Numbering a Genealogy 1: Immigration

Meet the Walkers: William, Margaret, their children, and grandchildren. In several posts we will use this family to explore issues encountered when numbering a genealogy, one of the relationship-formatting options of Standard 65, Genealogical formats.[1] This first post will show how to number the Walker family abroad and after immigration to the United States. Successive posts will show how to number adoptive children, those of unknown paternity, and children of successive spouses.

In all cases our authority on numbering is Joan Ferris Curran, Madilyn Coen Crane, and John H. Wray, Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin, ed. Elizabeth Shown Mills, rev. ed. (Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2008). Posts assume readers are familiar with writing a genealogical sketch that covers basic vital information.[2] The examples are highly abbreviated and omit source citations to save space.

Part of the genealogical sketch, the parenthetical summary of descent, outlines each descendant’s ancestry. It appears after the descendant’s name in the first line of the biographical sketch, for example, “8.  Margaret Maitland2 Walker (Thomas Watta-1, WilliamA, ThomasB) was born . . .”

We will be focusing on three numbers. All can be seen in the entries for William and his family below.

  • Individual numbers are arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) that uniquely identify each descendant in the genealogy. They begin with the first person in the genealogy, the progenitor (William Walker here), and continue sequentially with his children in birth order.[3] The sequence continues with the children of Generation Two and succeeding generations. Each person has a unique number. Spouses do not receive an individual number, as they belong to the genealogy of another surname.
  • Generation numbers are superscript numbers or letters in italic font (1, 2, A, B, a, b) that designate a person’s generation. They appear after the first names of 1) each individual and 2) each person in the parenthetical summary of descent.[4] Whether to use letters or numbers depends on where the person was born. In the simplest terms, letters of the alphabet designate foreign-born people, and numbers designate those who immigrated to or were born in the American colonies or the United States.[5] Capital letters indicate those who stayed in the home country, beginning with A, the parent of the immigrant(s), and increasing with each more distant ancestor. Lowercase letters indicate successive generations of foreign-born descendants, beginning with a.[6]
  • Birth-order numbers are lower case roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv) that indicate placement of children in a family. They are assigned sequentially to all children of the couple in question. William and Margaret had four children, numbered i–iv.

Generation One

 William has an individual number (1) and an italic superscript (A) for his generation. His father also has a generation number in William’s parenthetical summary of descent.

Individual number and generation “numbers”

Did you notice how we worked with the numbering system and the Numbering Your Genealogy examples to justify WilliamA’s individual and generation numbers? We didn’t make them up. There’s a reason for each one. Let’s see how the numbering plays out for William’s children.

Each of William and Margaret’s children has both an individual number and a birth-order number. While the individual numbers place them in the context of the whole genealogy, the birth-order numbers refer only to this particular family.

After WilliamA’s death, all of his children immigrated to the U.S. with their mother. Those children take a two-part generation number, a-1: a, because they are children of a parent who did not immigrate and 1, because they themselves did immigrate.[7]

The generation number of eldest son Thomas Watt, a-1, is implied for younger brothers William Henry and John James.[8] However, their youngest brother Edward died in England before the immigration. He is simply generation a, the child of A, William. His generation number tells us at a glance (by the lack of a number 1) that he did not immigrate with the others.[9]

Individual numbers, birth-order numbers, and generation numbers

That’s a skeleton of William Walker’s biological family. What it doesn’t show is that Margaret gave birth to a daughter Margaret Ann a year or so after William’s death. She, too, bears the Walker surname, so how does she fit in this genealogy? Next time we’ll look at Margaret Ann, and the complexity of children of unknown parentage.

How does the Walkers’ numbering compare to your family’s? What questions does it raise?


[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 50th Anniversary ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry Imprint, Turner Publishing, 2014), 36–37.

[2] For examples, see issues of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly that include winning submissions of the NGS Family History Writing Contest (usually December). For guidance on writing a genealogical sketch see Carmen J. Finley, Creating a Winning Family History: Including a Guide to the NGS Family History Writing Contest, rev. ed. (Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2010), 31, section (1).

[3] Numbering Your Genealogy, 9.

[4] Numbering Your Genealogy, 10.

[5] Numbering Your Genealogy, 10, paragraph 1.

[6] Numbering Your Genealogy, 27, “Solution.”

[7] Numbering Your Genealogy, 27, bullets 1 and 2.

[8] Numbering Your Genealogy, 10, paragraph 1.

[9] Numbering Your Genealogy, 27, bullet 3.

Welcome, Cheryl Storton, CG

When introducing herself, Cheryl Storton is happy to tell about her home, Arroyo Grande, on a beautiful stretch of California midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Leaving her Iowa roots behind, Cheryl settled permanently in the state one of her ancestors had visited briefly during the Gold Rush. Cheryl found gold in a teaching job at Lompoc Junior High. That got her to California. The weather and lifestyle kept her there. Cheryl is married to Tim Storton and has a son Shawn and eight stepchildren.

While Cheryl’s jobs as a teacher, waitress, bar tender, process server, and accessories vendor, all contributed to her life skills, it’s the business she ran with friend Cafi Cohen that informed her genealogical work. For seven years they operated Bridge to Yesterday, offering client research and creating beautiful family albums with photos, text, and documentation. The work took her into areas of research where her own family had not and expanded her familiarity with records. Cheryl and Cafi closed their business in 2014, and Cheryl began work in earnest on preparing her portfolio.

Cheryl Storton, CG

With encouragement from Cafi, she began attending a number of institutes and joined ProGen. Cheryl took her assignments seriously, which improved her transcriptions, abstractions, proof arguments, and client reports. She found that religiously reading the National Genealogical Society Quarterly improved her writing and source citations. Through the preparation for certification she has gained confidence in her genealogical skills and feels comfortable with source citations to the point of enjoying them most of the time. And she no longer hates to write, but it is still not an easy process for her.

The kinship-determination project provided a satisfying writing opportunity. The last generation included her grandfather, whom she knew personally. Researching him gave her a more complete picture of him. She learned that while many people struggled during the Depression, his story was amazingly different. He always had various jobs including managing a snow fence factory. His daughter had the best shoes, and even saw an orthodontist. Cheryl advises other applicants to write the kinship-determination project about their own families, as they will be spending a lot of time on the research and getting to know the people well.

Cheryl describes herself as very social, so not being able to talk to anyone about the contents of her portfolio was difficult. When asked what advice she would give to someone considering applying for certification, she said, “Focus, focus, focus. What that meant for me was: no Facebook time, no heavy research on family lines, no time for reading and posting to mailing lists, no new clients. Also, I tried to keep to a daily schedule for research and writing. I recommend frequent breaks to exercise and clear your head.”

What will she do now that she is board-certified? Cheryl’s husband, a former sheriff, is researching the sheriffs of San Luis Obispo County with the hope of writing a book. Cheryl’s skills come into play helping with genealogical research and writing biographical sketches. She also looks forward to doing some of that heavy research on her family lines and cleaning up her database and office. That may include work on her third great-grandmother Hannah, born in Pennsylvania in 1805, whose parents and death date and place are still elusive. Another goal is to speak at national genealogical events as a certified genealogical lecturer.

Cheryl has been program director for her local genealogical organization, the San Luis Obispo County Genealogical Society. She also participates in their groups on DNA, genealogical writing, and professional standards, and she’s now their second BCG associate. And she can finally talk about her portfolio. If you run into her at SLIG next year, be sure to say hello and enjoy a visit.  Cheryl can be reached at Congratulations, Cheryl!

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

BCG Webinar Update

Barbara Vines Little’s February 2016 BCG webinar, “The Importance of Context in Record Analysis,” is now accessible on demand from Vimeo. It is available for twenty-four-hour rental ($2.99) or for purchase of unlimited streaming and download ($12.99).

Go to the BCG Webinars tab at the top of this page for free previews and links to Vimeo recordings of all BCG webinars.

BCG Webinars are generally presented the third Tuesday of the month. Watch SpringBoard and Facebook for notices about two weeks before each webinar.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Free BCG Webinar: Fonkert on Merging and Separating Identities

Tuesday, 15 March 2016 at 8:00 p.m. EDT, J. H. (Jay) Fonkert, CG, will present “Genealogical Fingerprints: Merging and Separating Identities in Family History Research.”

A recording of this webinar is available for a small fee from Vimeo.

J. H. (Jay) Fonkert, CG

Merging or separating identities is a core genealogical problem. Sometimes we find a person of the same name in several different places over time. Other times, we find two easily confounded people in the same place and time. A series of short case studies illustrates the importance of certain identity.

Jay Fonkert, CG, is a Minnesota-based genealogy researcher, educator, and writer who focuses on nineteenth-century Midwest research. His favorite research target is the Fawkner family of Kentucky and Indiana. He is a trustee of the BCG Education Fund, a past director of the Association of Professional Genealogists, and a past president of the Minnesota Genealogical Society. Jay was an instructor at the Salt Lake Institute for Genealogy from 2013 to 2015 and has published more than sixty research and teaching articles in the Minnesota Genealogist, The Septs, Family Chronicle, NGS Magazine and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

“We are pleased to offer this informative webinar,” said BCG president Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG. “The Board for Certification of Genealogists strives to foster public confidence in genealogy by promoting an attainable, uniform standard of competence and ethics. Educating all family historians is part of this mission.”

There is no charge, but space is limited. Register for J. H. (Jay) Fonkert, “Genealogical Fingerprints: Merging and Separating Identities in Family History Research” at

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. For more information contact

Learn about BCG’s previous webinars at

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.