Genealogy: The Family Group Sheet
Welcome to the World of Forms!
As you continue in your research, you’ll want to have all your data brought together, and neatly placed for ease of reference. For this, the Family Group Sheet (FGS) is a must-have. Some folks use this from the beginning, filling it in as they do live interviews, but it is so easy to make mistakes, get snarled up in dates, and so forth, that it makes more sense to just put the notes for each person on a blank sheet, and transfer it all later on.
A spiral-bound notebook works well for this, so you aren't shuffling loose sheets of paper. You can use sticky-tape flags to mark each page with that person's name, for ease of finding it quickly when a relative is rattling off information. With this method, you can scribble odd notes in the margin; not worry about writing neatly; and add tidbits that can later go on the individual record.
The FGS form organizes all the data for one family group, as its name implies. You have the parents at the top, and the children going down the side. It’s not a complicated form, once you are accustomed to the format.
I’ve created a make-believe family to illustrate all the sections, and how filled in. Let’s get started.
First, Some Protocols
When filling in this sheet, as well as many other things we do in our research, there are certain ways of putting the bits of information. While the sequence and page layout may vary with different styles of the same form, the way the information is entered should remain consistent. This way, if you ever ask someone else to help you, they will see at a glance who is who and what is what.
First, it is common practice to put the surname (last name) in ALL CAPS. This helps it stand out easily, and also prevents confusion if someone has a name where the surname could also be a first name, for example, John Henry. By writing it instead as John HENRY, it is easy to see that “Henry” is the surname.
Especially important is the protocol for entering dates. The format is: “11 January 1999.” Never use an all-numeral date form. This is because many folks have data from other countries, some of which always use the date first and then the month, whereas we in the United States tend to use the month first, e.g., January 11, 1999. However, written in all numerals, it is, 1-11-99. In another country, this might be understood instead as November 1, 1999. Since the study of family history began in nations much older than ours, we are stuck with their format. ;-)
It is okay to abbreviate the name of the month, but stick to this one format, and it will be smooth sailing.
The Parents’ Section
At the top of the form you place the information on the parents. As with all genealogical data, the husband’s name goes first, with his information, and the wife’s underneath.
This section is very important, for it tells the names of the parents of both husband and wife. This is how you trace backwards. If you don’t even have this much, you are playing detective from the start. But it’s a fun hunt.
At the bottom of the page, there is room for additional notes on either spouse. This could be a notation such as the town they lived in being different than the town where the child was born. This happened with my second child. We lived in South San Francisco** when she was born, but her birth certificate reads Daly City, as that's where the hospital was.
You could also put other brief data that won’t fit in the main section, such as a notation that the husband received a purple heart, or other military or civic honor.
Now, look to the area that shows the parents of each spouse. If you have all four names, that is great. If not, there's more digging to be done. But now you can start a new FGS for the husband's parents, and one for the wife's parents. And so it goes, for each generation back.
**South San Francisco is a separate city in its own right, and not a part of San Francisco.
The Childrens’ Section
The particular style of sheet I am using gives room for up to ten children. Not many families have that many kids these days, but in earlier historic times, it was not uncommon. There are some styles of sheets that only have two slots for children, more in keeping with today’s family average. The example above has four child slots; kind of in between.
In this section, you do not need to repeat the surname; it’s a given that it will be the same as the parents’ name. It is helpful, however, to add their middle name, if they have one. Also record the date and place of birth.
In this example, I've deliberately created a conflict in our imaginary family, between the marriage date of the parents and the birthdate of the first child. This is where research comes in. Finding a copy of the child's birth certificate could possibly determine whether this child was born prematurely, or if it was a 'shotgun wedding.'
Some birth certificates record the term of the pregnancy; mine did. I am sure it differs from region to region, though, so again, digging around helps. Also, your interview process may have provided this bit of information. If it was found that the child was a preemie, this is a notation that could be made for the benefit of future family historians.
There is also room for the name of a spouse and marriage date. At that point, the child gets their own FGS, with their and their spouse’s information at the top. Don’t delete them from the original group sheet, however, as that shows the family unit as a whole.
You'll notice on the sample forms, that there are three names used in the locations. One is the city, the next is the county in which the city is located, and the final one is the state, (in the United States). For other countries, you'd substitute provinces or other regional designations, and in any case, it is wise to add the name of the country.
In the above examples, "USA" could, and probably should be added, just for ease of understanding in the case of searchers following family history from other countries coming across your tree. (Especially if you have a tree posted at an online site such as Ancestry.)
If you don't know the county, you can use a double comma with a space between to indicate that, like this: "Ashland, , Oregon."
In the example above, San Francisco is duplicated. This is not an error. This is a combined city and county in and of itself. There are no other cities within the county of San Francisco. This is a rather rare situation, but it is seen once in a while.
Some forms have a column or area reading, “This information obtained from:”
Here is where you fill in the name of the person(s) you interviewed, along with any research data, including birth and/or death certificates, census rolls, city directories, and so forth.
Genealogists put great stock, and for good reason, into documenting sources. If you just wrote down anything you came across, without checking it for truth, you could very well be barking up the wrong family tree.
For example, if you were hunting on Ancestry’s site, and found a public member tree of someone who appears to be searching the same lineage, you should never just copy their information if it is not sourced. Meaning, if there are no source citations. Without those, your tree has no credibility.
Sometimes, the space given for statistics is very small. Trying to fit any kind of notation is difficult. To that end, there are a number of accepted abbreviations commonly used. Some of them even come in handy when you are taking your interview notes, to save time in writing things out.
The most common ones are also fairly obvious matters of common sense: b. = born; d. = died; m.= married; and either "abt." or "c" or "cir." = about. This is used if a date is unsure.
See the chart below for some other more common ones used in the hobby. It’s a brief listing; there are about a gazillion more, ranging from military ranks to religious designations, and much in between.
Commonly Used Abbreviations
chr or chris
sometimes church records are all you can find
hus or husb
common knowledge info from a reliable source
no middle name
used ONLY if the person was known to have not been given a middle name; do not use if the middle name is not known
indicates info you have reason to believe true, but not yet verified
used to hold the space for info you don't yet know; e.g., the name of a spouse
The Individual Record
I mention this as a side note, as this is really not much of a form. It’s essentially a piece of blank paper with room at the top for the person’s name. You can pretty much make your own form. It is also not a required part of the research data; it's more for your own personal interest.
This form can accompany the FGS for the person listed on the form. One person only per form, here, but you can attach other forms for the other people on the FGS.
Here, though, is where you’ll fill in those interesting anecdotes; full details on any awards, organizations they belonged to, funny stories, hobbies, and the like that have no space or business being on the FGS.
You can add extra pages if you wish. It’s kind of a mini-biography that gives a picture of what that person was like. It’s not statistical data, but it’s of interest to the family, and makes a precious keepsake for future generations to appreciate. This is where they may find out why they have red hair or hay fever or enjoy adventure or reading and writing.
Yes, there are a few more. I’ll cover those in another article.
If you've come across this article first, and found yourself lost 'in the middle of the stream," I’ve written two prior articles on the topic of genealogy, one on how to get started from the beginning, and another on understanding relationships. Another one deals with using the census data.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Liz Elias