By request, we’re opening a class here at Keepa for readers who want to start their own genealogical and family history research. We’re going to concentrate on the four or five generations closest to us.
The class member I have in mind is starting from scratch, is probably a convert or the child of converts, and may have been intimidated by ward members talking about how their own family history is “all done.” Anybody is welcome to join us, but remember that we’re keeping this basic – no question is too simple, but some discussion may be too advanced. If I ask that something be saved until a later time, please understand that I want to start simple so that every beginner is comfortable.
“Genealogy” is identifying yourself, your parents, their parents, their parents, and so on, and all the children of those people. “Family history” is going beyond mere identification, getting to know your ancestors as real people by learning what their lives were like. We’re going to do both at the same time.
“Identifying” a person means learning these details:
date and place of birth
date and place of marriage
date and place of death
full names of immediate family members: parents, spouses, children
This identifying information is recorded on two basic forms: the pedigree chart which shows your parents, grandparents, etc., back as far as you can go; and the family group record (or sheet) which records the information for one couple and their children.
You’ll have only one pedigree chart; it may run to multiple pages when you learn more than you can fit on one page, but all the pages could be laid out on the floor to make one big chart.
You’ll eventually have many family group records, because you’ll have one for you and your spouse and your children; a second one for your parents and all their children; a third one for your father’s parents and all their children; a fourth one for your mother’s parents and all their children, and so on. If somebody married twice, you’ll have two family group records for him or her: one showing the first marriage and its children, and one showing the second marriage and its children.
Nowadays everybody uses computer programs to store and display pedigree charts and family group records. There are many programs around, and someday we’ll talk about picking one and using it. To start with, though, I recommend that you use paper charts – the principles are exactly the same, and we won’t get bogged down with the differences between programs at the same time you’re learning how to find and record the key information. Use a pencil, and erase as often as you need to.
You can download free PDF files of a pedigree chart and family group record here, among many other places on the ‘net, or you may have some printed ones lying around from some previous attempt to start doing your genealogy. Don’t worry about these forms showing blanks for LDS temple ordinances – when you get to the point where you may be talking about your projects with family members who are hostile to temple ordinances, we’ll come up with some generic forms that don’t mention the Church at all.
There are a few standards for recording names, dates and places on your charts. These rules aren’t meant to make things complicated; they’re meant to help avoid misunderstandings. The standards are:
Write names in full (no abbreviations or initials unless you haven’t yet learned what an initial stands for), given name first:
Jared Alvin Taylor
Some people insist on writing the surname (family name) in caps. I don’t, but be prepared for somebody looking at your charts to get very emphatic about it.
Jared Alvin TAYLOR
Always refer to a woman by maiden (birth) name, no matter how many times she married, no matter what name she used when some life event happened.
We generally don’t use prefixes and suffixes like Dr., Capt., Jr., III. Also, don’t use made-up abbreviations like FNU (“first name unknown”) or NMN (“no middle name”) that you might see other people use.
If your family is Hungarian or Asian or something else that doesn’t use the given name/surname pattern, let’s talk about it.
Always use four digits to record the year (do you remember the Y2K panic? ‘Nuff said).
Use the European date format of putting the day in front of the month. This helps to avoid mistakes – it is common for your eye to pick up a digit from the year as if it were a digit from the day. That is, you might read “April 1 2008″ as “April 12 2008.”
Use letters (not numbers) to represent months. This helps to avoid mistakes – you’re never sure whether “4-1-2008″ is April 1, or January 4.
You can spell out the months in full if you want, but most computer programs will automatically shorten the months to standard three-letter abbreviations. (When I am writing by hand rather than typing, I like to spell out “January” and “June” so that sloppy handwriting doesn’t make me wonder whether something is “Jan” or “Jun”.)
So, dates are written as:
4 Jul 1776 (or 4 July 1776, if you’re worried about handwriting like mine)
10 May 1985
3 Aug 2008
If you have to estimate a date because you don’t know exactly what it is yet, use these indications:
1950 means exactly 1950
abt 1950 means it might be 1950, but it could be 1948 or 1955
Use four levels: city, county, state, country (or the equivalent outside of the US). If the event happened outside of a city, omit the city; if the event happened in a country that doesn’t normally use counties, omit the county.
Manti, Sanpete, Utah, USA
Cardston, Alberta, Canada
Spell out everything completely, except that “USA” is now standard in genealogical circles. Don’t use abbreviations for American states or Canadian provinces or English counties – that’s confusing to people from outside the area, and when you start using computer programs you have practically unlimited space to record place names anyway.
1. Download and print some blank pedigree charts and family group records, or find some at home, from your neighbor, or at your local Family History Center.
2. On your pedigree chart, start with yourself in the No. 1 spot, and write your name, birth date and place, and marriage date and place if applicable, according to the standards in this lesson. Ignore any spaces that refer to christening or burial, for now.
3. If you are or have been married, fill out a family group record showing you and your spouse as husband and wife and listing your children (oldest first). If you know your LDS ordinance data, fill that in, too. (If you don’t know it, don’t worry – we’ll talk about how to get that from your ward clerk.) If you haven’t been married, skip this part.
4. Presumably you can do 2 and 3 from memory or by consulting records you have at home. If you can do so, add your parents and their information to your pedigree chart, and fill out a family group record with your parents at the top and you and your siblings listed as their children. (If you can’t do this yet, don’t worry – we’ll talk about how to obtain the information you need. Probably you can at least write down everybody’s names.)
NOTE: On genealogical charts where husband and wife are both listed, always put the man’s information above the woman’s: Your father goes in your pedigree chart’s slot 2, and your mother in slot 3. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know – but it will be less confusing for everybody if you adopt this standard practice.
Ask me questions! Family situations are unique, and almost everybody has some detail that doesn’t fit the standard pattern.
Next lesson: Beginning steps in gathering records to back up the charts you are filling out, and beginning steps in finding the information you don’t know by memory.