Using Charts in Your Genealogy Research

j0439485The best way for me to interpret and analyze any sort of data has always been to represent that data as a drawing, picture, tables or a chart. Even in engineering school, I could never solve those advanced mathematical problems if I couldn’t visualize it. We all have different learning styles and types of intelligence and its been a natural progression for me to apply this knowledge to my genealogy. I recently shared this with my class and thought it would be a good topic to blog about. Of course, the core documents for genealogy are charts—descendant and ancestor charts and family grouping sheets. You’ll also notice that many NGS Quarterly articles include the use of charts—I think it greatly helps to organize your research with regard to clarity if you are publishing.

The third step in the Genealogical Proof Standard involves analysis and correlation of your data. I find that tables are perfect for helping to do this. Most of the time I find it easiest to create a table in Microsoft Word, although sometimes I will use Microsoft Excel.

Here are some of the custom tables and charts I have created in my own research. Most of us are familiar with census tracking charts and timelines, so I’ll omit those, and most of these are several pages long so I’ll just show the first page. The possibilities are endless and only limited by your imagination:

  • Birthplace Tracking Chart: I’ll organize birthplaces from a set of census records (say 1870-1930) in order to figure the most likely place of birth:
    Birthplace Tracking Scan
  • Birthdate Tracking Chart: Using a set of census records to estimate a birthdate range for individuals
  • 1870 Neighbor Chart: Because analyzing the neighbors in 1870 is especially crucial for African-American research, I have a chart where I track them. I also use the Formatting options to shade and color certain cells. Here, my family is shaded yellow and a potential slaveowner is blue.
  • Tax Tracking Chart: Self-explanatory.  On this chart, the index listings are yellow and my primary families of interest are blue:
    Tax Tracking Scan
  • Land Records Chart: I saw this in Emily Croom’s book Unpuzzling Your Past. She made a chart where she traced each piece of land for an ancestor, but also recorded where that land went (i.e., showing the person selling the land, and showing who bought or inherited that same piece of land). I do charts like these for all the members of a particular family, for example.
  • Slaveholder Tracking: I do lots of different slaveholder tracking. I have charts of “potential” slaveholders, showing their slaveholdings from census records. I have charts of their family structures, their deed transactions involving slaves, and of their entire probate processes.
    Slaveowner Tracking Scan1
    Slaveowner Tracking Scan Probate
  • Slave Charts: This is related to the slaveholder charts, but once I amass enough information on a group of slaves, I will typically chart those separately.
  • FHC Film Charts: I chart all the films I order from the FHC. Over the years, I’d forget what I’ve already viewed if I didn’t:

On all these, I usually include the FHC film number (if that’s what I used), book numbers (if applicable), the dates I did the research, the location if it’s done at a repository, microfilm information, page numbers, and any special notes or comments.

Of course, there are plenty of good websites online with blank charts of all types to use for your genealogical research. Cyndi’s List has a category for Supplies, Charts, Forms, also Ancestry, Family Tree Magazine , and Rootsweb have assorted charts and forms. My favorite census forms are Gary Minder’s at the Census Tools website. He’s also got plenty of other useful forms. There are also a wide array of private vendors who offer these sorts of products, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my buddy Michael Hait again and his terrific disk called Family History Research Toolkit, available from the Genealogical Publishing Company.

If you haven’t expanded beyond the basic genealogy charts, I encourage you to take a look at some of these downloadable charts and also don’t be afraid to create your own. You may see something in a new way or notice something you’ve never seen before. In the comments to this post, please feel free to make any other chart suggestions that you utilize or any other websites you know about that have unique forms.