Art of Family History | Episode 29
4 Creative Ways To Use Genealogy Worksheets To Save Time And Money
PRUDENCE: How are you using genealogy worksheets to help discover your family history?
Let’s face it, they are a research staple for family historians to use to track discoveries and build a picture of their ancestors’ life.
They range in complexity from single-page family group records to detailed multi-page, multi-purpose documents. They are the first genealogy tool many family history enthusiasts use to capture vital facts such as birth, death, and marriage. You can also use them to track what you’ve discovered and prompt you where to look next.
Today, on the Art of Family History, episode 29, I’m exploring genealogy worksheets and the different ways to use them to assist in your research.
Keep watching to hear my thoughts on:
- the value of genealogy worksheets
- four different ways to use them
- three questions to ask to know which worksheet is the right fit for you.
INTRODUCTION: If this is your first time here, hello, I’m Prudence, The Creative Family Historian. I’m a graphic designer who helps genealogists — like you — bring their family history to life by converting research into stories and beautiful heritage keepsakes.
On this channel, I provide tips on family history productivity, organisation, writing and design, as well as sharing my current journey as I undertake a genealogy reset.
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Are you ready to talk all about worksheets? Let’s dive in.
I began actively “tracing my family tree” in the early 1990s. And yes, that’s how I described it to people so they’d understand what I was doing. Genealogy wasn’t a well-known hobby at the time, at least not with anyone I knew.
I took being a family history novice to a whole new level! For the first two years of my research, the only way I knew to gather information was to ask people to share what they knew. No one had told me about libraries, newspaper archives, microfiche, or microfilm at this stage, so I worked with what I had. And I had relatives, so I started there.
Of course, I didn’t have access to any kind of genealogy worksheet. In fact, I wouldn’t know where or how to find any for another twenty years. So I created a basic form and mailed it to my dad’s siblings. It did the job, and my genealogy journey had begun.
Fast forward 30-ish years, and that basic form evolved into the Essential Ancestor Discovery Worksheet, my multi-page, multi-purpose genealogy tool that you can grab for free from my website.
And I wasn’t the only person making their own worksheet. Today there are dozens available for purchase or download on the internet. That makes sense, right? After all, people have different goals and research styles, so they need a worksheet to support both.
Single-page worksheets, such as a family group record, are fantastic for collecting direct line relationships and all the vital record details. Those details typically include full name, birth, death, marriage, burial, parents, spouse, and children.
Multi-purpose worksheets come into their own to help you compile all the details that made up your ancestors’ life. Of course, you’ll still be capturing the vital record details; those are the foundation facts of your ancestral discoveries. But you’ll also be looking for and gathering information about where your ancestor lived, worked, went to school, what they looked like, their grandparents and siblings etc.
No matter what level of detail you’re capturing, genealogy worksheets help reduce duplication. Something I think that we all want because it saves us time while making it easier to see connections and clues.
Ultimately, genealogy worksheets are a research tool. Still, you can use them for more than capturing your discoveries. And because that is probably the most popular way, let’s explore that first.
Use your favourite genealogy worksheet as a place to initially compile your ancestral discoveries.
This method is the standard practice that will be familiar to most family historians. You use the fields as prompts on what type of information to find —for example, date and place of birth— and then add the details as you discover them. Once you are confident the discovery is correct, add the details to your family tree software and continue your research.
You’ll only need one worksheet per ancestor for this process to ensure that you don’t duplicate efforts by searching for details you already know.
Next up is my favourite way to use these worksheets, and that’s as a form for others to complete.
As I mentioned earlier, this is how I started my genealogy journey, and I still use this technique today. And that is to mail (or email) the worksheet to relatives with a request to fill in what information they know.
I love this process because you can send a semi-completed form and get confirmation on your discoveries, plus the opportunity to learn new details along the way.
The fields act as a question, just like any other form someone might complete. If you’re concerned that many blank spots might be overwhelming, highlight the sections where you hope they can help.
And the bonus of mailing out forms is that if your relatives complete them by hand, you’ll get a sample of their writing to use in family history keepsakes down the track.
The third way to use your genealogy worksheet is as a to-do list.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know how much I love lists. They organise the chaos, take the guesswork out of what to do next and are a visual reminder of your achievements. It’s like having a cheerleader who keeps you on track and celebrates everything you’ve done
You can use the worksheet as your to-do list; each blank field is simply a prompt on the type of information to focus a search on. Work your way through each section until you’ve exhausted all possibilities.
Another way is to create a to-do list in your research log from your blank or semi-completed worksheets. Now, this is easier than you think. You’ll find a step-by-step demonstration in the video shown on the screen right now. This link can also be found in the description box below.
The fourth way to use genealogy worksheets is to capture where the information was found.
Citing sources or even remembering to capture where you found the information is the cause of much angst for many family historians. Let’s be honest, it’s not the fun part of genealogy research, but it’s essential to do it. Nothing worse than needing to double-check something and not knowing where you found the initial information. I think we’ve all been guilty of that at least once.
You’ll use a separate worksheet for this task. So, you’ll have the initial worksheet where you capture the information you discover and a separate one where you write down where you found the information.
If you like to complete your worksheets by hand, you can print the document twice, so it’s the same on the back and the front of your page. You’ll write the discovery on one side and note the source on the other.
And the good news is that you can use any type of worksheet in all these ways. Which brings us to the big question of how do you decide which type of worksheet is the best option for you?
You can start trying out each type of worksheet to see if it’s a good fit for the way you work. Or you could answer these three questions to explore your why, what and how.
- Why are you researching your family history?
- What is the outcome you want to achieve?
- How do you achieve that result?
Let me give you a couple of examples of what that might look like.
Meet Person A. They want to research the direct line relationships in their paternal family history. They aim to go back as far as possible and hope to find at least 10 generations of ancestors. And they want to discover the vital facts—full name, birth, death, marriage, burial, parents, spouse, and children—for each person. So they’ll focus on archives such as historical newspapers plus births, deaths, marriages, cemetery and census records to achieve that result.
Therefore Person A will find a single-page family group record the most beneficial in their research. Because they aren’t interested in capturing additional details, a multi-page form would be unwieldy and unnecessary.
Now let’s meet Person B and explore their why, what, and how. This person is looking for stories and wants to get to know all their ancestors. They want to know everything. So all the vital facts plus where each person lived, went to school, worked, what they looked like and who they were. They’ll take the “no record left unsearched” approach and look through every relevant historical document they can find.
So Person B will get value from a multi-purpose worksheet like the Essential Ancestor Discovery Worksheet. Not only will it help them track their discoveries, but it also prompts them about other information that might be available. Information that they’ll be able to use to craft stories and create keepsakes to share with their relatives.
So what do you think?
Does this inspire you to use your worksheets differently? Or do a genealogy tool audit and see if what you currently use is the best option to help you achieve your goals?
There is no “one-size-fits-all” tool. Instead, it’s about finding the best fit for your goals and research style. As a result, you’ll likely require a complete toolkit of worksheets and resources to achieve your desired outcome.
I’ve changed worksheets and other tools several times over the years. My original worksheet was quite simple and did the trick, but my needs changed as I gained experience as a researcher. As a result, I now have a process for my research and a system for storing the discoveries. And my multi-purpose worksheet is an integral part of that.
The way you research will change as you evolve as a family historian. So will the tools you use and the way that you use them. That’s completely normal, and it’s a good thing.
Let’s keep the conversation going. I’d love to hear your current genealogy goal and what type of worksheet is helping you achieve it.
And let me know if you have a question about a different genealogy organisation, writing or design problem that you’d like me to answer. Look for the link to the Ask the Creative Family Historian submission form in the description below. I can’t wait to hear from you.
That’s it from me, so I’ll see you in the next video. Until then, happy storytelling!