The following article is by my friend, William Dollarhide:
Dollarhide’s Genealogy Rule No. 22: It is a known fact that St. Peter checks all of your Family Group Sheets for accuracy before you are allowed to enter the Pearly Gates.
A Family Group Sheet (FGS) is the basic form to record the genealogical events of a family. If you are a parent, the first sheet could be of your own family, showing yourself, spouse, and children. Or, you can start with the family in which you were a child. If you are a grandparent, you may want to create family sheets for your son/daughter, spouse, and grandchildren. In any case, where you start is your choice. Creating family group sheets is a convenient way to record the details about the brothers and sisters of your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on.
Standard FGS Formats
You may be aware of genealogical software or websites that allow you to create “families” with unrelated persons substituting as parents, or two parents of the same sex – but these are not really Family Group Sheets. No, a true standard Family Group Sheet identifies all members of a biological family with a father, mother, and all of their children listed in order of birth. The standard FGS is for the presentation of the “truth.” Therefore, the FGS form does not include children by a different mother or father. For each different family grouping, a separate FGS form needs to be completed. For example, if a mother or father had children with another partner, that family needs to be identified as another group, whether there was a formal marriage or not. This may seem unfair to those who were raised in families that included step-sisters or half-brothers, but it is important to identify the members of a family by their blood relationships, and without any possible confusion about their parentage.
In some cases, a Family Group Sheet can add names of foster children or adopted children; but if this is done, it should be clearly shown on the form that these children are not the biological offspring of the father and mother shown on the form. In other words, write ”foster child” or “adopted” next to a child’s name so it is clear. Another family group should be prepared to show the birth parents of a foster or adopted child – even if there is unknown or sparse information. Then, refer to the foster/adopted child’s FGS as a cross-reference.
What is recorded on the group sheet is a master vital statistics arrangement. Although you are allowed to guess at possible spellings, approximate dates or probable places, you are not permitted to imply relationships where none exist. This is the most important record you will create in your genealogical endeavors. Think of your Family Group Sheets as something your descendants will see over the next hundred years – how will they judge your veracity? Will the relationships indicated on your FGS hold up to future DNA testing?
An FGS form has space for the basic genealogical events for each person including dates and places of birth, marriage, death, and burial for each family member. For each child on the list, a name of a spouse can be given, along with a date and place of the marriage. Carry down the offspring of each married child on another FGS, and to have consistency, use standard notations for recording information on every FGS you prepare.
Standard Name / Date / Place Notations
Names: To avoid confusion about a person’s given and last names, use the standard of All-Caps for a surname, and Upper/Lower case for other names, e.g., William Jones SMITH; or SMITH, William Jones. This standard allows us to correctly identify ancestors who may have names such as Henry James, or James Henry. Which is it? If you capitalize the last name so it can be presented either as JAMES, Henry or Henry JAMES, you will immediately know the answer. Some exceptions to the All-Caps rule are allowed for the readability of surnames such as McDONALD, MacINTIRE, la PLANT, and de la TOYA.
Dates: A date written as 8-12-96 is not clear, since we may be dealing with centuries, not decades in recording genealogical dates. And, it must be easily determined if it was for the 12th day or the 12th month. To do this, the month of a genealogical event needs to be spelled out or abbreviated – not numbered. Also, the year needs to be a full year so it is clear. Therefore, the standard genealogical date that should be used on a Family Group Sheet or any other genealogical report, is one that is in the military style, i.e., 8 Dec 1996.
Avoid numerical dating, which can be confusing, mainly because there is no world-wide standard. For example, the U.S. numerical standard is 12-08-1996 (MDY), while Latin America, Europe, and much of Africa and Asia use 08-12-1996 (DMY), and China, Korea, and Japan use 1996-12-08 (YMD). Regardless of the country where your genealogical events took place, the military style of 8 Dec 1996 should be understood by all.
Places: In recording a place of an event, such as a birthplace, place of marriage, etc., start with a smaller jurisdiction, and move to a larger one, such as, born in Harrison Township, Wayne County, Indiana or an abbreviated version, born in Harrison Twp, Wayne Co IN. If no city or town is known, use the county/state, such as born in Wayne County, Indiana, or an abbreviated version, born in Wayne Co IN. If no county is known, spell out the state, such as born in Indiana. The name of a country should be included if the place of the event lies outside the U.S., such as born in Baumholder, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany (oder auf Deutsch: geboren in Baumholder, Rheinland-Pfalz, Deutschland).
Cite Your Sources
A Family Group Sheet is the basic worksheet for genealogical research. While a Pedigree Chart identifies just your direct ancestors, the Family Group Sheet shows not only your direct ancestors but the brothers and sisters of your ancestors. Thus, the FGS is the logical place to record all known vital statistics about a complete family. But, the FGS is not complete without indicating the reference sources where you obtained the information. Special attention is necessary to the citation of sources used for every name, event, date, and place noted on the FGS. There is no set rule on how to list the sources, and adding a page of free style notes is perfectly acceptable.
There should be at least two citations (a minimum of two separate sources) for each event listed. One single source for a piece of information on the FGS does not prove anything. For example, if a complete Family Group Sheet was copied from someone else’s work, nothing on that FGS can be trusted. The goal is to have at least two sources for every event (every birth, marriage, death, burial, or residence). In other words, to prove what you say on a FGS, you have to list one source that was used to compile the information, then list another source that says the same thing.
There are genealogical organizations in America that require three (3) citations for every event – and if you are joining such an organization, follow their rules. But, typically, the cited statements on a Family Group Sheet submitted as evidence in a court of law require a minimum of two (2) sources for every event.
Dollarhide’s Genealogy Rule No. 1: Treat the brothers and sisters of your ancestor as equals, even if some of them were in jail.
The identification of each member of a family is essential to the success of your genealogical work. That means that brothers and sisters of an ancestor need to be given the same status as a direct ancestor. You need to identify the brothers and sisters by their full name; full birth information, including dates and places; complete marriage data, including the names of their spouses and dates of marriages; as well as death and burial information.
Seems like a lot of extra work doesn’t it? But guess what. If you treat the brothers and sisters as equals, you will have many more ways to find your own ancestors. The children or later descendants of the brothers and sisters of your ancestors are your relatives — people who are sources to you for information about your common ancestry.
For example, the birth certificate for my uncle gave me the full name of his father and maiden name of his mother, my grandparents. That proved to be very valuable, because the birth certificate for my own father, identified only as “Baby Dollarhide,” did not name his parents at all.
If you are searching for a lost family Bible, or a lost family photograph, document, or artifact – identifying the collateral descendants of the brothers and sisters of your ancestors may be your only route to success. A presentation of multiple generations of descendants of a common ancestor is best done using family group sheets.
Dollarhide’s Genealogy Rule No. 49: A relative is someone with all the information about the family you want, but died last week.
Involve Your Relatives
In some cases, you may need to enlist the help of your uncles, aunts, or cousins to create Family Group Sheets. A method to involve your relatives is to send them each a copy of a FGS on which they appear as a child or parent, and ask them to fill in more details. Along with the form, send a folksy note/email, one that reminds them that they are your favorite relatives. If you have any photographs of their family, or anything that you can share with them relating to their genealogy, send copies as examples of what a gracious and wonderful person you are. In other words, try to put them in your debt so they will respond to you. Many of our mothers have known this technique well – they can elicit just about anything from their kids just by making them feel guilty.
In making this contact, ask your relatives to add information to the family group sheets you sent them and then return a copy back to you. Even if the last time you saw these people they were threatening to sic their dog on you, you need to contact them again with the news that you are now preparing the world’s greatest family history and that they will be included in it.
“There’s some idiot on the phone who says he’s your third-cousin- twice-removed-on-your-mother’s-side-through-your-Aunt Mable, and wants to know if you will send him a Family Groupship.”
If Your Relatives Don’t Respond
Some of your relatives will try to ignore you. If they don’t return a corrected family group sheet, then you may have to resort to bribery or some other devious ploy to get them to respond. For example, if you are not having success in getting your cousin Martha to return the family group sheet you sent her, try this: send Martha another group sheet, only this time indicate a bogus date of birth on the form, making her at least ten years older than she really is. Add a post-it note that says, “Did I get these dates right?” Include your email address on the post-it note. When Martha sees that incorrect date, she will have to correct it! Expect a email message from Martha within minutes after she reads the wrong date for her birth. You could be even more devious and make Martha’s date of birth two months before her parent’s wedding date. Now, when Martha complains about your terrible record keeping, you can come back with, “but can you prove that wasn’t your date of birth?” You might even get a copy of Martha’s birth certificate in the mail after that one.
Dollarhide’s Genealogy Rule No. 50: All’s fair in love, war, and the pursuit of non-responsive relatives.
For Further Reading:
Who Has the Family Bible?, by William Dollarhide – previous article written for Genealogyblog.com.
Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian – by Elizabeth Shown Mills
Genealogical Standards of Evidence, A Guide for Family Historians, by Brenda Dougall Merriman
Genealogical Proof Standard – Building a Solid Case – 3rd Edition Revised; by Christine Rose
Complete Package, All 75 Forms designed by William Dollarhide