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How to Record Genealogy Data

By Kristen
Page Updated on November 24, 2007


  • Paper
    • Always keep records on white paper. Colored paper doesn't photocopy well and can even distort the ink.
    • Try to use acid free paper whenever possible.
  • Ink
    • Always use black ink. Colored ink can fade and doesn't photocopy well.
    • When writing with pen, try to use pens specifically designed for document preservation; they use archival ink.
  • Electronic Media I love electronic media (especially computer files) because it's so easy to work with and can serve as backup if any of your hard copies are destroyed (such as in a fire), but it's not always reliable. Most people don't own 8-track cassette players or even record players anymore, so if they found a record or 8-track tape, they would have no idea what was actually on it. The same will be true with medias we use today: video cassettes, digital tape, compact discs (CDs), digital video discs (DVDs), and so forth. Another problem is that some sort of device is required to read those media types, and they aren't always portable. Plus, electronic media requires electricity, and electricity isn't always available.
    • Always print out hard copies. You don't need electricity or an electronic device to read them.
    • Always copy your records onto the latest and greatest media type. When video tape starts to phase out, copy those videos onto DVD. When DVD starts to phase out, copy them onto the next major media fad. The same goes for computer files and any other electronic media.


  • Format
    • Always write names in order of: First "Nickname" Middle Last, Suffix
    • Never abbreviate names.
    • Example: Alexander "Alex" Ray SANDERS, Jr.
  • First Names (Given Names)
    • Always write out first names completely. Never abbreviate or use nicknames.
    • Example: Write out William instead of Wm. or Bill.
  • Nicknames
    • Nicknames should be written in quotes after the first name.
    • Example: Sylvia "Maggie" Margaret JONES
  • Middle Names
    • Never use just the initials for a middle name unless you only know the initials and not the full name.
  • Last Names (Surnames)
    • Last names should be written all in uppercase letters to make them easier for others to scan through.
    • Use maiden surnames instead of married names to identify women.
    • If you do not know a woman's maiden surname, put a pair of empty parenthesis () after her middle name.
    • If you wish to include a woman's married name to identify her, write her maiden surname in parenthesis after her middle name, followed by her married name.
    • If a woman was married to multiple people you can write her maiden name in parenthesis after her middle name and follow it with the names of each husband in order of marriage.
    • Example: Mildred Allison ()
    • Example: Mildred Allison () DAVIS (Davis is her married surname.)
    • Example: Sarah Faye (SMITH) JONES STEVENSON (note: she married Jones first then Stevenson)
  • Suffix
    • A suffix (Jr., Sr., III) is written after the last name, separated from the last name with a comma.
    • Example: Aaron William BALL, Jr.
  • Alternate Names
    • If somebody has changed their name for any reason other than marriage, write the full alternate name in parenthesis preceded by an a.k.a. after the full name used to identify the individual.
    • Example: James Michael Smith (a.k.a. James Michael JONES)
    • Example: Joyce Mary Smith (a.k.a. Joy Margaret SMITH)
  • Changed Spelling
    • If the spelling of a name has been changed, write the original spelling followed by the new spelling, and separate them with a slash.
    • Example: Victor PHIN/FIN

Use the notes section of your record for the individual to explain any information you have about names, changes to names, and so forth. Often it can make for interesting stories ("so that's why they names him Elvis") and can even provide clues for further research.


  • Format
    • Write dates out in the day month year format.
    • Always write out the complete month or use the standard three letter abbreviation for the month. Never use numbers to identify a month.
    • Always write out the complete year (1932 instead of '32).
    • Example: 23 March 1922 or 23 Mar 1922
  • Approximate Dates
    • If you don't know the exact date of an event but do know the month or year, just enter in as much information as you have, and be as specific as possible.
    • If you don't know the exact date of an event but know when it approximately happened write "about" or the abbreviation "abt." or "circa" or the abbreviation "c." before the date.
    • If you know an event took place before a certain date, write "before" or "bef." before the date.
    • If you know an event took place after a certain date, write "after" or "aft." before the date.
    • If you know an event took place between two dates, write "between" or "bet." before the dates. Then write the earliest date, a hyphen, and then the latest date.
    • Example: abt. 22 January 1922 or about 22 January 1922 or c. 22 January 1922 or circa 22 January 1922
    • Example: bef. 1889 or before 1889
    • Example: aft. May 1639 or after May 1939
    • Example: bet. 17 August 1950 - 3 July 1951
  • Calendars
    • Some cultures used different calendars at different times (even today). Take this into consideration when writing down dates.


Genealogy usually don't include specific times for events, but if you have the specific time for an event, by all means write it down.

  • Format
    • Write times out as hours:minutes:seconds (hh:mm:ss).
    • Use a 24 hour clock (standard time format, also known as military time) rather than am or pm notation.
    • If you know the location of an event or the time zone in which it occurred, be sure to note it. Alternatively you can use Universal Time (also called Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Zulu Time) and indicate this by writing Z or GMT after the time.
    • Remember that some places use daylight saving time during the summer.
    • Some people write time down before the date while others write it down after the date.
    • Example: Instead of 2:30 pm Pacific Standard Time write 14:30 PST
    • Example: Instead of 14:30 PST you can write 22:30Z or 22:30 GMT


  • Format
    • Always write out the full spelling of a location; don't use abbreviations. An abbreviation could stand for multiple locations.
    • Write locations in order from smallest to largest region (e.g. street address, city, county, state, country).
    • Consider using terms to indicate exactly what a name is (e.g. "co." or "county" after the name of a county and so forth).
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