Stay Organized with Charts and Software
Right from the start you’re going to want to start visualizing your family tree and understanding how the family groups are organized. For some of you, this may be basic, but for the true beginner, understanding the differences in charts and formats will be welcome information.
Traditional genealogist (before computers) used several forms and formats to keep the family organized. Those same organizational ideas have carried forward today in the software and online trees.
The first two discussed below show the links between each generation, while the third shows each immediate family unit. I’ve provided links to free copies from the National Archives, FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com below.
First was the Ancestral Family Tree Chart. This is sometimes referred to as a Pedigree. This chart starts with one person and shows the links between the parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on in the direct ancestral line. The drawback to this chart is that is doesn’t show all children of each couple, but only each child in the direct lineage.
Next is the Descendants Tree Chart. This chart starts with an ancestor and grows down toward present day and does show all known children of each couple. The drawback here is that it is hard to show all descendants on one page. There really is no way to chart this on paper without taping multiple pages together. I have taped together these pages and pinned it on my wall for easy reference, but computers are really easier.
The Family Group Sheet is not a tree at all but a detailed sheet showing a Father, Mother and all their children. Additionally, this group sheet shows birth, marriage, and death information with dates and places. You’ll see a similar layout in the various genealogy software and online programs. You’ll want this information for each family group.
While all these charts and or forms have been replaced with software, its good practice to have a few of these forms with you when visiting with relatives and asking about family information. They help show where your gaps are in your research and family will often help fill in the holes they see you’re missing. Take multiple blank family group sheets, since you’ll likely be talking about several family groups. You’ll need one for every couple or immediate family grouping.
Alternatively, you can print out the same trees and family group sheets from your software and ask family to help fill in the gaps. When visiting family, I often bring my laptop and fill in the blanks right in the software as I’m talking with family. This saves a step, but as I always say, when working on computers, “save early – save often” AND cite your source as you enter information.
Using a genealogical software program will save you a TON of time. You have at least two good options online with services (like FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com) or use a software that is located on your computer. I use both. FamilySearch (a free service) is a public tree that anyone can modify and at Ancestry (free and subscription options) it is your own tree that only you or those you allow can modify.
I use many services and one primary software on my computer. Personally, I use Family Tree Maker because it links with my Ancestry account. However, there are several good programs out there. The advantage to having software on your computer is additional functionality that the online versions don’t provide.
No matter what you choose, you can export and import your family tree from one service or software to another using a Gedcom file. Keep in mind that a Gedcom transfer is not a constant link and will not continually update. It’s only intended to bring the basic data from one program to another once, so you don’t have to retype all of that data when switching software or services.
Details on the pluses and minuses to these services will be discussed in a later lesson.
Copies of free charts are available at:
The National Archives
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