Genealogy Help

Record keeping

Guidance on recording and keeping your findings

The key to building a great family tree is all about the quality of the records you keep.

If you need to retrace your steps, for example, as a result of a red herring - an error in the primary or secondary data you have collected, good records will assist you.

It is also a good way of sharing information and avoiding the possibility of duplicating or omitting records.


If you are using the IGI for data, you are able to download information directly from their website, and import it into your genealogy programme (assuming you are using one). Use this as a means of replicating the search at any time to confirm and expand your understanding.

If you are using any other form of online resource, it is normally possible to copy/paste the references into your programme.

OK, so you may not use a computer programme (I thoroughly recommend you think about it), so record the references against each and every record you obtain.

This is fine for primary data, but secondary data is where accurate records come into their own. If, for example, you link into my family tree and you use the data I have collected, you should proceed with caution - you don't know whether I have collected or interpreted it correctly and if indeed the link is accurate. In this case, record the source of your data - for example, Source: Thom Poole's research via Gene Poole. In this way, you will always know whether the information was collected and checked by you, or if you are relying on someone else.

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Different Types of Data

There are effectively three types of data you will be dealing with:

  • Source data.
  • Information data.
  • Evidence data.

Source data is either in its original form, as it was when it was first recorded or in a derivative format. A derivative is a source that is extracted, transcribed or otherwise pulled from the original - it does, of course, depend on the quality of the derivative.

Information data can be primary - coming from someone who has/had first-hand knowledge of the person or the event in question. The other form is secondary, often provided by someone or something with secondhand knowledge, and probably not present or associated with the person or event at the time.

Evidence can be one of three. It can be direct - namely that it answers the question that you are looking to answer, for example, a census return listing the age of a person. It can be indirect evidence, in which the source is correct or relevant, but it requires additional information or evidence to confirm. Finally - evidence can be negative. This is often the case when you disprove a family story or myth. This would be where the key evidence for the story is missing.

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The Internet provides a great deal of useful genealogical information, some of which has been transcribed for easier searching. This is unsubstantiated secondary information, so double check it, or record it as needing checking. Many genealogy programmes now come with 'to-do' lists where you can remind yourself to check a particular entry or record.

If you are doing your primary research in libraries or archives, make sure you record the place, book or microfiche name and number and if applicable, the location with the records that your entry is to be found. Some places will allow you to print or copy the text, other will allow you to photograph the records. Everything helps.

A trick that I use is to record all my bloodline with capitalised surnames. Siblings of my direct ancestors do not have their surname is blocked capitals, so when I search the database, I can pick out the bloodline very quickly. Many software packages allow you to colour code numerous bloodlines to add your navigation.

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