Amp-Up Your Group Sheet!

Every family that we research has a different puzzle to be solved. Who were the parents? Have I found all of the siblings? Was the person who witnessed that deed related in some way?

Because every family is different, doesn’t it make sense that customizing each Family Group Sheet would be helpful? Sometimes, I’d like to have information for more than just a couple and their children. I wasn’t able to make the changes that I wanted to with the current format of the Family Group Sheet that I had originally created. To help with this, I’ve created an updated version of the half-sheet FGS and it is now available in the “Downloads” tab at the top of the screen. I’m deleting the old version as this new version looks exactly the same, but has more flexibility than the original version did.

I have 3 specific families that I have been working on recently that I am using the “Amped-Up” FGS to help me with. The video will show you what I did to keep track of all of the pieces for these puzzles.

For the first family, both the husband and his wife were born in Europe and met after arriving in the US. I wanted to add cells to their Family Group Sheet to keep track of any information I had found related to their immigration. When I attempted to add those cells to the group sheet, the formatting was not behaving the way that I wanted. With the updated FGS, I am able to add as many cells as I’d like to the form.

The second family puzzle was a little more detailed. I have been trying to find all of the children of James Conn Sr, who was born in 1751. He did not leave a will, but I know that the land was passed on to his children based on various deeds that I have found after James’ death. Some children indicated that they were selling their 1/11th share of the land. Some grandchildren indicated that land they were selling had been passed on to them from their parents and James Conn’s original patent was mentioned in the deed. I’m attempting to find all of James’ children to see if anything in their records would tell me the name of James’ wife. In order to prove who the children were, I wanted to search for any deed records for James’ children, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. I did not want to create group sheets for every great-grandchild, but I wanted a way to keep the lists of names managable. I have found a way to do that using my updated FGS.

For the third family, I am attempting to solve the mystery of a previously unknown sister from Kansas. I wanted a way to keep the information for 3 generations of the family all on one FGS so that I would know where to be looking for records and in what time period.

Remember, the updated half-sheet FGS is available in the “Downloads” tab at the top of the blog. That is the base for the techniques that I’ll be sharing in today’s video tutorial. Maybe this video will help you think of some ways to customize your own group sheet. If it does, I’d love to hear from you!


The Features of theTax Database

Yesterday, I wrote about the benefits of tracking your ancestors through the tax lists in the county where they lived. Today, I have uploaded the companion video to go with the Excel file, which is available in the “Downloads” tab at the top of the blog.

Watch the video to see the features of the database and different ideas of how it can help you with your research.

A Roadmap Through Tax Lists

As I get further back in my family tree, I have to do a lot more detective work to find my ancestors because of the lack of vital records. Census records only appear every 10 years, and in Kentucky, there is no 1800 census so there are 18 years between statehood and a census record. Once you get into available census records and an ancestor “disappears”, how do you know if he died or moved away? How can you find out where he went? When did he leave? Who else went? Land records are often helpful, but can be difficult to locate and don’t usually indicate if someone is selling land because they are moving to a new location.

Enter tax records! I’ve had great success in finding tax records on FamilySearch for counties in Kentucky. My library (Allen County Public Library) also has microfilms of tax records for every county in Kentucky through the 1850’s, so tax lists are my “go to” record when I’m stumped.

Kentucky began collecting annual taxes from the very beginning of statehood in 1792. Every male aged 21 and older was to be included on the lists as long as they owned at least 1 horse. This means that an ancestor (or his children) didn’t even have to own land to be included on the list.

Beginning in 1795, columns were added to the tax list to indicate who had entered, surveyed and patented the land – helpful when looking for the origin of an ancestor’s original land in a county. In that same year, they began tracking the number of white males above the age of 16 in addition to those above 21.  By 1821, the tax lists were used to track the number of school aged children between 4 and 14. In 1840, this changed to children between the ages of 7 and 17.

All this to say that I spend a lot of time looking at tax records! When census records indicate that someone has passed away since the last census, if I can’t find a death record, I go to the tax records to see when their name was included last. Often, you will find a person paying taxes for the deceased individual or their heirs. That’s an important name to have! If I suspect that an ancestor moved to a new location, I look at the tax records in each location to see if their name disappears from one list and appears on the other list at the same time. I also try to track the other entries for the same surname to see if they were joining family or if family traveled together.

This means a lot of information to track! So over the years, I developed an Excel worksheet to help me to keep track of the information. As I would collect information for different years, I would add appropriate columns to the database to keep track of it all. Every clue to track an ancestor is worth keeping!


I’ve decided to make the form available in the “Downloads” tab at the top of the blog. I’ve also made a new video to show the different features of the form as well as different things to help you make the most of it. I’m planning to finish that video today and to post it tomorrow wo be sure to check back then!

Link ’em!

In a comment to my blog post “Forms Shape the Research”, Tammy asked, “How do you link the forms together so knowing at a glance who is connected to who, etc.” The ability to link forms together is one of the reasons that I am so addicted to working in Microsoft Word and Excel! Not only can we link one form with another, but we can link MULTIPLE documents together allowing one document to become almost like a table of contents for documents related to every member of a family. Let’s look at an example. I’ll start with a Family Group Sheet. This is the half-sheet Family Group Sheet that’s available in the downloads tab at the top of this blog, but you could use the full sheet form as well.


Here I have a Group Sheet for Eli Gilpin and his wife, Rebecca Conn. In this group sheet, I have included citations for the different sources of information for all of the family members. But sometimes, just knowing the source isn’t helpful for “on the spot” questions. The citation is telling where the information was found, but it isn’t telling me what I named the file when I downloaded it and it certainly doesn’t tell me all of the clues contained within the document. If I create hyperlinks to the documents, not only do I not have to remember what I called a document, but with a single click, I can open the document to take a look at it.

For example, when I look at the citation for the death of Nancy Jane Gilpin Scott, I see that there is an Administrator’s Bond in an un-numbered book dated 1908-1924 and that the bond is on page 293. But what if I wanted to see who that administrator was? Who were the sureties for the bond? What amount was the bond for? If I make the date on the group sheet into a link, I can click on it and go directly to the bond itself to answer all of my questions.

To make a hyperlink, begin by highlighting the text you’d like to make linkable. In this case, the text will be the date of death. After the text is highlighted, click on the “Insert” tab at the top of the screen and click on “Hyperlink” in the middle of the ribbon.


When you click on “Hyperlink”, a new box will pop up and you will need to decide exactly what you’d like to link to. You might want to link to a document that you’ve downloaded or scanned and saved on your computer. Or if you found the document online, you might want to link to the location where you found the document. If you are linking to an online location, you will need to copy the web address for that document to paste into the “Address” box at the bottom.


If you are linking to a document that you have stored on your computer, you will clik on the folder at the top of the box and find the location of the document that way.


One you have added the location for your document, click “OK” and link
your text will turn blue, indicating that it is now clickable. To click the link, you will need to hold down the Ctrl button as you click. Notice that the hyperlink does not affect the footnote superscript at all as long as that wasn’t highlighted before you created the link.

The steps for linking from within an Excel document are the same except that the “Hyperlink” button in the “Insert” tab is in a slightly different location.


What if you have more than one document for a fact? You might decide to link one document to the date and another document to the location. But it might be even better to highlight part of your citation text and make THAT a hyperlink. This would be especially helpful if you have several documents you’d like to link to one fact. Each citation would become a link to it’s specific document.

Now, just think of all the things that we could hyperlink for on this one family group sheet.

  • I could link Eli’s name to the chronological notes document that I have created for him.
  • I could link county names with county GenWeb sites or historic county maps.
  • I could link documents for every birth, marriage or death event on the entire sheet.
  • I could link the names of each child with their own group sheet.
  • If the in-law are families that I am tracking, I could link a child’s spouse’s name to the Family Group Sheet for THEIR family. In this case, Nancy Jain’s husband’s family is also in my line, so I could link that THAT group sheet.
  • I could link items that I’ve included in the “Notes” section of this Group Sheet for Eli, Rebecca and their children – for example, the marriage records for additional spouses or the web page that talks about the history of Gilpin, Kentucky.
  • I could link the cemetery names to the Find-A-Grave page or to a cemetery map.
  • I could use the blank spaces below the children to list different helpful documents I’ve created – Eli’s Family Land Sheet, Inventory, Tax Tracker or 5 Gen Chart and link to each of those.
  • Or I could use a few of the cells to keep links for web sites I’d like to come back to at a later date.

The possibilities are endless!

Forms Shape the Research

I love forms! When I have documents stored on my laptop, it’s great to know that I have them, but do I know if I’ve read them all? I don’t mean collected them all, that’s obvious. But have I READ them all?

When I am filling out the information for a 5-Gen chart, Excel database, Ancestor Inventory,  Family Group Sheet or Land Sheet, it really forces me to LOOK at every document and then to think about what it means. When I make a chronological list of every document that mentions a specific ancestor, it helps me to see missing information that I should be searching for.

When my ancestor appears in records for a different county, did he move, or did the boudary change? Do I need to look for additional records in a parent county? Have I collected information for his/her children or siblings?

The forms guide me to look for connections with people who have different surnames. Sure, I have a document that says an ancestor’s daughter was married on a certain date at a certain location, but have I thought about researching that new son-in-law? Did he move away or did he stick close by? If he stayed nearby, is it because his family is also from that same area? Were they witnesses for deeds or court situations? Could those in-laws be related to my ancestor’s wife? Where did they come from? Is that a location that I should also research? Did that son-in-law get a share of my ancestor’s property after he passed away? If so, who else also got a share?

But my forms not only help to shape my research, but they also help me to keep my research in shape!

Filling in the forms helps me keep my research “tidy”. Are the files named correctly? When I first started researching, I was happy with a file name “1850 Census” because each ancestor had their own folder. But over time, I developed a naming convention for all of my files and whenever I’m filling out a form, that’s an opportunity for me to make sure the file name is consistent with my naming formula.

Was the document easy to find? If it wasn’t where I expected it to be within my file folders, should it be moved to a better location? Was the document mistakingly filed under an ancestor with the same name? Has the file been hyperlinked to the form so I don’t have to be searching to find it the next time? If it has been hyperlinked, do I want the link to take me to my laptop file, my cloud file or to the location where I originally found the file?

Has the file been backed up to the cloud? If my laptop were to crash, would I still be able to retrieve all of my files? I have every document stored in the cloud as well as on my laptop so that if I’m traveling with my iPad, I’ll still have access to the files. I like having it on my laptop for those times when I don’t have internet access.

I truly believe that everytime I fill out a form for an ancestor, I find a hole in my research or a document that I forgot that I had.

Gotta love those forms!

Do You Know What You’re Looking For?

Sometimes, I like to surf through editions of “The Adair County News” found on the Chronicling America section of the Library of Congress because I occassionally run across an unexpected tidbit for one of my ancestors and to get a flavor for the timenegative-one-degrees.

You might see some information to give you a little background on what was happening in the life of your ancestor.




Or read about a political scandal:



Usually they included a lot of local news (gossip?) for Russell County, including this gem for a new store in Russell County which apparently sold “Dry Gods” and “Booots”! (So happy for spell check now!)


Each section of local news contained a header with the name of the community that was reporting. But did you know that the names of some of the towns in Russell County changed over time?

If you’re looking for a section for Russell Springs, you’d better know how the town name changed over time.

This area was known as “Big Boiling Springs” by 1850. There were many mineral springs in the area which were sought after for their health-giving properties and eventually, (by the 1890’s) it became a resort area with a 25 room hotel and a 10 room motel.

“Big Boiling Springs” became “Russell Springs” by 1855, but by 1888, the town was named “Kimble”. In the earliest editions of “The Adair County News”, Kimble is what you should be looking for.

The name “Russell Springs” made a come-back in 1901 and it has kept it’s name since that time.

Civil War Pension Cards Bonus

I’ve been doing some research on an ancestor who served in the Civil War and I was  happy to find Pension Index Cards for this individual on 3 different sites – but that wasn’t the bonus. The bonus was that the two cards were not the same!


Fold3 and FamilySearch



The top card was from Fold3 and it matched the card found on FamilySearch. The bottom card was from Ancestry, but it had the added information of the wife’s name and the date in which the Widow’s Pension aplication was filed – which has helped me to narrow down the date of death significantly. I think in the back of my mind, I knew there were different versions of the card, but I’ve been so focus on Revolutionary War times, I have to get my brain back in gear!

I’ve done some research on the subject and some excellent information can be found on the LegacyTree Genealogists web page. Click here to read their article. But the outline of the information is this:

  • At some point in the process of accounting for all the soldiers who applied and received Civil War pensions, two series of cards were created – each with a slightly different purpose and organizational strategy.
  • The set on Fold3 (NARA T289) is organized by geographic and military units. (You can click through the cards to see everyone who served in a specific unit.)
  • Lisa’s note – the cards on FamilySearch are the same as the cards on Fold3, but they are arranged alphabetically.
  • The Fold3 cards will often (though not always) contain the soldier’s death date at the bottom.
  • The set on Ancestry (NARA T288) is organized alphabetically by the soldier’s last name.
  • The Ancestry card will frequently include the name of the soldier’s widow or other dependents as well as the state from which the applications were filed.

But did you also know that there’s an additional index which can be helpful if you can’t clearly read the numbers on these cards? NARA A1158 has the pensions indexed by number for the Army or Navy service in the Civil War and later. This can be found on Fold3 here.  At this time, it is only 20% complete but the ones that have been completed are indexed by name. When you look at the application and certificate numbers, you can currently find some cards for numbers between 1-276585. If you think a number that you are looking at is between those two numbers, you might be able to confirm the number using this index. Isaac’s numbers are not in this range so here’s another example.



This is an Index Card found on Fold3 for Elias Smith. Perhaps I don’t know that this is the correct Elias because the name was pretty common in the area and no wife is mentioned. (Although in this case, the note about Andrew Stephens is a good clue!) Let’s see what Ancestry has.





The card on Ancestry does contain the name of the widow – Victoria (Coffey) Smith, my great-great grandmother! For this example, the numbers are pretty clear, but let’s say I wanted to confirm a number. Using the Numerical Index on Fold3, I’ve found a card for 226845 – the widow’s certificate. Notice that the number is found in the upper, left corner, but there are 4 names on this card. (Some cards contain up to 32 names because of the number of wars these cards refer to!)



Numerical Index on Fold3

On this card, I see that there is an invalid application (orig.) #226845 for Joseph Showman (along with the certificate number), an invalid certificate #226845 for Henry Rasenbrauck, a dependant application (M could mean “mother” or “minor”) #226845 for Amos Treat and finally, a dependent (W means “widow) certificate #226845 for Elias Smith. This shows me that the number I’m trying to decipher is correct.

A couple of abbreviations I’ve discovered in my research for this index: C = “child”, F = “father”, M = “mother” or “minor” and S = “sisters”. Orig is the application and Ctf is the certificate.

I found this card by click through the number breakdown supplied on the Fold3 site, but I did notice that while the numbers are in a range, they are not all in numerical order, so don’t give up – make sure you look through the entire list for that range. I’d suggest doing a name search first. The problem with name searches is that names may not be spelled the way you expect, so think through your options there.

Finally, one more index to consider! The Index to Pension Application Files of Remarried Widows (NARA M1785) can be found on Ancestry here. When I did a search for “Victoria” with a spouse named Elias Smith (you can also do a search with just the veteran’s name, leaving the spouse blank), I found this (bottom left):


One more way to find that application or certificate number. I also noticed that the filing date on this card is quite a bit after the dates given on the Pension Index cards, so something else to dig in to.

If you have a Civil War pension index for an ancestor, you might want to check to see if you have found all the information that can be found! You just might receive some bonuses as well!


Ancestor Inventory Form

I’ve added the Excel Ancestor Inventory Form to the Downloads tab at the top of the screen. Here are a few hints that I’ve put together as I’ve worked with the form:

Page 1:


  • Siblings could be changed to FANs (Family, Associates, Neighbors)
  • The “Notes” area at the bottom could be removed or shortened to make room for additional children. (See “P1 Six Census”) If you have a lot of FANs you are tracking, the “Notes” section could be used for that information.
  • Column C beginning with row 11 is to be used to list all known family members for tracking through census years.
  • Begin the census lists after the marriage year. There may not be room to list all census records for an entire lifetime, but you’re pretty safe if you begin after a marriage. Years that an ancestor was still living with their parents can be listed on P2.
  • If more than one marriage (and if you have space), you can insert a Spouse into the “children” area and begin numbering their children with 1. DOB for the spouse could be changed to DOM (date of marriage).
  • If 10 or fewer children, space can be added to indicate who each child married. (See “P1 9 Children and P1 Six Census”)
  • In each census column, type the name and the age to help you match each person correctly.
  • Shade the boxes for family members who have died. If deceased, type in the date of death and location if known. If married, indicate who they are recorded with and give location.
  • If a person is listed in the household, but is not a child, give the relationship (if known) on the 2nd line.

Page 2:


  • In the first form, space is given for 3 spouses. Any sections not needed can be changed to a different category such as “Children” or “To Do”. (See P2 One Spouse)
  • If some Spouse information is not known, you might want to change categories to “Father:” and “Mother:”
  • Information for various records could be locations or book and page numbers – whichever is most helpful to you. Could also just be “yes” or “no” to indicate if you have the record.
  • All categories can be edited. For example, if an ancestor was born in the US, you won’t need “Passenger List” and “Naturalization”. Most of the ancestors we research did not receive SSNs, so that could be edited out as well.
  • Because Census information is listed on page 1, the Census column on page 2 could be edited to something else. It was included to be a “mini-timeline” of locations without having to turn the paper over.
  • Every census year was included in the list. If you need space, you can edit the list to only include census years for an ancestor’s lifetime, then create a new section at the bottom.


  • Before you begin to enter information for an ancestor, be sure to click on the “File” tab and then “Save As” a new document with your ancestor’s name so that you will always have a blank form to use again.
  • You might decide to keep an entire surname in one workbook with multiple names. To do this:
    • Select the blank sheet you’d like to use, right click on that tab at the bottom of the screen.
    • Click on “Move or Copy”.
    • Check the box at the bottom that says “Create a Copy”.
    • Select the location you’d like the new tab to be. (You can also rearrange sheets by dragging the tabs to a new location.)
    • Rename the tab with your ancestor’s name. (Right click, select “Rename”.)
  • I’ve created a few different versions of the sheets as I’ve worked with my ancestors. Some families had many children and others did not. “Blank P1” has space for 14 children. There is also a version for 9 children and a version for 10 children. There could be hundreds of variations, so be creative!
  • Most of my ancestors only had one spouse, so space was added to have a list of children (with spouses below, if there was enough space) and a “To Do” list. If an ancestor had 2 spouses, I would keep the “To Do” list because the children are listed on the P1 pages.
  • To type a bullet in a cell, type alt+7. (There are other symbols as well. Play around with the numbers with the alt key to see other options.)
  • Some ancestors did not live during the years in which tax records have been microfilmed. In “P3 Films no Tax”, I edited that space to allow me to make a list of FHL microfilms I’ve ordered or have access to. (These could also be hyperlinks to images available on FamilySearch.)
  • If you want to replace a section with another section (for example, if you need another area for a spouse instead of children in a P2 sheet), you may need to un-merge cells in the section you are replacing because Excel won’t paste into merged cells unless everything is identical to the area you are copying:
    • Highlight the section you’d like to replace
    • Click the “Merge & Center” icon on the “Home” ribbon (this will un-merge everything)
    • Highlight the section you’d like to copy and type Ctrl+C
    • Click the top left cell in the section you are replacing and type Ctrl+V
    • You will probably have to re-merge cells to make the layout work correctly

If you have question about how to do something, feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll try my best to give you some help!

Ancestor Inventory

Happy New Year!

I’ve been thinking about how I’ve been doing my genealogy and I’d like to make some changes for 2017. (Wouldn’t everyone?) I tend to become obsessed with a specific ancestor and every other ancestor gets left out of the fun.

Recently, I have begun to dig into using DNA in my research and because of that, I’ve created a public tree on Ancestry to link the results to. I decided that as I added each person to the tree, I would look through the hints and do a quick search for any “low hanging fruit” and I was quite surprised at how many records were out there that I hadn’t taken the time to look for before because I’ve been focused so fiercely on John M. Smith. Because I was finding so much information on collateral family members, I thought about how I really have no idea exactly what I DO have for each ancestor because it’s been so long since I’ve even looked at any family other than my Smith line.

So I decided that I needed to take an “inventory” for each ancestor to see what I have and what I should be looking for. I wanted to be able to look at one sheet of paper per family to give me a quick idea of what I’ve already found. I went out to Pinterest to see what I could find and then I took my favorite ideas and created my own inventory using…..Excel, of course!


I started with a form that I found on the “Are My Roots Showing?” blog. That form can be found here.  I made just a few changes to that form, but wanted more so I also found inspiration from the Mid-Continent Public Library and their Research Checklist found here. I’ve taken these ideas and put together a 2 page inventory that I intend to fill out for each family group in my tree. As I fill it out, I’ll run my “quick search” to find the easy records that I’ve been missing out on all this time and then I’ll create a Research Plan for each family.


I thought others might be interested in using a form like this as well, so I’m going to add it to my “Downloads” tab at the top of the page, so check back tomorrow for that link as well as some tips I’ve collected as I’ve begun to work with the form. Every ancestor is unique so the form is a great way for me to make sure I’ve covered all my bases, but each form needs to be tweaked to make the best use of space. For example, if I know an ancestor did not have more than one spouse, then I can use that space to jot down a “To Do” list as things come to mind so I don’t forget to add anything to my Research Plan.

I still have a couple of things in mind to add to the form, so I plan to finish that up tonight and post them tomorrow, but I thought you might enjoy a little heads up!

Need to Create a Quick Christmas Gift?

I don’t know why, but I’m always shocked at how little time I have to work on my genealogy between Thanksgiving and Christmas! You’d think I’d wake up and smell the coffee about how busy this time of year always is for me…and I’d imagine for you as well!

I know that I have 1 more video to go in my Excel series on creating a database in Excel, but I thought that I’d throw in a “bonus” video for the holidays for those that might be looking for a quick way to add a background image to an Excel document like a Family Group Sheet or 5 Generation Chart.

Betty's Chart.png


I’ve added my blank 5 Generation Chart created in Excel to the “Downloads” tab at the top of the page, so if you don’t already have one on your computer, feel free to download mine. One specific thing I’d like to point out is that my Chart contains cells for adding military information for the men while the women have the information for the marriage. If you have a female ancestor who served in the military, that’s a quick update that you can make.

Also, my chart has the grid lines turned off, but if you turn them on to take a quick look, you’ll see that the information you type for birth, military, marriage and death will be entered into the cell adjacent to those headings, but for the name, you’ll replace the word “name” with the name of your ancestor.

I hope this short video will bring some great ideas to mind for you whether it’s a gift for someone else or the cover of your research binder!

In case I don’t make it back here again this month, I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!