First Steps Getting Started in Genealogy
Almost anyone can sit down with a pencil and paper and start copying
information, but it pays to be extra careful when you're doing genealogical
research. Repeating research because you can't read or understand your
notes is no fun. Following the tips listed below should help you avoid
any note-taking pitfalls.
Write everything down. The amount of information you collect will
grow rapidly. If you try to rely on your memory, you may easily forget
or become confused. This also applies to those who insist that they
will "write it down later", which often leads to more errors.
Don't use homespun abbreviations. Abbreviations are often confusing
when you go back to review your notes. They also can lead to inaccurate
information. Use standard abbreviations (b for born, d for died, m
Record your sources. If you write down the name, location, and the
date that you searched each source, you can easily return to that
source later and you'll always know what sources you've already checked.
It's helpful to keep a different list of sources for each person (or
each last name) in your family tree. Many genealogy programs includes
a sources/notes field for most dates and events that you record. You
may also want to use a pen and paper or spreadsheet software to create
a research log, or you can print the blank
research log that we've prepared. To open and print it, you will
need the free Acrobat®
Reader® from Adobe.
Record each person's name in full. It's especially important to list
a woman's maiden name. Be sure to avoid abbreviations here; you may
have more than one J. Smith within your family. If a person has a
nickname, put it between quotation marks (e.g., "Tip").
Be careful with dates. Most genealogists use a day/month/year format.
The actual format you use is not as important as spelling out the
month and using the complete year. Dates can be ambiguous, you can
interpret the date 4/7/76 as April 7 or 4 July 1976 (or 1876, or 1776,
etc.). Writing out the month and year reduces the chance of misinterpreting
dates no matter what format you use. Many genealogy software programs
convert all dates to the style you choose and will also accept double
dates. For an explanation of double dates, see Double
Copy information — especially dates, locations, and last names
— exactly as you find it. You can interpret your findings later
when you have time to review your notes and make comparisons with
other information. This is particularly important when copying down
last names. Over time they often take on many spellings. In general,
never change information to what you think it ought to be.
Take notes in such a way that they'll be understandable to you, or
anyone else, when reviewed later. The hastily written note often makes
sense at the time you write it, but can be really confusing when you
look at it days later.
Write clearly. If you've ever read old records, you know how frustrating
it can be trying to decipher someone's handwriting. Write legibly
today so that others will be able to read the information tomorrow...or
50 years from now.