Loving Register style

isaacson christmas
Register style would help clarify family groups among descendants of my grandmother (seated, center).

I simply love Register style as a way of presenting descendants of a particular ancestor. Chris Child’s recent post made me realize just how much I love it. It is such an elegant and efficient way of presenting genealogical information that I wish I had invented it.

isaacson chart_Page_2
Click on image to expand it.

In fact, it was NEHGS that came up with the system in 1870 as a way of presenting information in our quarterly journal, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register – which is why it’s known as Register style.

With Register style, you begin with an ancestor and call that person number 1. Often, in American family histories, person number 1 is the immigrant to America, but it doesn’t have to be. You give that person’s birth and death information and then marriage information.

Taking my immigrant grandmother as an example, I would write as follows:

  1. Sandra Eliina Matalamäki was born at Teuva, Finland, 19 August 1876 and died at Warren, Trumbull County, Ohio, 26 December 1960. She married at Nanty Glo, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, 4 February 1901, John Henry Isaacson, who was born Juho Heikki Iisakkinpoika Panttila at Teuva 26 April 1878 and died at Johnstown, Cambria County, 1 March 1919.

You then list children, in birth order, giving vital statistics. Each child is preceded by a lower-case roman numeral. Children who will later be treated in full – usually those with offspring – are also given identification numbers. Listing my grandparents’ eleven children, I would write:

Children of John Henry and Sandra (Matalamäki) Isaacson, all born at Nanty Glo:

2 i. Jennie Senja Isaacson, b. 19 Nov. 1901; d. Warren 24 Oct. 1975; m. 25 Oct. 1919 Jacob Gomsey.

3 ii. George Lambert Isaacson, b. 29 April 1904; d. Warren 10 Aug. 1984; m. 30 Sept. 1930 Mary Rajasilta.

4 iii. Ellen Sandra “Helen” Isaacson, b. 25 Feb. 1906; d. Warren 15 Oct. 1952; m. 10 May 1923 Theodore Rintala.

5 iv. Aili Regina “Rena” Isaacson, b. 3 Nov. 1907; d. Warren 6 Oct. 1991; m. 13 June 1931 Florian Edward Lenhart.

6 v. Ruben J. Isaacson, b. 19 June 1909; d. Cortland, Trumbull Co., 3 Dec. 1983; m. (1) 18 July 1936 Edith Davis; m. (2) 29 July 1956 Naomi (______) Lundy.

  vi. Vera Helena Isaacson, b. and d. in 1910.

7 vii. Pearl Maria Isaacson, b. 28 Jan. 1912; d. Warren 28 May 1961; m. 13 Oct. 1933 George Samuel Rohrbach.

8 viii. Hilda Irene Isaacson, b. 3 April 1914; d. Warren 5 Nov. 1999; m. 22 June 1940 William Lampila.

9 ix. Onni Emil Isaacson, b. 19 March 1916; d. Germantown, Md., 10 Feb. 1993; m. 26 Dec. 1949 Ruth Wyandt.

10 x. Lillian Eliina Isaacson, b. 1 June 1917; d. Niles, Trumbull Co., 18 July 2003; m. 2 Sept. 1939 John Pietila.

   xi. Urho Armas “Henry” Isaacson, b. 14 Aug. 1919; d. Howland, Trumbull Co., 25 Jan. 1938.

The next family group I would include in my family history, then, would be headed by Number 2, my aunt Jennie (Isaacson) Gomsey. I would treat her just like I treated my grandmother. In the list of her and Uncle Jake’s children, I would assign to the first one with offspring the Arabic number 11, the next in my identification-number sequence.

The Register style system, with its grouping and numbering systems, makes it easy to track a line through multiple generations and keeps family groups together. Patterns are easier to follow in this system than they are in the ahnentafel, which starts at or near the present and traces a direct line back into the past.

And what of any family stories I might have about my grandparents? Where would they go? There’s plenty of room for them, between the listing of my grandparents’ vital statistics and the list of children. The beauty of Register style is that it can expand as necessary to include as much information as possible. And if I have only a small amount of information, I put in just that into the above format. The format helps you walk through all your data, ensuring you put it in the correct place and in the correct order. And if you’re reading material in this format, it helps you understand just where everyone fits.

About Penny Stratton

A veteran of the book publishing industry, Penny Stratton retired as NEHGS Publishing Director in June 2016; she continues to consult with the Society on publications projects. Among the more than 65 titles she managed at NEHGS are The Great Migration Directory, Elements of Genealogical Analysis, Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, and the award-winning Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts. She has written for American Ancestors magazine and is a regular poster on Vita Brevis. With Henry B. Hoff, Penny is coauthor of Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History; she is also the author of several Portable Genealogists on writing and publishing topics.

21 thoughts on “Loving Register style

  1. How do you adjust to later discovered ancestors who came before your immigrant ancestor. I’d think using this style but starting with a known fixed point = you, would make future extensions much easier.

  2. At the beginning of my research many years ago I preferred Register style though I didn’t know it had a name until later. Register style makes better use of paper than ahnentafal. One can run the genealogy as a “list” or can have one person per page with their descendants listed and more details about that person as well as references. Page one would be #1 then the successive pages would be #1’s descendants. After #10 would be #11. One would number the pages as in a book but it would not affect the sequence/numbering of the Register style. Some people in the system may have 1 page and some may have more than one. An name index can also be created to make searching and retrieval easier.

  3. What happens to the numbering when you discover later that there is another child who had offspring? The system would seem to work best when you can say you are truly done with a line (and when is that?!).

    1. Hi, Patti–

      If you’re working in Microsoft Word, you can engage a sequence-numbering system that will allow you to add a number later–and then automatically renumber everything else. It’s described in the NEHGS publication Guide to Genealogical Writing, http://shop.americanancestors.org/products/nehgs-guide-to-genealogical-writing-3rd-edition, and also (briefly) in a four-page Portable Genealogist titled “Genealogical Numbering,” http://shop.americanancestors.org/products/portable-genealogist-genealogical-numbering.

      I don’t want to give too much information, but here goes: You can also use something called “modified Register style,” or NGSQ style, in which you assign an Arabic number to each child, regardless of whether the child later had offspring. You then put a + sign next to the number to indicate a child to be carried forward. In the list above, you’d have

      +5 iv. Aili Regina “Rena” Isaacson, b. 3 Nov. 1907; d. Warren 6 Oct. 1991; m. 13 June 1931 Florian Edward Lenhart.

      +6 v. Ruben J. Isaacson, b. 19 June 1909; d. Cortland, Trumbull Co., 3 Dec. 1983; m. (1) 18 July 1936 Edith Davis; m. (2) 29 July 1956 Naomi (______) Lundy.

      7 vi. Vera Helena Isaacson, b. and d. in 1910.

      +8 vii. Pearl Maria Isaacson, b. 28 Jan. 1912; d. Warren 28 May 1961; m. 13 Oct. 1933 George Samuel Rohrbach.

      Of course, using that style doesn’t solve the problem that arises when you discover a child you never even knew about before. That’s when using the sequence-numbering in Word really helps (as I discovered on more than one occasion).

      And, indeed, when *are* you truly done with a line?

  4. Hi Penny –

    Enjoyed your post as usual but I seem to be the odd one out. Register style to me is hopelessly confusing and I usually give up very quickly. I simply can’t follow families at all. For instance here are some questions about your example – you quit a little too soon!
    1. You said a number is assigned if the person will be treated more fully later. But what if “James” had no children so you did not give him a number and later research showed he was a deserving character – he’s now in limbo with no place to live.
    2. Jennie Isaacson is number 2 i yet her brother is 3 ii – do the i and ii take precedence or the 2 and 3? And do every person’s children start over again with small roman numerals?
    3. Why on earth would you assign the arabic number “11” to Jennie’s first child? Why wouldn’t you give him/her a 2 i plus number designation? There’s no way to know that 10 and 11 are not direct line connected. You said that it’s easy to keep families together but this seems to completely mix them.

    Would you please include the set of numbers you would use for Jennie’s family and then maybe Onni’s so we can see the continuity? How do you backtrack – when the arabic numbers seem to have no connection and the roman numerals are repeated all the time? How can you tell which numbers belong to the same family?

    Sandy Murray

    1. Hi Sandy. I’m sure Penny will be able to answer your questions, but just to let you know, Register style does take some getting used to. Briefly, the Arabic and Roman numerals are not used together. The Arabic numbers are the continuing numbers to the next sketch, but the roman numbers are only the order of birth within the parents’ sketch. If you haven’t already looked at them try the learning guides in the Education section of the website, americanancestors.org. If that doesn’t help, let me know. Perhaps I can address some issues in my blog posts.

    2. Hi, Sandy–

      Thanks for your comments; they point out where I wasn’t clear. (And thanks, Alicia, for addressing Sandy’s question yesterday.)

      Let me try to address your questions in order.

      1. You needn’t limit your full sketches to people who have offspring; I have seen many a family history that gives full treatment to a person who does not. In my own family, I would give full treatment to my childless oldest sister; she has had a noteworthy life!

      2. As Alicia mentions, the Arabic and Roman numerals aren’t used together. Each child list acts as its own entity, numbered from i within each list. The Arabic number is a key telling you where you’ll find a later full sketch for a particular child.

      3. The number 11 is the next in the Arabic-number sequence, which is why Jennie’s first child would be assigned it. Think of the family history as having two sets of numbers: a set that begins with i again in each child list, and a larger set that begins at 1 and goes throughout. Thus Jennie’s child–let’s call her Mary–would be listed like this in the child list:

      11 i Mary Isaacson . . . .

      Then she would have her own full entry under number 11, which will come after the full entry for person number 10, Lillian. Usually you would put a heading in between, to indicate that you are now in a new generation.

      You are correct that there’s no way, just by looking at person number 11, that “Mary” is connected to her mother, who is person number 2. But once you’re familiar with Register style–and Alicia is right, it takes some time to get used to–you know to scan back through child lists to see where person 11 is keyed. Then you can see her whole family group. There are other conventions, which I haven’t mentioned, which also give clues to family groups: one is to use superscript generational numbers (with generation generation 1 being the first generation in America), and to list a generation line at the beginning of the person’s sketch. In “Mary’s” case, that would be

      11. Mary3 Isaacson (Sandra1, Jennie2) was born. . . .

      Another possibility is to add the parents’ names in the sketch:

      11. Mary3 Isaacson was born at [place, date] and died at [place, date], daughter of Jacob and Jennie Senia (Isaacson) Gomsey.

      * * * *

      Jennie’s children would be

      11 i. First child
      12 ii. Second child
      13 iii. Third child

      Onni’s children would be

      28 i. First child
      29 ii. Second child

      Numbers 14-27 are assigned to the children of George, Helen, Rena, Ruben, Pearl, and Hilda.

      * * * *

      I hope this addresses your question! If not, as Alicia mentions, we’ll try to address further questions in future posts. (And see also my reply to Patti above re “modified” Register style.)

  5. I too love register style — but I feel like I am battling MS Word to achieve it. (Yes, I’m trying to use the template and have the book.)

    1. Barb, have you read the section in the book about using automatic numbering, beginning on page 126? I always have to reread the instructions before engaging the system, but it saves a huge amount of time. My advice might be to work on that and not worry about the styles in the template; you could apply them later.

  6. I always enjoy your posts, Peggy. I feel we are kindred spirits–loving grammar and organization. Keep them coming.

  7. Dear Penny. Thank you so much for your comments. I have been only part of NEHGS -full mode since last November. I have talked to several of the great friends at NEHGS and I have learned so much via Emails, Vita Brevis and Personal Exchanges. I have lot of data from several of your publications as well. To all of your Genealogists who give so much to all of us. Sincere Best Wishes, Paul Morris Hilton

  8. Thanks Penny for your reply. That really clarifies a number of points about the Register system, although I think I like the modified system even better. Or the (+) designation you mentioned in the reply to Patti. I’m now ready to try again!

  9. I’ve tried all the variations over the years, and ended up with my own variety. I generally do an ahnentafel version to start with. It gives me a numbering system that I can work with and a quick way to find the direct line. It also makes brick walls more obvious. When I have accumulated lots of siblings for ancestors I do a descendant chart. I gave up on both the Register and NGS systems. GIving the people numbers just didn’t work. I can’t deal with having people’s numbers change. I ended up with the old type of descendant chart, where the indents and a generation number added to the name show the change in generation. The only drawback is that it isn’t always easy to see all of the children of a couple at once. I should add that while my database is in Legacy I publish in HTML. I could do automatic numbering there, but I don’t want to.

  10. Hi Penny, few questions:

    1) does the Guide to Genealogical Writing cover all the required MS word steps for numbering including: superscript for each generation; the next sketch, the use of the + and the Arabic number, etc. ?
    2) How does the superscript for generation is done in word and differentiated from the sources?
    3) Do you think could get confusing between the superscripts for generation and source?

    thank you so much!

    1. Hi, Lizzie–

      Thanks for your questions!

      The Guide covers using Word to automatically insert the person number in a sketch. It involves using Word’s bookmarking function. Because you will still need to enter the name of the person, and the superscript is part of that name. (Superscripts are pretty easy to add with a simple keyboard shortcut.) You will need to enter the + yourself, if you are using modified Register style.

      You will type in generational numbers yourself, as part of the name. To enter a source note, you’ll use Word’s Insert menu to insert a footnote or endnote, and Word will insert those numbers automatically.

      Your last question is a good one, and many people ask it! My advice is just not to worry about it. For one thing, you will quickly get high enough in your note numbers that they can’t at all be confused with generational numbers. Also, generational numbers are used in a very distinctive way, in the middle of a name, where one would likely never have a footnote. If you are writing for nongenealogists, you might want to include some introductory material that explains genealogical conventions. (The book includes an example.) There you can explain that generational numbers, given where they’re placed, will never be note numbers.

      I hope these answers address your questions adequately. Good luck with your writing!

  11. I too adore register style writing. I discovered it after joining NEHGS, my research progressed, and so did my ability to create a method to clarify the growing amount of records I was accumulating. Register style is a very satisfying and clarifying form to present enormous amounts of information, in a beautiful organized format.

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