I LOVE excel for my genealogy work. I use it for all kinds of databases I have compiled because it is useful for sorting information in different columns to reveal patterns and missing information. I use Excel to make my own 5 Gen charts and family group sheets. I designed my own family group sheets using Excel for several reasons.
Family Group Sheet created in Excel
- I HATE my handwriting. I love being able to keep my group sheets readable and professional looking. And often, the spaces in pre-printed forms are too small for me to write my information in. So when I take my binder of group sheets to the library, I write notes all over them and later make changes to my Excel file then reprint. Often, as I’m typing things into the Excel file, more questions come to mind that I didn’t think of at the library. (Why does that always seem to happen?) I include these questions in my bottom “Notes” section to allow me to continue my train of thought.
- I was able to include fields that the forms I had been using didn’t include or take out fields that I never use. For example, my forms have a space for cemetery name and location, more spaces for children, space for notes for the husband and wife and then an additional notes box at the bottom for general family notes or a “to-do” list. I do not have spaces for christenings or sealing dates since those don’t apply to my family.
- I can use color and formatting to help keep track of my research. For example:
- Questions or comments to myself are in red. Un-confirmed information from another researcher can be in green. Contact information for that researcher would also be in green in the “Notes” section at the bottom.
- Boxes that will never have information can be shaded or colored. For example: a child who dies at birth will not have marriage information.
- The name of my direct ancestor can be in bold. This helps me in families that have multiple uses of the same name.
- You can’t see it in the image, but I use the footer to indicate the life span of the husband and the counties that I have found records in.
The only thing I DON’T like about group sheets using Excel is that I can’t use the reference tools that I can with Word. (At least not in my current version. Maybe it’s been updated?) In Word, I click a reference button and it automatically selects my footnote number and then jumps to the footnote location for me to enter my citation. If I find new information closer to the top of my group sheet, it automatically rearranges my footnotes and updates all of the numbers. In Excel, I can enter my own superscripts for footnotes, but they don’t change automatically if I add something new. And I have just enough OCD tendencies that I can’t stand to see my numbers out of order. (Must be the math teacher in me…)
So I recently started converting my charts to Word files to take advantage of the reference options there. The conversion is slow, but so far, I like it.
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In my filing cabinet, I have a hanging folder for each family I am researching. I have a regular school-type 3 prong folder for each family. I buy these in bulk at “back to school” time when I can usually get them for about 10 cents each. There are 4 colors of folders – a different color for each of my grandparents and their ancestors. The folders are arranged in my filing cabinet alphabetically by color (a different section in the cabinet for each color). When I start a new folder, I begin by putting 5 top loading sheet protectors in the prongs. I use these sheet protectors for copies and print outs of records that I find. The very first page is always the group sheet for that family. My goal is for my folder to be like a chronological booklet of evidence for that family. Some folders eventually have more sheet protectors added, but not all of them. I like the sheet protectors because it’s easy to rearrange the order of the printouts and I don’t break the prongs with overuse.
In the front pocket of the folder, I keep group sheets for each child (if I’ve researched them) and my typed notes for the family. These notes are written as a timeline and every single piece of information that I can find on the family is included in these notes along with footnotes of sources. I recently decided to also add thumbnail images of all of my sources so that I can tell at a glance if I have a copy of the original or a transcription from a book, etc. It also reminds me if I need to scan a document. I am a very visual person, so seeing the thumbnail helps me remember where I am in my research. I also include thumbnails of photos I have for the family to help me remember that their lives were more than a list of dates and places.
In the back pocket of the folder, I keep print outs of census images, correspondence and index listing from books I have been looking at. I do not include the census print outs in the sheet protectors simply because there are usually quite a few print outs for a family. I crop the digital census images to include just the information of my family and include it as an image in my typed notes.
Copies of documents for my direct line are kept with the parents’ folder until the time of their marriage. My notes for each person include all sources of information from birth through death, but I know that the copy of the source is in the parents’ folder if it occurred before their marriage. This works well for me because the thumbnail images in the typed notes remind me that I have a document in another folder that I can easily access and it cuts down on the amount of paper in my filing cabinet.
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I have a file system for my computer, for my filing cabinet and for my traveling research. I use binders for traveling to libraries or to visit families and of course, I always have my laptop or flashdrive with my full files on it as well as my digital camera.
I have a binder for each of my 4 grandparents. Each binder begins with a 5 generation chart and then I have dividers for each surname. I have my family group sheets for each surname, which helps me decide if the “John Smith” record I’m looking at is for my great-great-grandfather or for his son’s son. I’m currently working on adding my endnotes for each piece of information on the group sheet. I have done a fairly decent job of keeping track of my sources in my Family Tree Maker program, but I had never included these sources on my group sheets. It has always been a huge frustration to me to be in the middle of my research at the library, to look at a group sheet and wonder where in the world I got THAT date from! So my top priority right now is bringing my citations up to date.
When I go to the library, I bring along the binder for the branch I’ll be working on as well as the folder for the specific family I intend to research. That way, if I come across information for another possible connection, I can look at my group sheets to see if it’s worth noting for future research or not.
I purposely try to keep these binders as stream lined as possible. It is so easy for me to get side tracked during my research and I find that I can keep myself on track much easier if I don’t have the temptation of looking at my full information on any other lines except for my chosen line of the day. I also know that I’m less likely to make a spur of the moment trip to the library if I have to make a big plan for what I’m bringing along – not to mention the weight of my back pack! I simply grab my laptop, my binder and 1 or 2 family folders from my filing cabinet and away I go!
In my backpack, I keep my post-it notes handy to keep track of sources I’d like to come back to on other family lines. I cite the source and page number on the post-it and stick it to the correct family group sheet so I’ll remember to come back to it at a future date.
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