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6 Things to Do When Your Family History is "Done"

There are many of us who claim to have “finished” researching a family line. Even I have said it! My excuse? Aunt Susie did the work back in 1980 and she gave me a copy.

I know, I know. The more experienced genealogists are thinking “your family history is never done!” And they are right. There are many things left to do, even when you think your family history is “done.” Here are six things you may have yet to finish.

1. Correctly complete a source citation for each fact. Do each of your genealogical facts have a source citation? I learned when I moved over Aunt Susie’s GEDCOM to my new software program, her notes were lost. Those notes included all of her source citations. At that time, she was not using the standard format for source citation that we use today. I am referring to the format laid out in Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained. Though this citation format is sometimes difficult for the beginner, we can all aspire to being more thorough in our citations.

I needed to go back over Aunt Susie’s work and some of my own earlier research and add source citations to each fact. It is a long and tedious task, but it will also help you to flesh out any mistakes.

2. Search for stories and narratives to add life to your ancestral history. Have you scoured biographical sketches and newspapers for each of your ancestors? Genealogical data like names, dates, and places is boring for most people. Taking time to enrich your history through stories and narratives can bring your ancestors to life. Many resources exist online. Using Google Books is free and you can find town and county histories in the digitized books there. To learn more about how to find biographical sketches on Google Books and other online repositories, read here.

3. Collect and digitize your family photos. Have you digitized all the old family photos? When scanning your photos, you should use at least a 600 dpi. If you are able, save them in TIFF format. Though JPEG is often the format of choice, TIFF format has less loss of image quality and will produce a better quality image if you ever need to have the photograph reprinted.[1]


If you already scanned your family photographs, have you taken the time to back them up and preserve the digital copies? If you keep the original photos in your home and your computer is also in your home, what happens if there is a fire? You will have lost not only the originals, but the digital copies as well. Be sure to put your digital images on a thumb drive or CD and give them to other family members. You might also upload your images to the Cloud or other online server. To read more about that procedure, read here.

4. Search out collateral lines. Collateral lines are defined as those relatives who are not in your direct ancestral line. For example, these are nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and siblings of your third great-grandmother and their descendants. Even though they are not part of your direct line, you will often learn about your own family by researching these extended family members.

5. Gather the names, dates, and places for vital data of living relatives. Do you know when and where your cousins were born? An accurate family history does not leave out the living! Family reunions are a great time to gather this kind of information. Perhaps you could give each family a family group sheet to fill out. Once the data has been collected, remember to enter it into your family history software or tree with the source citation.

6. Create a family history book. There are several ways to have your family history book printed. Some genealogy software programs like RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker have a narrative or book format. I personally enjoyed blogging about my family history and then having the blog printed into a book using the online service Blog2Print.

Once you have printed your book, consider sharing it via e-books online or donating a copy to the local genealogical or historical society in your ancestors old stomping grounds. Someone somewhere will be glad you did.

In nearly every case, your family history is likely not “done.” Keep working to fill out the blank names, dates, and places. Remember your collateral lines and the living relatives too. Scan your photos, back them up, and print that family history book while you are at it. Maybe then you can say your family history is “done!”


[1] Jamie, “Image Formats Mega Cheat Sheet – All You Need to Know About JPEGs, TIFFs, GIFs, PNGs, & BMPs,” article online, 11 September 2015, Make a Website Hub ( : accessed 27 Oct 2015).

Amie Bowser Tennant Amie Bowser Tennant

Amie Bowser Tennant has served as a volunteer at her local Family History Center for more than 10 years. She was awarded the National Genealogical Society Home Study Course Scholarship in American Genealogy in 2011. She also enjoyed the position as newsletter editor for Miami Meanderings, a local county genealogical publication, for two years. Now, she is a research genealogist, speaker, and writer.

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  1. Amie,

    Family history can never be done because whatever ancestors you start with, you’re missing their parents.

    But, it really is done when you pass away. So do as much as you can before that as well documented as possible.


    1. When you can trace all your ancestry back to Adam and Eve and find all their descendants, they you’re done.

  2. I’ve never considered myself as a genealogist, I never studied the subject.
    Also, I never considered my research finished.
    It is the searching back in time that holds me. I also take pride in accuracy, realizing there are enough inaccuracies in print to mislead even the most articulate of us. So, with 6000 names I have 20,000 sources and although this is a lot of sources, I could double this number and there would still be errors.
    I mostly follow the blood line. But now I find myself recheck in my work. My sense of achievement is in being accurate. Not so much in being a trained technician.

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