Ahnentafel? Gesundheit!

Eytzinger Thesaurus principum first ahnentafel

The first Ahnentafel, published by Michaël Eytzinger in 1590.

Ahnentafel. I have no idea how to pronounce this word but I think it would sound like someone sneezing in German. Actually, according to Emily Croom in Unpuzzling Your Past, Ahnentafel means “ancestor table.” It’s an organizational system that assigns a number to everyone on your pedigree charts. Fathers are even numbers and mothers are odd. Numbers, that is.

I’m sure it’s brilliant, and whoever invented it must be a genius. (Along with the person who invented knitting. Seriously, who figured that out?) But I am most decidedly not a numbers person. Lord knows I try, but numbers will not stay in my head. Words, on the other hand—my brain will never shut up. So for all you “numbers” people out there I say, “Gesundheit,” and enjoy your ancestor tables.


Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Nancy Shively of Skiatook, OK. Read all her posts at Family Tree University.

2 thoughts on “Ahnentafel? Gesundheit!

  1. I had no idea that Ahnentafels were around as early as 1590. I find the numbering rather confusing too, I really have to concentrate. Maybe a calculator would help me!

  2. The Alphabetical and Numbering System works great.
    We have my husbands family researched back to the 1750’s in the USA. This relative from Georgia, who researched before writing the family book in 1986, started his book with the first person he found, (A-1) Andrew, possibly born by 1748. Andrews parents names are unknown, plus other unknowns, if he was born in Scotland, Ireland, or USA, and how or when his family actually immigrated to America? He married in Rowan County N. Carolina in June 1769, and was found with family, a son (B-4) James, the 4th son and the 5th son,
    (B-5) Andrew Jr, on the census by 1790 in Burke County. The Federal and/or State Census are wonderful genealogy tools. We don’t actually think they moved but during that time the state was starting to break down into smaller counties, county lines rapidly changed as western areas of their state were developed. In later years, our line of family members moved down into Georgia.

    Our researcher used an Alphabetical Lettering and Numbers System for each generation. The first known person Andrew is (A-1), he would be my husbands g-g-g-g-grandfather. My husband is (G-76), his father being (F-40), our daughter (H-174) and our first granddaugher (I-34). The alphabet makes it so easy to keep the generations straight, especially when, about every generation, the first name was repeated in the family for one of their sons name. The numbers include the known children under each generation.

    I have used the Alphabetical System in researching all eight of our ancestral families. But, in many of our seven other families, I have been very fortunate to research back before this (A)generation of our g-g-g-g-grandparents, which creates a good problem.

    How do you letter back prior to (A)?
    It is a must to save space for future research as Genealogy is never finished, I’ve been doing this for at least 30-35 years, and enjoying every minute of research. Prior to the computer, we traveled to many states in the USA, doing research in many libraries and visiting known family members. We have also traveled to other countries and met many cousins and joined them in researching. Their Church records are such a great help. My advise would be to start with the first known person at least about (G-1) or so instead of (A-1). I know this is wishful thinking, but leave ample growing room if older generation, back in Ireland or Scotland or where ever, might be found in later researches. I have always used the Alphabet, and followed our researchers system where he used the (A) in my husbands paternal family. (A)is also for each of our other generations g,g,g,g-grandparent while researching all eight of our ancestral families. Certainly less confusing, but fortunately, I need to go back beyond (A) to record much newly found available information.

    Another hint. Don’t just consecrate on your ancestors. Please keep records, record all the current marriages, deaths, and new born family members, when you receive the news. It is so easy to consecrate on our ancestors and forget about recording names and dates of new family members, the family genealogy for future generations, and helping them to avoid some of the brick walls in their research. This can be accomplished by keeping a genealogy diary and sharing information by being the family genealogist/historian at your next family reunions. If you don’t have a family reunion, organize one, they are fun, life is too short to not know and treasure your relatives. SMc

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