Gene 101: Data Entry (Part 1 of 3)


The first session of the Prince Albert Branch of the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society’s three part series titled Gene 101 started off on paper with a couple standard genealogy forms and then showed how to enter your known family history into a genealogy program.

William Dollarhide’s witty sayings provided launching points for the basic questions, why, who, when, where, what, and how. Here are the PowerPoint notes:


If you can remember your ancestors’ marriage dates but not your own, you probably are an addicted genealogist. William Dollarhide

Why are you interested in genealogy? I believe it is because our brains are problem solving engines so no reason is needed but having a reason helps you not only climb the family tree but know when you have reached the top. Of course, the top may just be the bottom of another family tree but without the rationale to fuel your brain’s engine with rewards, you may give up.


Work from the known to the unknown. In other words, just because your name is Washington doesn’t mean you are related to George. William Dollarhide

Write name as: Sir John Alexander MACDONALD

Standardized spelling is a recent invention so the further back you go the wiser you are to actively seek out variant spellings. The International Genealogical Index will help. Learning to use this and the SoundEx is what Stephen Covey calls “sharpening the saw” or continuous development.

Please take 3 minutes to add as many names as you can to your ancestry pedigree chart.


Always interview brothers and sisters together in the same room. Since they can’t agree on anything about the family tree, it makes for great fun to see who throws the first punch. William Dollarhide

Write date as: 24 Jul 1960

Can you see the reasoning in this format for dates? Add as many dates as you can.


The cemetery where your ancestor was buried does not have perpetual care, has no office, is accessible only by a muddy road, has snakes, tall grass, and lots of bugs–and many of the old gravestones are in broken pieces, stacked in a corner under a pile of dirt. William Dollarhide

Write historical place name small to large: Pembroke, Renfrew County, Ontario, Canada. I recommend no abbreviations. This is not only easier to remember but prevents possible conflicts. I type out County every time. I type out Ontario every time. I type our Canada. Actually, I lie. Genealogy programs pop up known place names so typing is minimal.

Add as many places as you can.


A genealogist needs to be a detective. Just gimme da facts, Ma’am. William Dollarhide

Now let’s go digital and start a file for Legacy Family Tree. Why Legacy? It is free and it is already on my computer. Are you currently using a program? (Roots Magic, Family Tree Maker, Gramps, Brother’s Keeper, Personal Ancestry File). We are going to apply our rules for who, when, and where.

As we progress through Legacy please note that we are filling out not a pedigree chart but the family group sheet. Your genealogy program though is a database and it can easily produce documents like pedigree and descendent charts. We started with a pedigree chart because it is more fun and it is a valuable guide to the unknowns.


A good genealogical event is learning that your parents really were married. William Dollarhide

Are you a primary source, firsthand knowledge of your birth, or are you a secondary source, secondhand knowledge?

As genealogists we have to be aware of our confirmation bias—that is, we will look for and/or interpret evidence that confirms our theories and discard evidence that does not. So while we prefer primary to secondary evidence, all evidence needs to be assigned a surety. A number that lets us know at a glance how sure the evidence is.

3= an original source, close in time to the event (government document)

2= a reliable secondary source (grandmother who did not attend birth)

1= a less reliable secondary source or an assumption based on other facts in a source (congrats card with date)

0= a guess (born between siblings)

-= the source does not support the information cited or this information has been disproved

Never add anything to your genealogy without a source. There is a genealogy fable of a great-aunt who climb the family tree for decades. After her death, the family buried it with her because it had no sources.

Never add a source without a surety number. A friend proudly used Wikipedia to climb her family tree to King Henry the VIII. Later she confessed there was a broken branch at the bottom, a guess, and the whole tree toppled when the guess was disproved. I guess that is why a period “ends” the surety rankings.


Your ancestor will be featured in the county history because he was the first prisoner in the new jail. William Dollarhide

How do you climb your family tree? With a research log. Your research log cites your sources, sorts out the knowns and unknowns, organizes documents, weighs evidence of surety, shows your strategies and questions, and, most importantly, reduces duplication.

As you source your data, organize it in binders as you go. It might surprise you to learn that I organize on place. For example, the code ON033 is a photo of the headstone of my husband’s grandparents. When I get around to raising my more ancestors and my descendants less, I will be adding a 0 to the code for two letter code and 4 numbers so it will be ON0033.

Now that you have a start from recall, begin harvesting data from documents in your own home. It is imperative that after your documents, you connect with living relatives and interview them. Online family history data is growing all the time but your living relatives may take their data to their graves at any moment.