Organisation and the Family Group Sheet

You know those adages that chefs never cook at home, and tradesmen tend to have a backlog of jobs needing to be done on their own home, and the like? Well... I fall into one of those kinds of categories. While my client research is scrupulously filed and organised, my own research is somewhat in disarray!

There are good reasons (excuses?) for this. Firstly, when I started researching my family tree 14 years ago, I was learning as I went along. And I was far too interested in what I was finding out to think about organisation. Secondly, returning to university and carrying out research for clients means that I have not devoted much time to my own research for the past few years. Thirdly, I have moved house six times in those 14 years - that is not conducive to good organisation!

But, no more excuses! The box files need to be tackled and my weapon of choice is the family group sheet.

It took me many years to fully appreciate the power of the family group sheet. I couldn't see what it gave me over and above my genealogy software. I printed out the odd one from the software and still couldn't see the benefit. I'm still not sure I know exactly when it clicked for me, other than it was during my university courses and all of a sudden it just worked. Maybe I needed to reach a critical mass of information before I could see the benefit. I have used several different formats from different places before trying to configure my own. After much tweaking, I think I have found the best format for me.

The sheet below is an example from my own research.

Example Family Group Sheet

I compile the family group sheet separately from the data in the genealogy software.

I have a process.  Once I have found a document, I enter all the relevant information into my genealogy software, then I enter any relevant information into the appropriate family group sheet, and then file the document with the sheet. I make up a kind of 'pack' in a clear plastic, punched pocket (polypocket) with the family group sheet in front and all the supporting documents filed behind it. The packs are then filed in a ring binder.

The documents that I would file with the family group sheet are:

  • Documents giving evidence of the birth, christening, marriage, death and burial of the named couple.
  • Wills or other probate/testamentary evidence.
  • Census records for the couple (if appropriate) dating from their marriage onwards (and optionally census records before their marriage if not with their parents).

I can see clearly at a glance what I do and don't know, and what I need to look for to build out that family. And, I know exactly where to find a specific document. The family group sheet allows me to zero in on a specific target, rather than dealing with the overwhelming amount of information in my genealogy software databases.

So for the next few weeks, I'm going to be sorting through my box files, organising all the copies of the documents I have listed above into packs and family group sheets. It will be nice to see my research organised to the same standard as my clients'. And once that is completed, I can look at how to organise the rest of the contents of the box files. But that is for another time.