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Genealogy: The Family Group Sheet

Updated on January 17, 2017
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Liz inherited the family history notes from an aunt, and was hooked on genealogy. The hobby connects history to family for her.

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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.

A typical family group sheet, though there are other styles
A typical family group sheet, though there are other styles

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 16, 1999. However, written in all numerals, it is, 1-11-99. In another country, this might be understood instead as November 11, 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 “lived in such and such a town when born, though birth certificate shows this other town; that is where the hospital was.” Or, you could 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 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.

Filled-in FGS

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.

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.

Non-Family Data

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.

Abbreviations

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

Abbreviation
Meaning/Use
Notes
chr or chris
christened
sometimes church records are all you can find
ad,
adopted
 
dau
daughter
 
hus or husb
husband
 
kn.
known
common knowledge info from a reliable source
nm
never married
 
nmn
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
prob.
probable; probably
indicates info you have reason to believe true, but not yet verified
unk.
unknown
used to hold the space for info you don't yet know; e.g., the name of a spouse
w.
wife
 

The Individual Record

This form should 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.

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.

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.

More Forms?

Oh, yes, there are more. Just a few. I’ll cover those next time.

Did you just get here, arriving in the middle of class? 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. The next one is on using the census data.

Ta-ta for now.

© 2017 Liz Elias

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  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 10 months ago from SW England

    It's great to have information to pass down the children and grandchildren. The more information they can have, the more answers they will have to the questions they never thought to ask when they were younger.

    Ann

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 10 months ago from Oakley, CA

    Wow, what a tangle, MizBejabbers! There are certainly many mysteries and mistakes to be found in various records; even official ones! That last is scary! And try tracking down birth and marriage certificates from that era--they are sometimes non-existent, especially if they lived out on a remote farm. Glad you were at least able to correct on Ancestry's site.

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    MizBejabbers 10 months ago

    Nice detail and easy to follow information. I've found group sheets to be tedious work. It's good that you've emphasized never to guess on found information. Before computers I was given a family tree sans group sheets of my father's family. My grandfather (20) married my grandmother (19) and they moved in with his parents on the family farm. He was the youngest of the 8 children. Also on the farm was grandpa's oldest brother's daughter (3). Both this 3-yr.-old and my grandmother were listed as grandchildren. Whoever concocted this information forgot that sometimes three generations lived in a household. My aunt has been trying to get this error corrected for years. I advised her to forget it because it's been corrected in Ancestry's records.