Numbering Systems for Genealogical Research

As you browse through our HFA website, you will find many partial genealogies (sub-trees of the main family tree). Some of them will be short and easy to read, and to comprehend, in terms of relationships between any two individuals. Some will be much longer and more difficult to comprehend just due to size. As with family charts (at the bottom of the Research Tips for Beginners), larger genealogies quickly becomes much more difficult to utilize, simply due to their size.

Several genealogical numbering systems have been widely adopted for presenting family trees and pedigree charts in text format. Some genealogical numbering systems start with a subject of interest and list that subject’s ancestors. These are called ascending (ancestor)  genealogical systems. Click on this ancestor (ascending) link to see several examples of these ascending numbering systems (using the immediate ancestors and descendants of William Huffman Higdon for sample illustrations of how the various numbering systems would look as used with actual Higdon genealogy). Other systems start with a subject of interest and list that subject’s descendants. These are called descending (descendant) genealogical systems. Click on this descendant (descending) link to see several examples of these descending numbering systems (using the immediate ancestors and descendants of William Huffman Higdon for sample illustrations of how the various numbering systems would look as used with actual Higdon genealogy). The information above in this paragraph uses, or is drawn from, several Wikipedia entries. While some Wikipedia entries are highly controversial (if the topic is controversial — abortion, gun rights, etc. — the entry may be controversial) many entries however are non-controversial, and therefore those entries can oftentimes be good summaries of complex content.

Today, large genealogical software companies use several systems at the same time. Ancestry.com uses a bracket system for both ancestors and descendants (ancestors on the right; descendants on the left) in what they call the ‘pedigree view,’ and they use the same individual information for both ancestors and descendants, but display that information in separate boxes (ancestors up on top; descendants below on the bottom), in what they call the ‘family tree view.’

What does all this background on genealogical numbering systems mean to you. If your genealogical information is not extensive and you wish to share it, you should textually display that information in the way this will be most clear to any reader. (In other words, type it up in a simple format.) Don’t worry if your information does not conform to a genealogically established system. Use any simple system that works for you. 

When you have gathered an extensive listing of genealogical information, you are a genealogist (whether you think so, or not), and will be expected to use a standard format for displaying your vast collection of information. The primary reason for this is make sure other researchers using your information will be able to navigate easily through your vast collection.

One book that is popular among Higdon Family Association researchers is: Descendants of John Higdon and Millicent 1657-1998. This book lists somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 individual Higdons, and Higdon descendants, using two different numbering systems. Because it works so well for helping those new to Higdon genealogical research, it is worth taking a little time to look at this book. Click on this link  to go to an overview of Gena Lee Theiss’ book: Descendants of John Higdon and Millicent 1657-1998, which includes a look at the two genealogical numbering systems that she uses (using the immediate ancestors and descendants of William Huffman Higdon for sample illustrations of how the various numbering systems would look as used with actual Higdon genealogy).


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