Get Organized: Basic Forms For Beginning Genealogists

by Carolyn L. Barkley | Jul 31, 2009

A good genealogist is an organized genealogist. Consistent use of four organizational tools -  pedigree charts, family group sheets, research logs and correspondence logs - will help you start out right. While many additional forms are available, these four represent essential building blocks upon which to base your genealogical success.

The first two of these forms are critical as they organize basic family information:

Pedigree Chart

The pedigree or ancestral chart allows you to record generational information in a very visual format. Depending on the specific form, you may be able to record information about 4, 5, 9 or more generations. While many genealogical software programs will create charts automatically, you need to understand the form, its contents, and be able to create one while researching away from your computer.

Begin your first chart by entering your own information (name, date and place of birth, and date and place of marriage as appropriate) in the lines/box on the far left center of the form. This location will be labeled as "1." (Depending on the form, there may also be a space in which to record your spouse's name.)

The lines marked "2" (top portion of the chart) are for information about your father (name, birth date and location, marriage date and location, and, if appropriate, death date and location). Continue filling in information about your father's family: your paternal grandfather in the area marked "4;" your paternal grandmother in area "5." Their respective parents will complete the fourth generation as numbers 8 and 9, and 10 and 11.

The lines marked as "3" (bottom portion of the chart) are for information about your mother (name, birth date and location, etc.) Continue filling in information about your mother's family: your maternal grandfather in the area marked "6;" your maternal grandmother in the area marked "7." Their respective parents will complete the fourth generation as numbers 12 and 13, and 14 and 15.

You have now created an "at-a-glance" record of multiple generations of your family. You may not be able to fill in every line. Once you have completed as much of the chart as possible, review the form to see where blanks occur. These blanks represent your future research and provide a place for you to record new information when discovered.

If you need to record details about additional generations, you may link pedigree charts. For example, if you are using a four-generation chart and want to extend your father's line to your great-great grandfather or beyond, start Chart 2 with your great-grandfather in the position marked "1" and continue as before.

Make sure you have, or obtain, documentation (birth, marriage and death records; census records; etc.) for each piece of information you've entered.

Family Group Sheet

Next, create a family group sheet for each of the couples on the pedigree chart(s) you just completed. Family group sheets come in many formats, but the information to be recorded is usually identical.

The top of the form provides a location to enter the husband's name, birth, marriage, and death information, and father's and mother's name. Record the same information for the wife. (If the husband or wife was married more than once, complete a separate family group sheet for each marriage).

The lower portion of the form provides space to record information about the children born into the specific marriage. This information may include sex; birth order number; birth date and location; marriage date, location, and name of spouse; and death date and location. Again, be sure that you have, or obtain, documentation for each fact you record on a family group sheet.

You have now created a visual record for each family on your pedigree chart and have provided yourself with an organized method of adding information in the future.

One of the strengths in using pedigree charts and family group sheets is the ability to develop research plans efficiently. You can easily decide which individual you want to research and plan your work around that goal; you can show a librarian or archivist your chart and succinctly describe your research needs. Better yet, no more taking notes on scraps of paper that get misplaced or lost.

Two additional forms will prove indispensable in organizing your ongoing genealogical work: the research log and the correspondence log.

Research Log

The need to document your sources cannot be stressed too strongly. During each research trip or online search session, you will need to record what you looked at, where you found it, what you found (or did not find) in it, and any other comments about the source that might prove useful later.

You can create a simple Word table with column headers for date, library/archive, call no., title of book, author, publication data, information found (or that nothing was found), and comments (no index, or volume 2 missing). Complete the table as you research and later it will provide you with the exact documentation for specific facts, will allow you to relocate sources, and may prevent you from rechecking a title that proved unhelpful.

Correspondence Log

From time to time, you will need to contact a courthouse, family member, research institution, individual or resource for a record, photograph, or other information to support your research. A simple Word table can help you track the course of each communication. Column headers may include date of the contact, form of the contact (telephone, letter, email, etc.), the person with whom the contact was made, at what address, whether a response was received/not received, the information received, and general contacts.

By tracking your correspondence, you will be able to provide exact documentation for facts, follow-up with individuals, or note referrals to alternative individuals or institutions.

Begin your research by using the four basic tools described here and the organization that is the mark of quality genealogical research will be yours.


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