Blog post

Monday, January 20, 2014

Back to basics–keeping track of key sources

I started out in genealogy when I was still in high school. We were lucky enough to have a computer at home but there was very little genealogy software available. Birth, death and marriage certificates were expensive and I ordered them with much care and thought about what information they might provide.

To keep track of what I had, and what I was missing, I would hand draw a pedigree chart and note after each name “B”, “D” and “M” to indicate if I held the relevant certificates for a particular ancestor. It was a useful way to check that my family tree was held up by strong branches, before I started getting too enthusiastic about decorating it with interesting leaves!

Time went by and now there is plenty of genealogy software to choose from. A feature I like is the ability to display additional information of my choice on a chart. My current software, Family Historian, can do this. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally set up a key source completeness chart and I’m very happy with it.

Here’s an excerpt from my pedigree, starting from my great-great-great grandmother, Isabella Miller, who was born in Caithness, Scotland.


I quickly realised that the chart needed a date of immigration to Australia, to explain at a glance why some ancestors seemed to drop of the census. I decided to added that information as text in blue, to stand out a little from the other text.

Looking over my pedigree with the new chart settings I’ve noticed quite a few minor fixes that need attending to.

I’ve also noticed a few cases that could lead to more information. For example, the glaring omission in this chart is an 1841 census entry for Elizabeth Sinclair. I found her in ‘51 and ‘61. Where was she in ‘41? Was her husband Donald still alive then? My next research task on this line is set.

How do you keep track of your key sources?


  1. I used to do something a bit like this when I used Treedraw in conjunction with my previous software (Relatively Yours). Now (with The Master Genealogist, which lets me enter multiple source references for each fact) I include references as footnotes when I print pedigree charts, family group sheets etc.

    1. Family Historian lets you enter multiple source references too. I don't think you can include them as footnotes to a chart, but I'm pretty sure you can incorporate them into the boxes if you don't mind the boxes getting full! I was able to include chart footnotes with my previous program, Genbox. Can't have everything I guess!

  2. I need to get more creative with Family Historian. You are certainly exploiting the versatility of this product to make it work for you.

    1. Jill, if you want a hand setting up something like this just give me a yell.

  3. That looks great, Shelley. I'm a Legacy girl myself, although I do like a large scale tree blutacked to the wall.

  4. Hi Shelley, just read your response to the Australia Day challenge. I have a spreadsheet saved to Google drive of an ahnentafel report. It helps me keep track of my sources and also helps me keep my focus on my direct forebears when I need to. I used the ahnentafel spreadsheet to help me compile my response to the Australia Day challenge and although I could reply to the basics of that challenge I realised how much more I still have to pull together, I might know it somewhere but it isn't organised.