Use Forms to Organize Your Data
Posted on Mar 31, 2012
There are a number of forms that genealogists use to help in organizing and capturing genealogy information. The following are list of the some of the more useful forms I have used.
Cemetery log. A great worksheet to take with you when researching cemetery records, or visiting a cemetery in person. Cemetery logs can also show families, collateral lines, and friends since many people were buried in clusters.
Research logs. The research log, also called a calendar, is a running list of sources checked; annotations can indicate whether a particular source revealed anything. The log shows all sources checked and acts as a table of contents to the research notes.
Correspondence log. The correspondence log lists all the letters/emails you send and receive. It includes the to/from, topic and next steps. Create an electronic or hardcopy file so you easily retrieve letters as needed.
Pedigree charts. Pedigree charts provide an overview of the family and enable you to track research progress. All information recorded on the sheet (names, dates, and places) should be accompanied by a notation showing how that information was obtained. If names, dates, or places indicated on a pedigree chart are a product of speculation (unproven or undocumented), that fact should be indicated in some way on the chart.
Family group sheets. Family group sheets organize what is known about a couple and their children, researchers usually use family group sheets, which include spaces for names, parents, dates and places of events, children, spouses, sources, and other information to help identify members of a particular family. Sources can be entered on the back side if room is limited on the front. Blank sheets can be used as worksheets when researching.
Index to notes and handouts. If you attend many society meetings, classes, or lectures you probably receive lots of handouts. Since most handouts don't apply to any specific family, remembering what handouts and notes you have can be difficult. An index, organized alphabetically (if possible) will give you an "at a glance" reference to what sources of information you have.
Marriage log. Another handy index to take with you when researching, or searching online sources. A marriage log displays information about the bride and groom for a specific location. You can adapt the form to your needs if you wish to cover more than one location on a form.
Migration trail map. Very few of us have ancestors who stayed in one spot for many generations. Migration trail maps display everywhere your ancestors lived, which is useful when trying to locate specific locality resources. A migration trail can also lead you to further information about the forces which drove the families to move (war, land opportunities, crop failures, or just itchy feet). You should be sure to check out each stop for collateral lines and extended families.
Pedigree chart . Another one of the most frequently used charts, a pedigree chart (aka, lineage or ancestral chart) displays generally three or four generations of ancestors for a specific individual. Although supplemental information (birth, death, and marriage info) can be added, the pedigree chart is not the place to record sources. Blank pedigree charts are useful as worksheets when researching.
Relationship chart . If you are confused about how one individual is related to another person, or group of people, a relationship chart will tell you their relationship. There are several relationship (cousinship) charts available online, but for multiple relationships, use a genealogy database program to generate a chart. Relationship charts can be very helpful when you have two ancestral lines which inter-marry.
Research log. Research logs can be divided by individual or surname, as you desire. Logs should be taken with you when you research, and every item you search should be entered. This may seem like a lot of work (especially for those resources in which you find no information) but a detailed research log can be used as a roadmap to show you what resources you've checked, and what results you found there. You may adapt a research log for use on Internet as well; notations of what web sites, indexes, and databases you've searched can be helpful, as well as listing those sites and newsgroups to which you have submitted a query.
Abstract forms for deeds and wills. Any researcher familiar with courthouses knows how easy it is to neglect information when searching old county records. An abstract form walks you through the task of extracting vital information from deeds and wills by prompting you to note the important information found on these legal documents. An abstract form is worth its weight in gold when you find yourself in a dusty, dimly-lit courthouse basement with a huge deed book on your lap.
Census extract forms. As easy as it is to miss information while rooting around in the local courthouse's old deed books, it's just as easy to miss information after you've worn out your eyes staring at census microfilm...hence the creation of census extract forms. These forms (available for all census years from 1790-1920) allow you to make notes of the important information and show families and neighbors as they occur on the microfilm. Any notes or comments you may wish to make can be entered on the back of the form. Census extract forms for 1790-1920 are available.
Problem worksheet. If you are having trouble successfully finding information about an individual, you may need to organize your thoughts before searching willy-nilly. A problem worksheet can be created for an individual or a specific problem. If you need to find the birth and marriage records for a person, you can create a worksheet outlining the two problems, and possible avenues of research. A problem worksheet is your place to brainstorm--put down any ideas you have where you might look for answers. Note the results, and be sure to include the specifics in your research log.
Timeliness. It is important to draft regular summaries of your findings. Two of the forms summaries can take are the timeline and the narrative. The timeline is a chronologically arranged listing of events in the life of a particular person or a span of time in the existence of a family. The timeline should reflect the research principle that one work from the present to the past. Thus, a timeline on a particular person should begin with his or her death. It may prove helpful to introduce historical events into the timeline; particularly those of regional significance, which may dictate the availability of records (a tornado that destroyed a courthouse, for example).
Narratives. A narrative can be as simple as an informal collection of paragraphs about an ancestor, or as elaborate as a multi-generational family history suitable for publication. For most researchers, the simpler paragraph narrative is the precursor to publication. You need not be an award-winning author to present your findings in this manner. Simply compose an accurate and concise summary of your research steps and a condensed version of your findings. Consider such a narrative to be a research status report that can help you to spot inconsistencies in your evaluations as it highlights potential pursuit opportunities.
Research activity logs. The research activity log, used in conjunction with the timeline, is an efficient way to keep track of the origins of information provided on the family group sheet and in a chronological account. A well-kept research activity log will serve as a quick reference for sources of information, allowing you to see at a glance what work remains to be done The source numbers serve as a cross-reference to the sources used in entering information on the family group sheet and the timeline.