Collecting Family History

Lars Poulsen - 2020-06-28

About once every decade, I revive my periodic interest in family history, also called genealogy. In this, I am driven by several motivations:

Data Management

Family history requires you to keep track of a massive amount of data. You will probably end up with well over a thousand people in your data base, with 40 or more data items for each. In the days before home computers, this was a daunting task. Today, you just need a home computer with a good program. The one I use these days, is called Legacy Family Tree (version 9.0). It is for Windows. If you use a different kind of home computer, you will have to find a program for it, but because there is a standard way to transfer data between the programs, (called GEDCOM, see below) you can switch later without having to re-enter everything.

Data Sources

The data that you need to track, can come from many different sources.


For living people, the best source is always the person themselves or their children. For many reasons:

Children and Grandchildren

If the person you are registering is not available, the next best is surviving relatives. Finding them can be a challenge if they have moved away from the area where their (grand-) parents lived, but they will usually have good information, and it can be very rewarding to make contact with them. They will often be happy to share, especially if you can give them back a larger circle of information that they may not have known.

Public Records

If you can get back 70 or 80 years, census data and other "vital statistics" such as marriages, births and deaths recorded in the states where the events happened are often available online. Some of the home computer programs have available subscriptions that can get you easily into many of these records.

Private Sharing Databases

With standardized data formats, it is fairly simple to set up databases where people can share their data. These range from

Family History and the Mormon (LDS) Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS or the Mormon Church for short) has always been a strong supporter of family history research due to some of its beliefs. LDS people believe that a family can be together for eternity, so long as all its members are baptized and saved. And they believe that it is valid for a member of the church to have their deceased ancestors baptized, so that they too can join you in Heaven. So it is a religious duty to try and find your ancestors and have them baptized. To this end, they have worked with government archives around the world to get old archives of vital records - such as hundreds of years old church baptism, marriage and death records - microfilmed and cataloged. In the current age, this all lives in large computer databases, which can be accessed by the public through the website .

Computer Programs

When I first started this work, you had to get a package of Family Group Forms and start filling them out in order, and collect them in a 3-ring binder:

Then when you ran out of steam, you would go down to the local LDS church's Family History Center, where a wall full of cabinets with drawers full of microfilm cards contained the catalog of the microfilmed records that could be ordered from the main archive in Salt Lake City. Which you could then make printouts from and take home to build out your own records.

This became much easier, when the LDS church produced a program called Personal Ancestral File (PAF) in versions for MacIntosh and Windows computers.

Since PAF, there have been many more such programs. Some of them are very easy to use (like PAF was) others are difficult to learn.

Legacy Family Tree for Windows

The program that is use is called Legacy. The basic version is free, but the 30 dollar upgrade to a "Pro" version unlocks some very useful report printing features.


All of the good programs allow you to export data in a standard file format called GEDCOM (GEnealogy Data COMmunication format), and to import data from such a file into the program.

There are some small variations in the "dialect" of GEDCOM spoken by each program, but mostly it works very well. When I took up genealogy again after a 25 year pause, i took the backkup file I had exported from PAF many years ago and loaded it into Legacy. The biggest problem I had with that process was that the 3 danish letters æøå (and ÆØÅ) came across as gobbledygook, because the old MacIntosh programs did not use the same codes that later became an international standard. But fixing this in the few places it cropped up was a minor nuisance.

My Sales Pitch to my own Family

Dear family,

I am once again engaged in updating my family tree: The records of my ancestors and their descendants. In the first round, I am trying to capture the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of my grandparents - my cousins, in other words.

To that end, I am sending you a PDF file called a Family Group form, asking you to fill on out for yourself and your children and then send it back to me, either by scanning it and sending the resulting file to or by sending it by regular mail to:

	Lars Poulsen
	125 South Ontare Road
	Santa Barbara, California 93105, USA
Please print as many sheets as you want and work up and down as you are able and willing.

In the notes area at the end, I would appreciate it if you would add your address, telephone number and email address.

If I have your data already in my computer, you will get a sheet that already has data on it, which you are invited to add to, and correct as needed.

I promise that you will get updated sheets back at some point.


Lars in Santa Barbara

Blank_Family.pdf: Blank Family Group Form

Blank_Familje.pdf: Blank Family Group Form in Danish

Legacy Family Tree Software

LDS FamilySearch

Heredis for Mac

More pages

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