How to Record Your Family History

Recording your family history is important for keeping track of your research and where the information came from, as well as for sharing what you found with others.

1. Preserve Your Family History

Recording and preserving any family photos, documents, or memories you already have can ensure they will be there for you (and others) to use in the future. As well as preserving any original documents you have, it is a good idea to make copies to use, keep, display, and share.

  • Record audio, video, or written memories from your own life or for your relatives.
  • Preserve original photos and documents safely in a box or album (keep them at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, and choose archival quality paper or storage materials).
  • Scan documents or photos and backup the files safely – use the digital images for your research to avoid damaging the originals and print copies to display so you can keep the originals safe.

The US National Archive has some detailed advice on preserving family photos and other documents.

2. Keep Your Family History Research Organised

Keeping everything organised as you investigate your family history can prevent a lot of confusion. Two useful things to do are to find a way to identify individuals (other than their names, which aren’t always unique) and to make sure that you’re recording where you have looked for and found evidence.

  • Assign everyone an ID number and use it whenever you mention them (this will be especially useful when people have the same names).
  • Always note exactly where the information came from – saving sources to an online family tree on a genealogy website is the easiest way to do this, but you can also do it in a spreadsheet or on paper.
  • Save (and back up) copies of any important documents you find online, especially if you will lose access to them when your subscription to a genealogy site runs out. Record the source and change the file name to make it easier to identify later.

3. Write Up Your Research

Writing up your family history can bring everything together and make it easier to share. As well as taking notes as you work, you might want to create more organised documents or write up some of the most interesting stories you’ve found.

  • Individual profiles summarising information and sources for one person. You can create in-depth profiles for relatives you know or ancestors you found more information on, or summarise basic information for all of your ancestors (this is sometimes called an Ahnentafel).
  • Family profiles bringing together information about a family group (usually parents and siblings).
  • Narratives or biographies bringing together everything you know. You might write a biography of an interesting ancestor or the story of an entire line of your family. Presenting your research as a story can make it more appealing and easier for other people to read.

4. Create a Family Tree

Creating a family tree is a concise way to present your genealogy research. There are various types of family trees that you can create.

  • Full trees show every member of a family, which might include siblings and cousins. It can be a good way to show your close family connections.
  • Direct ancestor trees show only the parents of each person, without any siblings or other relations. You start with one person, add their parents, then their parents’ parents and so on. You could limit the tree to one line of your ancestors (such as those who share one surname).
  • Descendant trees are created in the opposite direction, showing the children, the children’s children and so on.

Ideas for Organising and Recording Your Family Tree:

Follow @TimeTravelGuides on Pinterest to see these ideas.