distinguish one page 2 or 3 from the page 2 or 3 of another individual.  Additionally, some system should be instituted to keep separate the biographies pertaining to different family lines.  Anyone reading your family book in the future would soon lose patience when repeatedly coming upon stories of various paternal families interspersed among stories of maternal families - a situation which would occur if each page of each biography, regardless of family, were numbered sequentially.  But we will talk more of numbering your biographical charts in the section concerning the preparation of family books.

Research Logs

Proof Logs

Proof of descent is found only in documents that record the name of a child in relation to one or both of his or her parents, and so on back through each immediately preceding generation.

Now that your charts are drafted and your information has been organized into family files, you need to document any proofs of ancestral relationships that you have collected to date.  Proofs are items such as civil birth, marriage and death certificates.  Proof of relationship can be found on church baptismal certificates where both the child and its' parents are named.  Unfortunately, though, church certificates of marriages and burials do not generally include the names of the parents of the person being married or buried.  In short, proofs are those documents that can be used to prove each link from child to parent back through each generation.  Ideally, proofs are always drawn from primary sources and the Proof Log will keep you informed of what documents you have, what documents you require, and, most importantly, from what source you obtained your information.

Figure 8 is a Proof Log, which has been drawn to reflect the information found in Figure 4.  Each of your ancestors' names should be recorded on the horizontal lines down the left-hand side of the chart.  Note that the proofs have been segregated into separate columns - one each for birth, marriage, and death proofs, relating to each ancestor.  Each column incorporates a box that you can checkmark to indicate that you have proof of the date and place of an ancestor's event as well as a box to checkmark when you have obtained a copy of the document.  Also, under each column is a box titled 'Source'.  In this box record brief details of the source from which you obtained your proof.  For example, under the birth column it is hoped that your source would be a "birth certificate".  If the certificate bears a series number also include that number in the Source column.  This particular Proof Log allows you to track the status of your proofs for a number of ancestors on one sheet.  Any blank spaces that are left next to an ancestor's name will help to reinforce your research goals and to direct the course of future research.

Master Research Log

The primary purpose for using a Master Research Log is to maintain a record of the resources you have examined for each ancestor.  Note that your Proof Log will only record the one source from which you drew your proof.  However, every researcher may have to examine many sources before that one proof is found.  Research Logs will also keep the next step in your research project clearly in focus.

The function of the Master Research Log is to record all of the resources you have examined for information about a particular person and should permit you to track your research for a number of ancestors on one sheet.  The Master Research Log should also specify the time period and locale you searched for each person.  You will find that the research log appears in many different formats but most require the researcher to physically record the details of each resource examined.  After many resources are searched for one ancestor manual-entry research logs become cumbersome and impossible to scan over quickly to determine what resource has not been checked.  Furthermore, those types of logs, by default, require the researcher to retain a checklist of possible resources in their mind at all times a feat which the neophyte genealogist cannot be expected to accomplish.

The Master Research Log at Figure 9 was developed over my many years of research experience.  The major resources that are available in both North America and the United Kingdom have been blended into one all-purpose research log.  Flexibility in the use of the log has been maintained by providing the researcher with the opportunity of entering three different search parameters which are specific to his or her own family.  If you are conducting a one-surname search over several centuries in several different locales, the locales and time periods can be entered as the basis for separate searches.  If you are attempting to trace a family member through his or her migrations, the year and place columns of the log can form the parameters of your search.  Regardless of the nature of your search all you have to do is place a checkmark in the box corresponding to the resource you examined.  If a particular resource is not pertinent to your search e.g. if your ancestors died prior to the time of a particular census, then you simply need to place a line through the corresponding box thereby eliminating that resource from your research to-do list.

Looking at Figure 9 we can instantly see from the entry for Matthew Nutt that although a fair number of resources have been searched we still have not found his birth date or the place at which he was born.  Following his entry across to the right-hand side of the page we can just as readily see that there are at least three resources yet to be checked that might provide that information - a civil death certificate, a monumental inscription, or a notice in a newspaper.  The search for Matthew Nutt's birth or christening can also be expanded to include the church registers of other parish churches outside of Faversham.  Thus the Master Research Log, on one sheet of paper, has served a variety of functions.  It has kept us abreast of what resources have been checked, informed us of information not yet known, eliminated non-applicable resources, and has given us some guidance in what records to pursue next in our quest.

In addition to your research log you will also have to maintain a list of all microfilm and microfiche numbers as well as titles and publication information of any printed works you examine for each ancestor.  This procedure will be more fully addressed in the section following.  Some of this information will eventually be transferred onto your Proof Log and some of it may need to be passed along to a correspondent.

Although we will not be addressing them, you should be aware that research logs have been designed for several specific types of searches.  If one is engaging in extensive military research or extensive searches of back-issues of publications, or even simply conducting Irish or LDS ancestral searches, then a specific-purpose research log will be required.

The original copy of your Proof Log and Master Research Log should be kept in each of your family files.  Carry a photocopy of the Master Research Log and Proof Log with you at all times and make entries in them as you complete a research task.  Although this sounds like an enormous amount of housekeeping, documenting your search and organizing your information as your research progresses will save you repeating search sequences a year or two later.  Well documented and organized research will also enable any researcher - professional or hobbyist - to pick up your work and continue on from the point at which your research ceased.

Family Books

Once you have your family files, charts and research logs organized it is time to consider organizing all of your charts, documents and photographs into a family book.  Your first family book should incorporate the material that you have pertaining to both your paternal and maternal lines.  The type of book should allow you the freedom to replace and add or delete pages as the need arises.  Accordingly, a 3-ring binder is the most utilitarian tool in which to compile your family book materials.  Hard-cover binders will last longer and are easier to handle than soft vinyl-cover binders.  A 2- to 3-inch 'D'-ring binder is the best choice even though that type is more expensive than the common round-ring binder.  The pages in a 'D'-ring binder turn easier, the binder will always lay flat when the cover is closed and will hold more pages than a round-ring binder of the same spine width.

You will require two index tab sheets for each family surname that you are now aware of plus extra index tabs for future use.  For instance, if you know the surnames of all of your great-grandparents you will require 16 clear index tabs or if you know all of the surnames of your great-great-grandparents you will need 32 clear index tabs and so on.  Buy any type of index tax sheet that allows you to supply the information for the tab.  You will also require a separate set of five index tabs that will be used as book segment markers.  For this purpose you may wish to buy coloured index tabs but, again, you need to be able to write the information on the tabs yourself.

The index tabs will be used in the following manner:

  1. Label a one coloured tab for each of the sections of:  Lineage, Family Group, Biographies, Documents, and Photographs

  2. Label two clear index tabs for each family surname that appears on your Ancestral Lineage Charts.

  3. Arrange both sets of surname tabs alphabetically and place one complete set of surname tabs after the Family Group tab.  The other set of surname tabs should be placed after the Biographies tab.

  4. Insert all tab sheets into your binder in the following order:  Lineage, Family Group, Biographies, Documents, and Photographs.

Section one of your family book - Lineage - can be likened to a continuing saga and should form one cohesive unit.  In this section will go copies of your Ancestral Lineage Charts.

In the Family Group section of your book place a copy of each of the Family Group charts that you have created arranged by surname and in roughly chronological order starting with the charts of the most recent or still living family.

Similarly, the Biographies section of your family book will hold copies of the biographical charts that you prepare for ancestors and relatives as well as any other biographical material that you may wish to include.  Copies of old letters or diaries can also be added to the Biographical section.  For clarity and ease of reference the material that is inserted into the Family Group and Biographical sections of your family book need to be sorted and stored alphabetically by the primary surname of each ancestral line.

Documents and photographs are easiest to arrange and keep track of when those items are handled as whole units.  The Documents section is reserved specifically for the documents that prove your ancestry.  Copies of all other documents that you have collected for an ancestor, such as census returns, military papers, school awards and so on will be incorporated into the Biographical section of your book for that ancestor.  If you find that you have a great deal of biographical material for any one person, either an ancestor or simply distant kin, you may find it more convenient to add a subsection to the surname section in which to store that material.

Add several blank lineage charts to your book and keep a package of blank Family Group Records at the back of the binder ready to be prepared when new information is discovered.  Also insert copies of your inventories and source citations from your family files at the front of each family book.  Insert a copy of your Descendancy Chart.  Now is also the time to photocopy any original documents and photographs.  Add the photocopies to your family book in their respective sections and store all originals in a safe place.  Do not place any original documents, papers or photographs in your family book.

As the number of pages in your book grows you will eventually have to break the book down into two or more binders.  The first division of your book should be to split the charts, documents and photographs concerning your mother's line out of the main family book if you have sufficient information to warrant it.  You will then have one book for your paternal line and one book for your maternal line.  The next division of family book information would be to break out the information of your father's mother's family or your mother's mother's family.  What you will ultimately end up with is a separate family book for each maternal line in each generation.  On each division of the family book or books remember remove all material - Family Group Charts, biographies, documents and photographs that pertain to the family that is being moved to a new book.

Eventually your family book or books will grow beyond fifty pages.  At that time you should compile an index to your book and insert it at the front of the book.  You will have to number all of the pages in each section of your book.  As with everything else in genealogy, write your page numbers in pencil and write them in the bottom margin of the page.  Prepare your index by summarizing the contents of each page in your Family Group and Biographical sections.  Each document will have to be indexed separately and each photograph should also be separately indexed.

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