If you are just beginning the process of building your family tree, you are strongly encouraged to download the free Pedigree Chart to help keep your notes more organized. The data you gather through this first step will serve as the foundation for all future research. Using the Pedigree Chart, you will be able to capture the details for direct-line ancestors through four generations. Your father’s family is referred to as your paternal line and your mother’s family your maternal line. Each line contains 7 direct-line ancestors and when completed, this four-generation chart will contain details for 15 individuals (including yourself). To continue recording details for earlier generations, start a new chart listing the name of a great grandparent in the first position and number your chart accordingly.

To start, use any source of information that is readily available to you. In fact, you are encouraged to check multiple sources for the same person and event. Your own recollection of family events or the memory of another family member may be accurate, but be sure to note that this was the source for your information. In a later step, you’ll be asked to verify your findings and will need to know the sources for any conflicting facts.

For each family member, you should capture the following information:
• Full name as given at birth (spelling counts!)
• Date and place of birth
• Date and place of marriage (where applicable)
• Date and place of death (where applicable)
• Date and place of burial (where applicable)
• Date and place of other events (baptism/christening, bar/bat mitzvah, etc.)

When you know an exact date, record it as dd mmm yyyy (e.g. – 15 Mar 1862). This date format is considered the standard for recording genealogical information and most computer software programs will either require data in this format or will convert to this format automatically. Since you’re just starting out, you may as well develop good habits right from the start. If you are not sure of a date, there are abbreviations you can use which will serve as a reminder that you have not yet secured an exact date. Use ABT 1862 or ABT 1862/3 or ABT Mar 1862 to indicate an event that occurred “About 1862” or “About 1862-1863” or “About March 1862”. If you don’t have a date, but are certain an event occurred before or after a certain date, use BEF 1930 or AFT 1890. This will help you establish a date range which will be helpful later in your research.

Although it’s not required, you may find it helpful to know on which day of the week an event occurred. A Perpetual Calendar is a useful tool to help you determine on what day of the week a certain date fell. This may prove helpful later when searching newspapers or other historical documents. In addition, certain religious traditions are tied to specific days of the week.

When recording place, you should be as specific as possible including the name of the town or parish, county, state, and country where the event occurred. As you conduct your research, you should try to gain a general familiarity with the geographic region where your ancestors lived. An ancestor who seems to have “disappeared” may have simply moved a mile down the road, but crossing over town, county, or state borders in the process. Unless you knew to look in a bordering area, you might lose valuable clues for an entire branch of your family tree.

The records of an individual’s birth, marriage, and death are commonly referred to as Vital Records. As you progress through each step of your research, you will become more familiar with vital records and why they are considered such valuable sources for family history research.

As noted above, it is important to develop the habit of noting the source for any piece of information you find through your research. Called a source citation, this is simply a “pointer” used for future reference. In addition to recording the name, place, or date you were searching for – be sure to document where and when you obtained the information. (e.g. – “Phone conversation with Aunt Mary Smith, 25 Nov 2003” or “Handwritten records from an Edwards Family Bible in the possession of Ben Edwards (Boston, MA), 10 Oct 1999”). If you gather 3 sources all providing similar, but not identical information for an event, it will be your responsibility to evaluate each of the 3 sources to determine which version of the ‘facts’ you think is most correct. Since the process of gathering research material often spans many years, source citations are both convenient and critical in using your time most effectively.

by Daniel M. Lynch for the Connecticut Society of Genealogists, Inc.