Family group record: roadmap for researchers

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A well-documented family group record is the best tool you can use to get ideas about where to search for more information on a family. It bristles with clues about names, dates, relationships, and sources that may need to be discovered, verified, or better documented.

Definition A family group record is created to show at least the names of the husband, wife, and children of a family.

Most family group records also show birth, marriage, and death information, additional spouses (if any) of the parents, and children’s spouses.

Good family group records also cite the sources of the information—usually in footnotes.

The best family group records also show many other events in the lives of each member of the family. For example, they may list, censuses, joining or leaving churches, christenings, confirmations, burials, acquisition or sale of land, migrations, citizenship changes, jury duty, law suits, wills probated, paid taxes, obituaries, being mentioned in newspaper articles, new job, draft registration, military service, serving as a witness, bondsman, or godparent, working on the county road crew, jail, and warnings out.

In the past family group records were compiled by hand or with typewriters, but computers now make this task easier.

How to prepare a family group record for use as a research roadmap[edit | edit source]

Create a family group record you can use to guide your research for more information about a family. Evaluate the family group record and decide which event would be easiest to document. Go look for the documentation, and when you find it update the family group record with the any new information. Be sure to cite the source of that information as you update it.

Step 1. Start by compiling what you already know about a family.[edit | edit source]

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When you begin research on a new family start by compiling a family group record showing everything you know about them. It is important to list EVERY known event in each person’s life. The more events you list, the better. It is also important to cite the sources of your information. Some of your names, dates, and places may be guesses or estimates. Your sources for this data should explain how you arrived at the estimates.

Blank forms and software to help compile family group records.[edit | edit source]

Blank forms are available on-line at no cost through a variety of web sites including Ancestors (the television series),, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Each organization's version of a Family Group record is slightly different. The form, for example, is more detailed and includes blanks for recording christening, occupation, burial, cause of death, and will. The form provides blanks to record temple ordinances of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Choose whatever form best meets your research interests.

Family Group Record on BYU website

Family Group Record on

Family Group Record including Church member information

Along with printing completed Family Group Record forms, genealogy software packages such as Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, Personal Ancestral File, Family Tree Maker, etc. can also print blank forms. For a discussion of free and commercial software see Genealogy Management Software at Family History Centers

Gather home sources.[edit | edit source]

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Look for the family Bible, certificates, letters, photographs, family histories, previously compiled family group records, or any other old papers in attic trunks at your home or at relatives’ homes.

Talk to older relatives. Ask them what they remember about the family. Create a written report of any family member interview, and cite your written interview report as the source for the names, dates, places, and events added to the family group record. Also, ask your relatives if they have any papers that would help. If so, cite those papers as well.

Keep the family group record updated.[edit | edit source]

Start research on a family by creating a family group record with lots of footnotes, and keep it up-to-date as your research progresses. Document as you go. Add new genealogical information and footnotes to the family group record each time you find a new source for the family. Do NOT continue or start research for another source until your family group record has been updated.

Add the details of what you learn to the family group record. Show the dates, places, and source of the information. There should be at least one source-footnote for every event on the family group record. In the source-footnote comment field add a brief preliminary evaluation of each source.

Family Group Record Frank2.png

More than one footnote per event. Your family group record should show EVERY source you have found for an event. There may be more than one source that has information about the same event—cite each. If you find discrepancies between the sources, use the footnote comment field to explain what you think accounts for the differences.

Recognize multiple events per source.[edit | edit source]

Some sources give information about several events. For example, many death certificates list information about the birth of the deceased. Add a separate footnote to the family group record for each event mentioned on a source. For example, cite the death certificate as the source for both birth and death information. Most genealogy software packages provide a mechanism for easily copying a citation from one event to another.

Add custom events to the family group record.[edit | edit source]

Family group records can and should list more than birth, marriage, and death events only. The more events and sources that are listed, the more clues you have to help guide your research to further records.

Step 2. Add compiled sources and censuses to the family group record.[edit | edit source]

Beyond home sources there are still some low-hanging-fruit type of sources to gather and to add to the family group record.

Online databases.[edit | edit source]

Search for members of the family in the Internet databases described in Major Databases for Beginning United States Research.

Family histories.[edit | edit source]

Compiled genealogies and family histories may be available for a family you are researching. To find these is to search library catalogs or indexes such as—

  • FamilySearch Catalog Surname Search. Search using just the family’s surname. This searches the world’s largest genealogical library for works with this family name as a main subject.
  • WorldCatalog Advanced Search. In the Subject field enter the surname and “family” like this, Greenwell family. This searches the catalogs and displays the results from thousands of North American libraries at once.
  • Periodical Source Index (PERSI) People Search for a family name in over a million article titles in genealogical periodicals.

U.S. federal censuses.[edit | edit source]

Census records every ten years from 1790 to 1940 are available to show information about families. It is important to add EVERY census you can find to the family group record for each member of the family to show where they lived throughout their lives. There are several online sites that will give lists of census records by state and year.

How to read a family group record as a research roadmap.[edit | edit source]

With home sources, compiled sources, and censuses showing on the family group record you are finally ready to use it in earnest as a roadmap to research. A family group record is a research roadmap because it lists a variety of birth, marriage, death, and other events in various conditions of documentation. One of the main factors in selecting the easiest to research event on a family group record is the completeness of dates, places, and sources already available.

Tip: Work on the easiest- to-find documentation, dates, and places first.

Some family group record events have good source citations, but most do not. Some events will have exact dates, while other dates are vague or missing. Places may be complete, partial, or missing. Look over the family group and identify the events with a combination of the best source citations, most exact dates, and most complete places—these will be the easiest to research.

At the same time notice those events with missing sources, missing or incomplete dates, and missing or vague place information—those (or the events that are not even mentioned) will usually be the more difficult to research. Work on the easier-to-document events first in order to build up more clues to help when you eventually come to the harder-to-document events.

The family group record roadmap helps you identify easiest to research events and gives you the clues to go after sources for those events. For additional factors to consider when selecting what to research see Guessing the Easiest to Research Person and Event.

Step 1. Look on the family group record for events that need better documentation.[edit | edit source]

Looking for events that have vague (or no) source-footnotes. Go after better documentation for those events. Guess which source would be the easiest to find source first. Work from the easiest to hardest to find sources. Update the family group record with whatever names, dates, places, and sources you find.

Step 2. Look on the family group record for events that need a more exact date.[edit | edit source]

Look for events that have vague (or no) dates. Go after better documentation for exact event dates. Guess which date would be the easiest to find date first. Work from the easiest to hardest to find date. Update the family group record with whatever you find.

Step 3. Look on the family group record for events that need a more exact place.[edit | edit source]

Look for events that have vague (or no) places. Go after better documentation for exact event places. Guess which place would be the easiest to find first. Work from the easiest to hardest to find place. Update the family group record with whatever you find.

Step 4. Figure out which events on the family group record are missing.[edit | edit source]

Look for events which you can guess have been overlooked. Guess when and where you think such events most likely happened. Go after documentation for missing events. Work from the easiest to hardest to find missing events. Update the family group record with whatever you find.

Look for families in your search, an individual is part of the parent's family groun sheet until they marry or create their own head-of-household. It is much easier to find the right ancestrial trail when searching for multiple individuals (parents and siblings) than when looking for only one person. And the goal of genealogy is to link us all together.

Step 5. Share the well-documented family group record.[edit | edit source]

Good researchers share their work with others in order to vet their work, to make contact with distant relatives who could collaborate on research, and to set a good example. Be sure to add your contact information to whatever you share. Places you could share your well-documented family group record include:

If you use your research to write an article or family history you could also donate copies to:

  • genealogical societies near places where the family lived
  • Family History Library and other large genealogical libraries

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