• CREATE a pedigree chart
  • DISCOVER a detective's best strategy: the research process


This lesson includes opportunities for class discussion, a video presentation and an online activity. Vocabulary words are included at the end of the lesson, though not specifically brought into the lesson in the form of an assignment. Resulting measurable assignments include the creation of a pedigree chart, and a list of research questions. Before teaching this lesson, please re-read the Introduction to this Guide.


The pedigree chart is simply a way to organize the information you find about your ancestors. It is not the only chart you'll use during your family history search, but starting with a pedigree will help you focus your search from here on out.

As you can see, a pedigree is simply a chart that records descent.

In China, pedigree charts look much different than they look in America. In this episode, you'll meet Sheila Hsia, who lives in Hong Kong. Sheila's family had been recording its genealogy for nearly 4000 years, but after China's devastating Cultural Revolution, she doubted the survival of her family's pedigree charts. Join her as she discovers the fate of these important family records and learn why her family book is considered a compiled record.

What is a compiled record?
How might compiled records help you in your research?
How is a pedigree chart used?


FILL OUT A PEDIGREE CHART Because Sheila's pedigree was written by many different ancestors over hundreds of years and then gathered into one book, it is considered a compiled record. Chances are, your family doesn't have a pedigree that's been in the family for the last 400 years, so perhaps you'd better create your own! [You can do this right online and print it out. Get our Pedigree Chart at this link.] If you prefer to only record your mother's or father's side, you may do so for the purposes of this exercise.

Key points to follow:
Start with yourself on line one. Your father's full name should appear on line two. Your mother's full name before marriage should appear on line three. (Male names will always be recorded on even numbers, except for line one, and female names will always be on odd numbers). Use maiden names for females.
Write dates using the day, month, year (27 MAY 1955).
Write place names as completely as possible (city, county, state).

If you've completed lessons one and two, you'll have much of the information you need to start filling out your pedigree chart. But eventually, you'll start to notice the information that's missing. It could be your paternal grandfather's first name, or your mother's place of birth. How do you find this missing information?



Without even knowing it, you've started to use a research process that many successful family history detectives have used. If you follow this process, you'll be able to find the information you need to fill in the blanks that now exist on your pedigree chart. If you've completed lessons one and two in this guide, take particular note of where you are in the process.

The steps to finding your ancestors look like this:

Step 1: Write down what you know.
By creating a pedigree, you've already completed Step 1.

Step 2: Decide what you want to learn.
Take a look at the blank spaces on your pedigree. Choose one ancestor to focus on and then decide what piece of information you want to learn about that ancestor. It's best if the blanks you try to fill first are for an ancestor close to you in time, since the chances of finding information about an ancestor who lived 50 years ago are much better than if the ancestor lived 500 years ago.

Step 3: Choose a source of information.
What person, object or record will have the information you're looking for? Is there a gravestone that could tell you the death date of your great-grandfather? Is there a person who might have already looked for the headstone and may know the date? Or has a genealogical society in the town in which your ancestor died created a compiled record of local death certificates?

Step 4: Learn from the source.
Investigate the source for the information you are looking for. Go to the cemetery, call your relative or perhaps write the local genealogical/historical society.

Step 5: Use what you learned.
Evaluate the results of your search and share your information with relatives who are also family history detectives.


In step 2, you've used your pedigree to decide which ancestor you'd like to know more about. Write a list of questions about this ancestor, then choose a question to answer in step 3.

If you've got a relative or a family artifact that can give you the answer, then great! Go on to steps 4 and 5, gathering the information and then writing it down on your pedigree.

But, if your answer can only be found in records, then it's time to look for a compiled record.

There are many kinds of compiled records, such as family histories, biographies, local histories and vital records collections. To give you an idea of some that are available online, check out the following sites.


This site is an online compiled record of pedigrees for the royal families of Britain. Take a look at the pedigrees of Queen Victoria or Mary, Queen of Scots.

Cyndi'sList, one of the largest sites for genealogical links, offers this great index of biographies. Biographies are considered compiled records because they usually include information gathered from a number of sources.

This site is for the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The Family History Library is the largest genealogical library in the world. Click on "Browse Categories", and then click on "Family Histories and Genealogies" to see if someone has already given the library information on your family tree.

Your local library or genealogical society might have some compiled records that would answer your research question. To find a genealogical society in your area, contact the Federation of Genealogical Societies at www.fgs.org.


Remember that the advantage of finding a compiled record is that someone might have already done a lot of family history detective work. If this person has been a solid detective and has cited the sources from which he or she gathered information, then you have made a fantastic beginning.

. . . WHAT'S NEXT?
After checking for compiled records, it's time to dive into original records. Ancestors episode four will show you how, with new technologies, accessing records is now easier than ever!


Pedigree Chart: A chart that indicates a person's descent.

Compiled Record: A record (usually in book form) consisting of information that has been gathered from original records, other compiled records and verbal testimony. Examples include "The Life of Thomas Walpole Tyrrell" or "The History of the Wright Family" because these books will include information from living people as well as various record sources.

Original Record: A record created at or close to the time of an event by an eyewitness to the event. (e.g., a birth record by the doctor who delivered the baby.)

Given name: A person's first name(s).

Surname: A person's last name or family name.

Maiden name: A female's surname at birth.

Pedigree: An ancestral line or line of descent.

Paternal Line: The line of descent on a father's side.

Maternal Line: The line of descent on a mother's side.

Archive: A place in which public records or historical documents are preserved and researched. Unlike a Library, archived records cannot be checked out but can be used in the building.

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