Hints and tips

Writing Genealogical Reports

Learning how to write accurate genealogical reports is an essential skill that every aspiring genealogist must learn. While at first they may be daunting, writing genealogical reports can become part of your research routine, will help you sort your thoughts about your ancestors and will make your work accessible for others to read.

From what we learned in Hints and Tips 5: Standards and Good Practice in Genealogy, there are many principles of genealogical research. These principles also apply extensively to genealogical report writing. There are many types of reports that you could write, including Research Reports, Proof Summaries, and Narrative Family Histories.

Research Reports

Research reports are usually written concurrent with research, or after a research session. They are usually written to track your personal research, to share with family, to report to a client or to eventually become a professional genealogist.  These reports are meant to tell a reader what records were searched and what was found in those records (nil searches as well) during a research session. They become a valuable resource when coupled with a detailed research log.

Multiple research reports can be written on one genealogical family, depending on how much research is done. When writing a research report, try to follow a format that works best for your research topic. Here is a basic outline that can help with writing your own research reports:

  • Title: The research report can be named anything; most common names are the family you are researching and the region they lived.
  • Focus of the Research: What your research goals were, if you found what you expected, etc. Quick overview of the research process.
  • Record by Record: If your research was done searching record by record, rather than by person or surname, write the research report in the order of records searched.
  • or Person by Person: If your research was done searching for specific persons in a record, organize the report generation by generation, and then person by person. This will help the reader understand your train of thought and will be much more efficient for writing.
  • Conclusion: Any final thoughts on the research process and what was accomplished.
  • Further Research Suggestions:  This can include a step by step guide of what research still needs to be done and where to find the required records. This will make it much easier for you or someone else to pick up the research where you left off.

When writing a research report, you can use many different things to make the report informational and interesting. Graphics, tables, charts, abstracts, and timelines help make the research report more accessible. Detailed footnotes and source citations will help the reader know where the resource came from. It is also useful to separate your report into sections with headers, page breaks, and creative white space on the page.

For specific examples of research reports and how they are written, please visit the Board for Certification of Genealogists (US) website, http://www.bcgcertification.org/.

Proof Summaries

Proof summaries are reports meant to analyse a specific genealogical question, rather than an entire research session. Proof summaries can be about any genealogical question (who are the parents of my ancestor, where was my ancestor born, etc.), although they are most commonly written to establish parentage of an ancestor.

It is difficult to outline what goes into a proof summary, because each report is different depending on the research question and what records were available for searching. Proof summaries can be in two different formats: line style and narrative style. A Line-style proof summary outlines the record that was searched, a description of what information was in the document, and how that helps solve the genealogical problem. The records are not in the order originally searched, but are ordered in a way that solves the genealogical problem.

Here is an example of an entry from a Line-Style Proof Summary:

  1.) Dorset Militia Lists, Sturminster, Dorset, 11 May 1764. List of men ‘chosen by lotts’ at Cast Meetings of the Subdivision Term of three years, or men who provided substitutes to serve in their place and stead. Summary of important points:
       John Smart took the place of West Stower, a servant. John Smart was from Hazelbury Bryan, Dorset, a laborer, age 19, 5’7”, single.

          • John Smart’s baptismal record states his baptism in 1747, which would make him sixteen years old at the time of his service (someone had to be eighteen to serve in the militia). John’s older brother, Robert, who was actually nineteen, was mentioned on the same page as John on the militia l    lists, which suggests that John may have lied about his age and served with his brother in the militia.

      Source Note: John Smart (11 May 1764), Hazelbury Bryan, Sturminster District, “Dorset, England, Militia Lists, 1757-1860,” digital images, original at Dorset History Centre, L/A 1/2/1, www.ancestry.co.uk.

A Narrative Proof Summary will use the same format as a line-style proof summary, but the information will be written in an essay style, rather than with bullet points. Here is an example of the same entry in Narrative style:

      The only other record found before John’s birth was found in Ancestry’s collection of Dorset Militia Lists 1757-1860. John Smart was listed in the Dorset Militia Lists 11 May 1764 in Hazelbury Bryan, Dorset. According to the record, John Smart was chosen ‘by lotts’ from all the men in Hazelbury Bryan to    serve for the term of three years in the Dorset militia. John was a substitute for West Stower, a servant living in Hazelbury Bryan, Dorset. On this record he was listed at nineteen years of age, was single, and was 5’7”.

      Although the militia list stated that John was nineteen, the information from his baptismal record suggests that he was closer to sixteen years of age. It was likely not an issue that he was younger than his proposed age. Also found on this same page of militia lists was a Robert Smart, who may have been a brother of John Smart.

      Source Note: John Smart (11 May 1764), Hazelbury Bryan, Sturminster District, “Dorset, England, Militia Lists, 1757-1860,” digital images, original at Dorset History Centre, L/A 1/2/1, www.ancestry.co.uk.

Narrative Family History

Narrative family histories are very different than research reports or proof summaries; these are reports that contextualize the lives in the family group. Along with original sources, these types of records bring in information from secondary sources and scholarly articles to help bring genealogical events to life. There is a specific style of narrative family history that can be written, called a compiled lineage.

Compiled lineages normally report on each generation searched, which includes every individual in that family group, similar to the pedigree form used by Burke’s Peerage. Compiled lineages have a specific way of formatting that should be followed. A compiled lineage can be formatted as ascending or descending, depending on how the research flows. It is then started with the father of that family group, followed by the mother, and then the children. Here is a basic outline for the first generation:

First Generation

  1. Ancestor CONDICK, son of Grandfather Condick and Grandmother Yarlett, was born...
  2. Wife BROOME, daughter of...
              i.  Child CONDICK was born...
              ii. Child CONDICK was born...
              iii. Child CONDICK was born...

As you can see, a compiled lineage has a specific numbering system, starting with numbers for the parents and roman numerals for the children. This numbering is continued after the last number for the parents, (ex. 3) and the next generation of children pick up the next roman numeral (ex. iv).

Many genealogical programs, such as Roots Magic, have a function that can create the basic format of a compiled lineage, (including the numbering system and source notes) but they normally need some editing before they can be presented.

The types of sources that can be used to supplement the vital information from a genealogy can vary, depending on the event that you describe. For example, if a child was born during WWII, there will be many secondary and scholarly sources that will outline what life was like for children during the war. Use many different secondary sources and scholarly articles to place your family in their historical context.

By writing genealogical reports, you will be able to get more out of your research. Your research will be elevated, as well as your writing skill, and you will be closer to becoming a more successful genealogist.

Further Resources

Ancestry, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual. Washington DC: Ancestry Publishing, 2000.


Written by Abbie Black 2013

© Society of Genealogists 2017

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