Monday, January 16, 2012

Starting Your Family Tree

                We’re fully into January.  How are your New Year’s Resolutions going?  If you are like most Americans, they have probably begun to slip a little.  But remember, you have a resolution that is guilt-free and does not involve calorie-counting.  You are working on putting together your family’s history.
          Up to now your tasks have focused on family photos – finding them, sorting them, labeling them.  I hope that you have made good headway on that task.   If you are still working on it, that’s fine.  Sitting down with a pile of photos, an acid-free pen, and a cup of tea sounds like a great winter’s evening task to me!
          But it’s time to start doing some detective work.  It’s time to start working on your family tree!
          Click on this link: to find three free forms that will help you with this task.  The forms are provided by my company, Heritage and Family.  All you need to do is complete the request (name and email are all that are required – in the comments section let me know which forms you want) and I will email a copy of each form to you as a PDF.  From there you are free to make as many copies as you need for your personal use.
          The first form you want is the Pedigree Chart.  At the top fill in the blanks:  for the first page you write a “1” for “Chart ___”, and leave the rest of the header blank.  Those parts are completed on your second and subsequent forms.  Don’t forget to complete the title that runs along the left side.
You are the #1 person on the form.  Complete your information (ladies, use your maiden name for the last name/surname) as it has been done on this example. 
This is a good time to decide how you are going to standardize your information.  For instance, dates:  today’s date can be written as 1/16/2012, or Jan. 16, 2012, or January 16, 2012, or 16 January 2012.  It doesn’t matter which one you choose.  Choose the style that seems most natural to you and stick with it.  I have used the “16 January 2012” for twenty years or more not sure why, but it’s my style of choice.
For the place information you want as much detail as possible.  In genealogical circles it’s typical to write a location as city, county, state, country.  So my place of birth would be Somerset, Somerset, PA, USA.  Again, choose a style that is comfortable for you when it comes to state and country names and then make that your standard.  I only include the country if it is other than the US.  If there is no town name, I will substitute the township name.  If a township name and a town name are available, I write them all in:  McMurray, Peters Township, Washington, PA.  In my mind, more is better than less when it comes to information, and you never know when the name of the township might be important or useful!
The second form that you might like is the Family Group Record.  This is used to record all of the information for one family.  In this example you can see how to complete the form.  If you have more than six children in a family, simply uses a second sheet, note each page (1 of 2, 2 of 2), renumber starting at 7, and continue with the rest of the children. 
The idea behind this form is to capture one distinctive family unit with all of their information.  This is useful when you find something labeled “Aunt Hazel” and wonder who in the world she is?  It is normal to want to focus solely on the folks that are in your direct line, and gloss over the rest of the family (second husbands or wives, siblings, etc.) but sometimes those people provide more information about your direct ancestor.
Many times I have found myself with spotty information about a parent, but by researching the siblings was able to discover mom’s maiden name, or the year mom and dad got married.  Being a good genealogist means being a good historian:  you want to gather all the information available to you and then sort through what is and isn’t applicable.  It saves time and effort if you do it that way, too – no need to go back and re-search for a name or date that you read somewhere last week.
The last form, the Research Checklist, is for us genealogy geeks who really want to be sure that we have covered all of our bases.  The Research Checklist is used to verify that we have looked in every corner and under every rock to find all of the information possible.
You start by writing the name and known information about an individual at the top of the form.  Then, as you look up records you check them off on this form.  Mark “N/A” for forms that are not applicable to this person (for instance, most of the years of the US Census!)  As you find a source you can make notes to let yourself know that you did use it and what it disclosed.  I make a check mark if I found information in the source and write “none” if the source ought to have information on my subject but did not.  That lets me know that further detailed research is in order for that source.
Now you don’t need all three of these to get started on your family tree, but I wanted to let you know what they are for so that you can decide what works best for you.
For this week’s assignment you really only need the Pedigree Chart.  Start with yourself as #1, and then complete the information for your parents and grandparents.  If you are feeling really motivated, go ahead and add sheets two, three, four, and five to get started on your great-grandparents.  (Note:  the person in #4 on chart #1 become person #1 on chart #2; the person in the #5 spot on chart #1 becomes the #1 person on chart #3; and so on.)
If you are feeling super-genealogical, go ahead and make a Family Group Record for each family unit:  one for you, your spouse, and children; one for your parents, you and your siblings, etc.
I hope you find this part of family history to be fun – seeing those blank charts filling in, and knowing that because of what you are doing, your family history is going to be preserved!

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