Get organised

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A lot of people will gather a great amount of evidence, but the closest they will come to organising it is putting all of (well, most of) their photos and scraps of paper into a drawer.

Where you put your information doesn’t seem all that important, until you try to look for it.

Once again, you should always remember to make sure you always write down where you got your information from. You will want to know this in the future.

How to Organise?

There are two different stages involved with organising information: Gathering and Synthesising.


The golden rule of information gathering is to keep everything together.  If all of your notes about Uncle Jack are in the same place, it makes it easier to find what you’re looking for.

  • Create a file for each person and keep all papers/pictures related to that person in the file
  • If some papers are connected to more than one person, make a copy for the other file or simply include a note saying which person's file the papers are in.
  • Create summary cards for each person which list the main details – name; birth, death and marriage details; parents', children's and spouses' names (and if they have cards). Keep one copy of the card with the person's file, and have another copy on your computer (or somewhere else) so that you can quickly look through the cards to find out what information you are missing.

The cards will be particularly useful when it comes to synthesising your information

You can also use a wide variety of charts and forms to co-ordinate your information and work out how each person is related to the others.


"Synthesising" means “putting your information together to create something”.  This is when you use the information you have found to make your family tree (or whatever else you might be trying to create).

There are a number of things you can do with your information, and it's a good idea to think about what you want to create while you are still in your gathering phase.  For example:

A “Family Tree”, following a line of ancestors back through time

This will show the spouses and siblings of the ancestors, but largely ignore the “cousins”.  It is the most common and easiest form of a family tree.

The easiest and most effective way to do this is to follow the male line (father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc).

Even if you’re following your maternal line, you will still find better records for the males in the family (maternal grandfather, etc).

An “Extended Family Tree”, showing all of the descendants of a particular ancestor

This will branch out to show all of the children, grandchildren, etc of a single person, and will extend to many distant cousins.

This will involve many branches, and might be more easily undertaken using genealogy software or some other computer program.

An “Ancestry Chart”, showing all of your ancestors through every line

This is like the Extended Family Tree in reverse, where the start point is the descendant, not the ancestor.

Like the Extended Family Tree, it is wide-ranging, and may require genealogy software to compile.

Helpful Software

There are a number of software programs that can help you organise your information and synthesise your family tree.

Geni ( is a free online program for creating a family tree.  It requires a sign up, but no charge.  It’s a bit like a cross between a family tree program and face-book, and has a number of useful features. It allows for a limited amount of information to be added to each ancestors name but allows other family members to add information via the internet.

Gramps ( Every person has their own story but they are also part of a collective family history. Gramps gives you the ability to record the many details of an individual’s life as well as the complex relationships between various people, places and events. All of your research is kept organized, searchable and as precise as you need it to be.

Louis Kessler has a list of sites ( which provide genealogical software.  Some are free and some have ratings.

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