Documenting your family history

Documenting your family history is not just about creating a family tree and citing your sources. Documentation is an essential element in all aspects of family history.

The first step when you begin your family history is to look at what you already know and talk to immediate family to find out what they know. Obviously, you have to document that in some way so that you can use it to move forward. What’s the best way to do that? Perhaps start drawing a family tree, showing how people are related to each other and the key facts such as birth, marriage and death dates. But family stories may provide a lot more information than can be recorded in a tree. You could use oral history techniques, record their stories and then transcribe them. Or make your own notes and add your own observations.

When you want to start gathering information from other sources you will need to think about how you are going to document that too. Not the information – not yet. First you need to document your research plan. What information are you looking for and why? Which family story do you want to investigate, or which person in the family do you want to know more about? Then, when you start gathering the information you need to document that too. Again, you could use the family tree and create more notes. Or you might try recording the information using family history software. The software takes a lot of the hard work out of documentation, by providing templates, citation guidance and standard charts and reports to print out.

Finally, when you have gathered the information and answered your research questions, how are you going to share that information with other people? What if your research does not agree with the research of someone else – how will you convince them that your research findings are sound?

The skill of documentation is an essential one for family history. I will be lecturing on this topic at the Society of Australian Genealogists this Saturday, 12 December, as Part 3 of the Family History Fundamentals online course. Further lectures will be held in 2021 on documentation, analysis and research planning. Visit to book.