Recording Your Research in Easy Steps

Recording family history research is probably the one area that many beginners think little about. They may add a tree online with companies such as Ancestry etc., but there is so much more you can do to keep your research organised.

Online Trees

These all have their place in your research and you will need to look at the different options to find one that suits you. Most only need you to register on the website, which is free, but be careful that you understand what you are signing up for. There have been complaints recently that FamilySearch trees can be changed by others, and not always correctly, whilst Ancestry and Find My Past both state that whatever you upload to your family tree on their website they can use it for marketing or any other commercial purposes. If you do not want them to use your images or data you should not create a tree on their website.

Online family tree image

Online trees often allow you to add information such as genealogy records and from other family trees directly from their website. This can be very helpful and saves you time BUT it is the most common way mistakes are added and overlooked. Always check every new piece of information to make sure it is correct and really relates to your family rather than assume that someone has done the hard work for you.REMEMBER: with online trees you cannot include living people without their express permission – it contravenes data protection and privacy laws. Most sites allow you to hide living people but it is better if you just do not include them to prevent any slipups.

Offline Trees

There are several different versions of family tree software which you load onto your computer. Before you decide which one to buy see if they do a free trial. Everyone is different and we all like different things. The same goes for computer programmes. Just because I like one product does not mean that you will.The advantages of having offline trees include: not needing internet access and you can add all of your living relatives as well. Your tree also remains private and no one will share or publish your photos etc.Another advantage is that you can easily save everything in one place on your computer so that your heirs can find it all. No passwords to remember or having to gain permission to access an online tree after your death, after allmost of us want to pass on our hard work to future generations.

Recording what you found.

It is so easy to quickly jot down a record of a baptism etc. you have finally found, but unless you have a system, jottings may become unreadable.This example is a copy I found one of my students using (I have re-written it with her permission). Although it gives the basic details there is so much lacking – even she could not explain what each part related to!

genealogy research notes, handwritten research notes, recording your research

In my classes I encourage them to use a recording chart specifically for that record source. For example I created this template to record information found in the FreeBMD Index.

Template for recording your research, genealogy research

You can find blank census templates online, or you could try to create your own – just make sure you have a column for every piece of information, not just what you think you should write down.You can learn more about this on my online course here:

Reference your Findings

Imagine the scene – you have been researching your family history for years, and you finally share it with a member of your family, who turns around and says “but John did not marry Jane, he married Elizabeth!” OK so now what do you do? How do you prove that John married Jane? Where did you find that piece of information? Was it from physical evidence (birth/marriage certificate, census return) or did someone tell you, in which case who told you and when? If only you had spent 2 or 3 minutes noting down where you had found that important piece of information you would be able to quickly prove your information, instead you spend days trying to find it again. You might be lucky, if the information was on a certificate you purchased, it is just a case of finding it otherwise you have to start your research again.You may think that this will never happen to you – but can you be sure? It has happened to me on several occasions. Fortunately I had referenced my sources and could quickly prove the details of the marriage whereas my detractors only had it as a family story. One spent weeks trying to prove me wrong, but to no avail.There are no right or wrong ways to reference your sources. Academics generally use a version of the Harvard Referencing, but there is no overall system for genealogical records, and different organisations will use slightly different systems. The main thing to remember is that it should help you (or someone else) to find that record again.

An easy citation will include:
  • The type of record – BMD registration index/certificate, Census return, diary, audio/written interview with Uncle Joseph etc.• Place the event took place. (RD means Registration District for civil registrations events)• The date or year of the record/interview.• Name of the main person – child, married couple (give both names) etc. For census returns you can either give the Head of the family, but if your ancestor is a lodger then give his/her name.• Any reference number for the record – archive reference, GRO reference for indexes, Census reference and enumeration district & page number.• Location of record – name of the Archive Office, website, of if held privately then by whom.• Date accessed –most people only use this for websites as they can change over time, although it is also useful for interviews.E.G.Marriage Index. RD: Islington, Middlesex. March Qtr. 1876 Frederick Augustus WIEDHOFFT & Emma HUNTSMAN. Vol. 1b. p. 456. Available online: Accessed 17 Oct 2016.

(Taken from my blogReferencing Your Sources

Keep everything together.

It may seem an obvious statement, but as the number of your genealogy documents grow, they tend to get separated into different cupboards, rooms or even houses. Keep one area dedicated to all things genealogical, and if you do have to separate them keep a list to show exactly where everything is kept.You can now buy special certificates folders to keep birth, marriage and death certificates safe, but these can also hold other documents such as wills and deeds etc. Keep letters together, and photographs in an album – preferable the old kind that granny had.If possible scan everything and keep them in one folder on our computer. These can be a backup of the originals, linked to your family tree program. You can even email them to interested family members or professional researchers without risking losing the original.

Recording and keeping records needs thought and planning. It is an essential part of your research.

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Written by


September 22, 2017
Wesley is the founder of

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