The Ancestry Insider: Enhancements to FamilySearch’s Personal Trees

Ever wonder what happened to the genealogy databases we used to search?  Well they have re-appeared–on FamilySearch!  The Ancestry Insider explains. . .

The Ancestry Insider: Enhancements to FamilySearch’s Personal Trees.


Finding a Place to Begin–a Tutorial

[This article was written several years ago, so it may be a little outdated, but the principles remain the same.  The personal genealogy software program known as Personal Ancestral File(aka PAF) no longer distributed or or supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Free versions of other commercial problems such as Ancestral Quest, Roots Magic, and Legacy are available on the Web.]

I don’t know of anyone whose genealogy is “all done,” totally, that is. With the number of individuals in a family tree doubling each generation, there will always be something to do, but how, or where, does one begin?

Take my ancestors for instance. My great grand parents, all eight of them, were early converts to the Church. In addition, there were two great-greats and at least one great-great-great among the early converts. I know that many of their descendants have dabbled in genealogy over the last 170 years, but their work is not readily available now.*

Beginners are usually told to “start with yourself,” “work from the known to the unknown,” “look at all available sources,” etc. That advice is all well and good, if you have a clean slate from which to begin and no one has ever done any research on your family before. To avoid “re-searching,” genealogists advise a survey of previous research be conducted–you know, like you did for term papers when you were in school.

First, comb your own home and the homes of your near relatives for anything that might contain clues to the identity or whereabouts of your own family or those of your ancestors.

Second, write to or visit all the extended family members you can find, especially parents and grandparents. Ask lots of questions and take copious notes or tape record their responses.

The “box method” has been suggested for this home survey phase. That is, over a period of a few weeks, put everything you find in a box–letters; birth, death, and marriage certificates, deeds, wills, autobiographical sketches, photos, pedigree and family group sheets, etc.

Once all is in the box, begin the process of sorting. Take the first item out of the box, determine which family it refers to, and place it in a file folder with the parents’ names on it. Then continue through the box, adding folders and filing until everything is in folders. (At this point, I have about two file drawers of folders plus grandma’s photo albums and book of remembrance.)

Continuing with the box method, take out one folder, open it, look at the first item, and copy anything relevant, such as names, dates, and places, to a family group sheet. Take the next paper and do the same until you have been through everything in the folder. Proceed to the next folder, and so on.

Problem: Sources. Information from the various sources may not always agree, and a choice must be made as to which names, dates and places will appear on the face of the family group sheet (FGR). I’ve tried listing each source on the back of the family group, numbering the sources, and then penciling the source number by each data field to reference where the information came from. Each additional source adds another number by each  data field, and by the time you have gone through five or six family group sheets–all on the same family and all from different relatives–and also added bits and pieces of old letters and other documents, the group sheet looks like a bunch of chicken scratches. It also quickly becomes evident that everything known about a family does not fit neatly in the blanks on a family group sheet.

This is when discouragement sets in, and something else usually takes priority over family history. I know, because I have been there many times. I’ve had genealogy on my to do list most of my adult life and have little to show for it other than bulging files.

Back to the system. With the family survey done, we move on to the survey of compiled sources. We have the computer to thank for the ever-increasing volume of compiled sources like Ancestral File (AF), International Genealogical Index (IGI) Pedigree Resource File, the Internet, vital records and census CDs, not to mention a couple hundred years’ worth of printed books.

Problem: Overload. I have often thought it would be good to collect all the available information on my pioneer ancestors and publish it where my thousands of cousins can find it so they won’t have to go through this same painful survey process. I have tried, but the project is just too big.

I have spent countless hours collecting the descendants and ancestors of my illustrious pioneers and entering their data into the computer. I have downloaded their descendants from Ancestral File and then merged this data with my own. The result is about 16,000 descendants. I added to this a download of the direct-line ancestors of my great grandparents, about another 4,000 names on each line, and my total size of my database looms to near 48,000 individuals. All this, and I have yet to finish my survey!

What I now have is a mountain of information. Like young Joseph Smith, I ask, “What is to be done? Which of all these [sources] is right, or are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?”  A midst all this confusion, it becomes evident that some evaluation process is needed to distinguish the accurate data from the inaccurate.

It is at this point that I decided to test another proven principle of research–the time line. Remember the T-outline from your junior high history class? Draw a big “T” on a sheet of paper. Write the dates of events in your ancestor’s life on the left side, and on the right side, opposite each date, put a description of each event and the names of people associated with it.

Problem: The T-outline is a good start, but it lacks the space necessary to list all sources, quote source text and add comments.

The first time I heard Karen Clifford, a professional genealogist, describe her version of the time line, I did not completely comprehend its value, but as I tried to apply the principles she taught, I began to see a glimmer of hope.  In a nutshell, this is her system:

  1. Use a computer program to record your research.  Computers allow the space to record, and the ability to search all your notes quickly.
  2. Create the time line in the notes pages of your computer program.
  3. Include source citations, research notes, your comments about your research findings, conclusions, and what you plan to do next, etc.
  4. You can learn more about this system by reading Sister Clifford’s article, “Documentation: A Love-Hate Affair” in the Utah Genealogical Association’s Genealogical Journal, 1996, Number 4, a copy of which may be found in the Geneva Heights Family History Center. Also, see her Web site at

So let’s try it now and see how it works. Reserve the first line or two in your notes for variations in the spelling of names, especially surnames:

NAME_VARIANT: Eyre, Hare, Ayre.

AKA: Nancy.

Place data in chronological order and give each event a one-word title (tag) to quickly pinpoint what events are included and what events have yet to be found.  List the geographical location as Country (if outside the U.S.), State, County, and town/parish/township, etc., from the largest jurisdiction to the smallest. [Can you see the developing migration pattern in the example below?]

1863 BIRTH: England, Lincolnshire, Dowsby.

1870 CENSUS: NV, Lincoln, Bunkerville.

1880 CENSUS: UT, Washington, St. George.

Follow with the source citation, a colon (:), and then quote actual text from the record. Lastly, add any comments you may have (about the record itself, its condition, or your evaluation of the data) in square brackets [ ]. If the comments are very lengthy, you may want to put them in a separate paragraph.

1793 CHRISTENING: England, Lincolnshire, Crowland. Parish Records of Crowland, Lincolnshire, England: Son John, parents William LeFevre and wife Ann, christened 12 Mar 1793.


 Though at first Karen Clifford’s application of the time line seemed tedious, I determined to give it a try. For practice I would “start with myself” and at least record the chronology and source citations for the information I had gathered.

During this process, I found many of my sources were little more than hearsay. Furthermore, sources listed on old family group sheets referred to the family in general, rather than to specific fields; so I decided I would list these general sources at the beginning and cite a shortened version along with the data. This eventually resulted in a mini research log of all sources used:


Dotson, A. Lewis, 107 1st Ave. #13, Salt Lake City, UT, archive record William. Ellis Banks and Ellen Eyre:

Lowe, Alva J., Rt 1 B ox 4, Belgrade, MT, family records.

Banks, Joseph, brother of William Ellis Banks (1819), family history.

1833 BIRTH: England, Lincolnshire, Crowland. Dotson, archive record of Wm. Banks and Ellen Eyre: b. 31 Aug 1833, Crowland.

 The sources A. Lewis Dotson used when he prepared the archive record above, have been indented to indicate that he searched the sources; all I had was a copy of the archive record he submitted. Listing all sources together makes it easier to go find the record and verify data.  When I began, I already had some data in the computer for which I had no sources. These were recorded as follows until in my sorting I eventually identified the actual source.

1920 DEATH: Unknown source: 3 Mar 1920.

 Slowly and methodically, as I worked my way through my siblings’ and parents’ records, some interesting facts emerged. My father’s baptism had been incorrectly recorded in Fredonia, Arizona Ward Records. According to that date he would have been baptized at the age of 7.  From his older sister’s personal history I was able to determine the correct year. From her history I also learned details of my father’s life I had not known before.

Our family thought we had the family group records for my grandparents complete and well documented, but in creating time lines for them, I found some events where the dates from the different sources did not agree. I could assume the sheets my family submitted were correct, but it might be best to go back and recheck the sources one more time. This went on my to do list at the bottom of the notes:


Recheck Grandpa Steele’s death date in the sources listed to determine which is correct.

While recording data from an 1839 marriage certificate from England–one of my few “original” sources–I was pleasantly surprised to see how much detail there was:

1839 MARRIAGE: England, Surrey, Lambeth. Marriage certificate: 1839. Marriage solemnized at the Parish Church in the Parish of St. Mary Lambeth in the county of Surrey, No. 203, 17th Nov 1839; Joseph Peters Weeks, of full age, bachelor, accountant, father Joseph Forrester Weeks, attendant at the National Gallery; Ann Kearns, of full age, Spinster; father John Kearns, Coachman; residence at the time of marriage, Vauxhall Walk; married in the Parish Church according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Established Church, after Banns by me, J. Leigh Spencer Curate.  [The word “Walk” was difficult to read, but Vauxhall Walk, London is given as the abode of his father Joseph Forrester Weeks on his death record in 1843.]

 Our family has tried for years to extend this line without success.  As I reviewed this data, I realized that no one had ever checked the parish records at St. Mary Lambeth, which was likely the home parish of the bride’s family.  That’s something else I can put on my to do list.


Search the records of St. Mary parish, Lambeth, Surrey, England (London) for marriage of Joseph Peters Weeks and Ann Kearns, looking for siblings, parents, witnesses, etc.

 Although I have neither the time nor the patience to create time lines for all individuals in my database, I can already see the system’s usefulness for research on my direct-line ancestors, especially for the end-of-line or brick-wall problems. Once I reach the point where I am past the first-in-the-Church ancestors, my time lines may look quite different. For one thing, they will probably be shorter, since less is known.

Problem: The newer genealogical software now has a separate place, other than the notes pages, to record source documentation. Why not use that? Actually, you only want to enter as sources those records which justify conclusions made, as these print on the family group sheet; but sources also need to be in the time line, so they can be easily included in analysis, evaluation, and planning future searches.

It seems to me that an ideal way to share the work would be to make use of a family organization through which extended family members can all participate in the research effort.

Problem: Someone still needs to organize what is known before it can be parceled out to others. Some of the nieces and nephews in our family have offered to help, but the data I have was not in a form they could use. (Another problem is that I have talked about genealogy so much that everyone thinks everything is all done!) Creating a time line of what is known and identifying what is yet to be done, makes it possible to break the project up into bite-sized pieces so all can help.

I am enthused with the prospects for future research on my ancestors. I can hardly wait to do some real” research.  I already have some ideas of what to do next, and because everything is all compiled into one readable format, I can select an individual to start on and begin working through the to do list, one step at a time.

Below is a compilation of my notes and syllabus extracts I have made while attending Karen Clifford’s workshop presentations. A sample of a completed time line is shown here:



Hand-entered data collected from living family members.

Edward Bunker Sr History

Cemetery Records

Diary of Lois Earl Jones

Santa Clara Ward records

Ancestral File Download Feb 2000.

Archive Record submitted by H . Leland Lillywhite, Taylor, A Z.

Bunker Genealogy by Edward Carlton Moran Jr. p. 6 0-61, M 19 5, M 53 9 to M 54 9;

p. 6 0, 6 2, 6 3, M 19 5, M 55 0 to M55 6; p . 60 , 62 , M18 5, M 55 7 to M-56 6.

All previous Church Blessings reconfirmed and ratified on 18 Sep 1967.

 1822 BIRTH: ME, Piscataquis, Atkinson. Lillywhite, archive record: b 1 Aug 1822, Atkinson,

Piscataquis, ME.

1845 LETTER: IL, Hancock , Nauvoo. Nauvoo Ward Records 1841-1845. FHL film 889,392:

Letter dated August 5, 1845. [I have no notation as to what the letter was for or who it was written to.]

1845 BAPTISM : Lillywhite, archive  record: bap 13 Apr 18 45 .

1846 ENDOWMENT: IL, Hancock, Nauvoo. Lillywhite, archive record: end 7 Feb 1846 in the

Nauvoo Temple. [Last day the Nauvoo Temple was open .]

1846 MARRIAGE: IL, Hancock, Nauvoo. Lillywhite, archive record: 1) m Emily Abbott 9 Feb

1846 . [Civil m two days after receiving endowment and after Nauvoo Temple closed.]

1852 MARRIAGE: UT, Salt Lake, Salt Lake City. Lillywhite, archive record: m. Sarah Ann Browning 26 Jun 1852 EHOUS. [Emily must have stayed home with children.]

1852 SEALING_SPOUSE: UT, Salt Lake, Salt Lake City. Lillywhite, archive record: ss Sarah Ann Browning 26 Jun 1852 EHOUS.

1861 SEALING_SPO USE: UT, Salt Lake, Salt Lake City. Lillywhite, archive record. ss Emily Abbott 20 Apr 1 86 1 EHOUS. [Sa rah Ann must have stayed home with the children.]

1861 MARRIAGE: UT, Salt Lake, Salt Lake City. Lillywhite, archive record: m. Mary Mathieson McQuarrie 20 Apr 1 861 EHOUS.

1861 SEALING_SPOUSE: UT , Salt Lake, S alt Lake City. Lillywhite, archive record: ss Mary Mathieson McQuarrie 20 Apr 1861 EHOUS

1870 CENSUS: UT, Washington, Clara town [Santa Clara ]. 1870 Federal Census of Utah, FHL film 553112:

Name, Age, Sex, Color, Birth, Place, Other

Bunker, Edward 48 m w Maine

Emily 48 f w New Y ork

Hannah 16 f w Utah

Stephen 12 m w Utah

Elothes 12 f w Utah at school

William 10 m w Utah

Clesta 10 f w Utah

Jane 8 f w Utah

Celestia 8 f w Utah

Martin 7 m w Utah

Silas 6 m w Utah

Clifton 5 m w Utah

Leola 3 f w Utah

Viola 2 f w

Salina 1 f w

Kendel 9/12 m w Utah

NOTE:  The older children, Edward Jr., Emily, and Abigail Lucina, are not at home, married? Martin and Viola are children of Edward Bunker and Mary Mathieson McQuarrie. Clifton, Salina, and William are children of Edward Bunker and Sarah Ann Browning. I don’t know where Jane comes from, but Edward and Sarah have a James about 8.]

1901 DEATH: Mexico, Sonora, Colonia Morales. Lillywhite, archive record: d 17 Nov 1901, age 79.

1901 BURIAL: Mexico, Sonora , Colonia Morales. bur [17 or 18 Nov 1 901, Colonia Morales,

Sonora, Mexico. [In 1894 there was a law in Mexico that burial had to be with in 24 hours.]

1949 SEALING_PARENTS: UT, Salt Lake, Salt Lake City. Lillywhite, archive record: sp 19 May

1949 SLAKE.

In conclusion, I would like to share some tips for data entry learned from the school of experience:

  • Work when you are fresh and well rested.
  • Quit when you get tired; you will do better work.
  • Take your time and work in short, frequent sessions.
  • Find a quiet place to work where you won’t be interrupted and you can concentrate .
  • Jot down the modifications you make to the system so you can remember them next time.
  • Resist the temptation to guess or make assumptions.  Check it out.
  • Download a computer clipboard program and learn to use it well, so you can save multiple clips to use over and over.

Standards and Guidelines


  1.  Record all facts and clues pertaining to an individual with that individual.
  2. Determine in advance what notes will be entered under source notes and what notes will be entered under general notes.
  3. Determine in advance if you will abbreviate your citations, how you will do it, and how you will notify your readers of the meanings of these abbreviations.
  4. Do the same with any abbreviations of your abstracts.
  5. Notes listed in chronological order can help you to determine what sources were not searched, as well as which sources were located.
  6. Notes listed in standardized geographical format will point out migration and lead to new sources.
  7. Although an evaluation statement is not necessary with every item that has been data-entered, some documents require explanation.
  8. Remember to analyze the information you have gathered in light of the objective or goal (the purpose for which you searched for and copied the document).
  9. Keep track of ideas and unanswered questions which evolve as you record what you have found. List these under the TO DO category.
  10. Write a report to yourself.
  11. Record what you have done to avoid duplication.


Give each Family Group Record its own ID#. Then use this number to identify items you are searching on your research planner.

  1. Fill out in advanced of the work.
  2. Keep in computer, word processing template
  3. Write the Marriage Record Identification Number (MRIN) of person on planner. This will help with data entry.
  4. Set goals (the “holes” on your pedigree chart). Be specific.
  5. Put every goal on a separate page; break down into smaller goals.
  6. Break research down into one-hour intervals.
  7. Go to library and take notes on same page.
  8. Write down what you are going to do next.
  9. Plot ancestors’ moves on a map

Note Taking

All facts and clues pertaining to an individual should be recorded with that individual (keep notes on different individuals on different pieces of paper.

  1. Don’t combine surnames on the same page).
  2. Record what you have done to avoid duplication of research.
  3. Record date and extract # on the research planner.
  4. Use a pencil and an eraser.
  5. Three ways to copy:
    • Transcribe – verbatim copy.
    • Abstract – summary
    • Extract – leave out legal verbiage

Data Entry/Analysis

Use a consistent, standardized format for the entire process.

  1. When returning from a research trip, put post-it notes of MRIN numbers on the documents to remind yourself where you should enter them. Once they are entered, jot down LIGHTLY IN PENCIL somewhere on the actual document (the upper righthand corner), the FGR number or the MRIN number where you entered the data.  This aids in filing the document later. Print out an MRIN list from PAF.
  2. Place gathered documentation in chronological order based on the date of the information contained within each transcript, abstract or extract, not the date of publication. If a marriage certificate indicated a person was born in 1847, and you want to use the document to prove birth year, use 1847 as the year, not the year of the marriage certificate.
  3. Give each event a one-word event title (if possible) to quickly pinpoint what events are included and what events have yet to be found (e.g., this word should describe the event, not the source from which it originated.
  4. Next list the geographical location from the largest jurisdiction down to the smallest:
    • a. Country (if outside the U.S.)
    • b. State (two-letter postal abbreviation)
    • c. County
    • d. (with the word “county” abbreviated as “Co.”)
    • e. Town/parish/township
    • f. Post offices, river courses or other geographical designations.
  5. Evaluation of the document in light of the objective, or goal, for the use of that document should now be undertaken. Although an evaluation statement is not necessary with every item data entered, there are others which need an explanation.
  6. Put your comments in brackets [ ].
  7. Data enter from present backwards.
  8. Search notes for any word using the computer.
  9. Copy and paste source documentation from FHLC, CD version.
  10. Never enter a person without estimating dates.
  11. Localities should be entered in our databases as they were at the time of the event, not where they are now. Without this clue, researchers could be looking in the wrong place.


Document as you go: Who, what, when, where, how, and why.

  1. Always copy the front page of the source with the call number and copyright date provided, or copy the catalog entry.
  2. Include what was searched and not found.
  3. Documentation saves time.
  4. The work is accepted as credible.
  5. Different researchers will pick up leads started by others. Information that is recorded won’t be duplicated by another researcher.
  6. Researchers can synthesize an abundance of information more readily when it is organized and linked to the individual or family to whom it belongs and when it is chronologically and geographically listed.
  7. Very little editing will be needed when the family history is published using the genealogy research files.
  8. It gives credit and avoids plagiarism.

General Notes

Used primarily in the research process.

  1. If the data can be arranged chronologically and geographically, it will reveal clues and create a mental map of the life flow for individuals and families; and by so doing, it will aid in the research process.
  2. Elaborate on vital events.
  3. Accurately list additional clues provided in other documents.
  4. Chronologically list historical events. (Time Line)
  5. Geographically list historical events and the people involved in them.
  6. Keep track of negative searches while research is ongoing

Source Notes

  1. Source notes strictly cite a document.
  2. Justify conclusions based on what was recorded.
  3. Call attention to a specific detail rather than listing everything included in the document.
  4. Keep the flow focused on a story line without disruption of supportive text.
  5. Reporting the final results after the research is completed.
  6. Build a repository data base.
  7. Keep track of positive sources searches Brief Outline of Event Types





























NOTE: (comment, question, clarification, researcher-to researcher note, not an evaluation)






* Much more information is currently available.