Recording Family History: why organising research is important

As you progress with your research, recording family history should become an integral part of your process, and you should choose a system that is easy for you, and others, to understand. 

There are many different ways you can document and organise the information you have collected, making it easier to tell what research you have already undertaken to avoid duplicating your research, and you can easily show your research to someone else if you wish.

Organise genealogy research using a filing system

It is important to keep records safe, and not have too many loose sheets of paper that could be inadvertently lost or destroyed. You could divide your file into different sections, and have a section for each type of resource.

For example you may have birth, marriage and death certificates in one section, extracts from census returns in a second, church records of baptisms, marriages and burials in a third, and then any other sections for other types of documents you may discover, such as military records.  

You could use one file per family, so you know where to find your information regarding each family.  Each file may contain family group sheets, pedigree charts or bow-tie family trees, genealogy research logs and photocopies of documents, and could start with the oldest ancestor, gradually moving forward with each new generation.

The system I use when organising my genealogy research is to have a 'file' for each ancestor, starting off with a family group sheet, descendant report, then vital records such as birth, marriage and death certificates, finally following on with census returns, military records and wills.

I then place information about my ancestor's wife during the years of their marriage, and then finally their children, repeating the process for my direct line.  If you follow this pattern, however, you may find that you have numerous files by the time you have finished!!

Your file could also be organised alphabetically or by the number you have allocated to each ancestor - how you choose to begin organising your genealogy research is just a matter of discovering which process works best for you.  

Using an alphabetical system could be problematic, however, because you could find that several of your ancestors have the same name, making it that much more difficult to distinguish between them.

Use a different colour file for each family - this will make it easier to pick up the right file for the family you are researching, so you will not find on arrival at the record office that you have the wrong information with you

If, when recording family history, you choose to allocate a number to each ancestor, you could place a list in the front of your file, adding more numbers as you find your ancestors. It may be best to start with yourself as number 1, and then work backwards allocating your parents numbers 2 and 3, your grandparents 4, 5, 6 and 7 and so on. 

This will make it easier to allocate your ancestors numbers as you find them.  If you find you do not have some information about your ancestors, do not worry; you can always add them in at a later date by leaving that number blank to be filled in later.

Family Tree Numbering SystemFamily Tree Numbering System

If you wish to include the siblings of your direct ancestors, you could issue each of them a number and a letter, such as 2a, 2b etc for your male ancestors siblings, and 3a, 3b etc for your female ancestors brothers and sisters.  Each male ancestor is allocated an even number, and each female ancestor is allocated an odd number.

Whichever way you choose to begin recording family history, organising your data makes it easier to transport all your relevant information when you take a research trip to a Record Office.

Dealing with, and documenting, sources

When recording family history, you should always remember that if you have collected the information contained on your tree from a specific source, you should always include full details of this source for future reference, including the title of the source, its location, and when and where you obtained the information.  I have created a research log you can use for this purpose.  It is always prudent to have separate research logs for each family you are researching to avoid confusion. 

Keeping a note of all your sources might be a time-consuming process, but it will save time in the future because you will know precisely where you have found each piece of information, making it easier to explain to third parties where your information originated, and for you to find the document again should you need to.  You should also make a note of where a specific document is located in your collection.

It is always prudent to take a photocopy of each source you look at, adding how you obtained the copy.  This will make it easier to transfer the information from the source to your own records, and to see clues in the source you may have missed when looking at the original. 

Write Down Different Spellings You have Looked For

If you have looked for differing spellings of a surname such as Minton, Mintorn or Minter etc it is best to write this information down to save you from looking for the same information again.

Not all documents can be photocopied, so it is best to ask Record Office staff before taking a photocopy

Look at the Original Source Where Possible

You should always attempt to look at the original source if you can, because you may find that some alterations have been made that have been missed from the copy for some reason, especially if it has been transcribed rather than being photocopied.

It is always better to take a photocopy of a source than write it out by hand because transcription errors may be made while transcribing.  If you are using the document for personal use, you may make copies of any source useful to your research, but cannot take a copy of a whole book. 

When my Aunt began recording family history, she compiled a family tree relying on details given to her by her mother (my grandmother), which turned out to contain some inaccurate information. 

It was stated on the family tree that my direct ancestor was Sarah Ann Collis, who had married George Hunt on 26 December 1854 in All Saints, Northampton, but my direct ancestor was in fact her sister Harriett who had married Alfred George Harris on 8 November 1864 in All Saints, Northampton.  This was proved by obtaining the marriage certificate, showing the importance of always double checking any information given to you. 

This is especially important when perusing online family trees as these trees do not always include source citations, which are used to state where the information originated.  It would be wise not to add these details to your tree until you can substantiate them using the appropriate sources.

Using a computer software program when recording family history

When recording family history, you could also use a software program such as Microsoft Excel to enter each relative as you find them, allocating each of the same number as in your file, so you know where to look for information regarding them.  

Another idea is to use family tree software, of which there are many different programs available.  

If you wish to have a copy of all your documents on your computer, it is prudent to use the same filing system that you use for the paper copies, so that information is easy to find.

If you use any computer software program, please remember to backup your data - this cannot be stressed enough

Online Family Trees

Some people use an online family tree when recording family history, and make it publicly accessible because they wish to share their research with others.  Some people, however, have made their tree private, and you must contact them for permission to peruse their tree.

Please remember that if you choose to publish your family tree online, living individuals must have their identities protected because of data protection and privacy laws.

If you find a family tree online, you must validate the information you find before adding anyone to your own family tree.

Card Index System

A card index system can be useful when recording family history because you can use a card for each ancestor you discover detailing key events in their lives, allocating each ancestor and their siblings the same number as described above. You could also include cross references to other important documents so they are easier to access.  

Keep all your genealogical information together

It may appear clear, but it is best to keep all your genealogical information together, and not to have it in many different places around the house.  This way you will always know where all your information is stored.

Another great way to document your research is by scrapbooking your family history photos and information.

You can also go to Memories and Nostalgia, who offer a Genealogy Box in order to protect your documents and artefacts for generations to come.

TWR Computing also offer a selection of Family Tree Book Pages (and much more!!!) which will also help you to document your research.

Grandparents can also benefit from finding out the best legacy they could leave for their grandchildren.

Family History Films

Would you like your own Family History Film?

Something that you could leave as a legacy to your children or grandchildren?

Or perhaps it could be a unique gift for someone special in your life - a parent or partner's birthday, or a landmark wedding anniversary?

Well now you can.  Family History Films offer this unique bespoke service.  Click the link to find out more and to arrange your free consultation and be sure to mention that you found them through Family Tree Resources (please use code FTResources). You can also watch a video testimonial from a previous client.

> Recording Family History


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