This can’t be stressed enough when it comes to research. Until data is confirmed with a record source, you can’t be sure you are searching in the right place. Family information can and many times is incorrect. The best thing to do is verify ALL the data in your tree with proven records. There are a number of sites that allow you to attached the record source directly to your data. I also recommend downloading or printing a copy of the record as well.

All the names on your data should be consistent. If you use [First Name] [Last Name], do not record one of your records as [Last Name], [First Name]. Some names can be confusing, such as Scott Kelly. Perhaps his real name is Kelly Scott. You don’t know unless you make sure you record all your data consistently. If you feel unsure that you may accidentally record a name incorrectly, you can use ALL CAPS for each records [Last Name].


• Margaret JOHNSON (First name LAST NAME)
• Margaret Johnson (First name Last name)
• Johnson, Margaret (Last name, First name) – This format is NOT recommended.

If you happen to know a middle name or a middle initial for a record, add it to your data. Many families are known for naming their children with the same names, making research difficult. Having middle names or initials will assist with your research. In some cases you may find that someone actually went by their middle name and used an initial for their first name. Verify the name with birth or other records to confirm.

Nicknames can be an important part of your research. Over the years, many names were commonly used to replace a formal name, including in census and other records. To assist your research, if an ancestor has a nickname, add it to your record, but differentiate it in some way. This site uses parenthesis ( ) to record nicknames, but others may use quotes ” “. Which ever you choose, be consistent.


• Terrance (Terry) Smith
• Terrance “Terry” Smith

Female ancestors should be recorded and researched primarily by their maiden name (the name prior to their marriage). You may record the marriage name on the record as well, but you should select one consistent way of recording the data. If you do not know the maiden name of a female ancestor, either leave the data blank, or add a question mark (?) to the record in place of the name.


• Jacqueline (?) (KENNEDY) ONASSIS

The dates in your data are of utmost importance. For this reason, you should select ONE (1) format for all your dates. Common practices are to use the following format: DD MMM YYYY, where D is the day, M is the month and Y is the four digit year. If you are writing the data by hand, you should completely spell out May, June, and July so as not to have confusion if writing is illegible. You can also spell out all months completely if you don’t use the shorthand.


• 20 JAN 1810
• 18 June 1824
• 9 October 1975

You may find that you want to abbreviate when recording some of your data. This is okay, but it is recommended to use the common abbreviations (listed below) and also make a guide for others to understand your abbreviations if they are looking at your data later.

Common abbreviations:

b = born
bpt = baptized
dob = date of birth
pob = place of birth
d = died
bur = buried
dod = date of death
pod = place of death
m = married
pom = place of marriage
bef = before
aft = after

When recording a place, there are a few things to remember. First, place names should always be listed from smallest geographic location to the largest. If you have a church or hospital, that should be listed first, followed by the town, village or city, county, state and country. Record the place name by what it was in the year of your record. Place names can change over time when areas are annexed and renamed.


• Town of Preble, Brown, Wisconsin, USA
• Appleton Medical Center, Appleton, Outagamie, Wisconsin, USA
• San Diego County, California, USA

There will be times when doing research that you want to record an approximate date, but don’t have a record to verify it yet. In these circumstances, using before [DATE] and after [DATE] can be helpful. You may also want to list a place name in your unverified data. Here you should potentially list only the largest, most verified area you can. If you know the state but not the county or city, list the state and country. Once you have confirmed the county or city, you can add that information.


• bef 1840
• aft Dec 1899
• Madison County, Montana, USA

Your documents are the heart of your research. It is important to keep them organized. Make use of Pedigree Charts, Family Group Sheets and Research Logs to track your data. This site makes use of Family Group Sheets for individual records. Keeping your source documents organized will also allow you to find data when you need to go back to it. (More information on these documents and others will be added to the site in the future.)