Six Levels of Ancestral Profiles – Level-up Challenge!

I had an interesting discussion with fellow genealogist Willem Vermeulen the other day, about the importance of going beyond the vital information to document your family and meet the Genealogical Proof Standard. I mentioned that I have different ‘levels’ of ancestral profiles, that I am now working to improve and expand. I have been working on my tree for thirty years, and not all of the work on my ancestors is up to my current standards. I decided to make these levels explicit to see where I am.

Level 0: Unidentified ancestor

I do not know who this ancestor is, not even a name.

Level 1: Names only

These are ancestors for whom I have found few records. They may have been named in records of their children. I may only know where they were at one point in time, for example when a child was baptized, but do not know when they were born, married, or died.

Most of my brick wall ancestors are like this. Most of them were born before 1650.

Level 2: Vital statistics

These are ancestors for whom I’ve done research in vital records: civil registration records of births, marriages, and deaths after 1811 or church records of baptisms, marriages, and burials before 1811. I may miss a date if records did not survive, but I have completed the research to find all the surviving vital records and have estimated dates for the events for which no record specifies the exact date.

I have reached this level for most of my ancestors born after 1650. See my level 2 checklist for the sources I use.

Level 3: Occupations, residence, children, spouses

These are ancestors where I know several key points of information. I not only know when and where they were born, married, and died, but also where they lived between those key dates and what they did for a living. I know who their children were, and whom they married, including spouses I don’t descend from.

I have reached this level for most of my ancestors born after 1800 and some earlier ancestors. See my level 3 checklist for the sources I use.

Level 4: Property ownership, military service, religion, criminal activity

These are ancestors for whom I have filled in more biographical details about their lives. I have done research in court, notarial, cadastral, church and military records, where applicable. I know if they owned property, how they acquired it, how they disposed of it. I know whether they left a last will or if they had a prenuptial agreement. For men, I know whether they served in the army. I know what religion they were and which church they attended. If they were criminals, I found out what they did and what their sentence was.

I have reached this level for several of my ancestors born after 1800, particularly on my mother’s Noord-Brabant side where more of these records are online. See my level 4 checklist for the sources I use.

Level 5: Genealogical Proof Standard

These are ancestors for whom I’ve finished reasonably exhaustive research and have proven who their parents are. I feel like I have gotten to know them. I have finished researching them in a wide range of records, such as newspapers, town records, and tax records. I’ve documented them according to current genealogical standards, analyzed everything properly, resolved conflicts, written up my conclusion, and met the Genealogical Proof Standard.

I have reached this level for my ancestors in my possible line to Eleanor of Aquitaine and some other ancestors born after 1800.

Level 6: Biography

These are ancestors for whom I have not only finished the research, but I have written it up in the form of a biography or family story, complete with historical context.

I have reached this level for two generations of my Kastein ancestors. I wrote about them in my Kinship Determination Project as part of my portfolio to submit to the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

Current level

To see how I’m doing for my own tree, I filled in my ahnentafel chart with the levels for each ancestor and then color-coded them. That’s me at the bottom, then my parents on the row above that, grandparents above that, etc., back to generation 7.

I’m shocked that it is this bad!

I have been strict though; one missing population register is an automatic cap at level 2, for example, and any family not written up properly is an automatic level 4 max since it doesn’t meet the fifth element of the Genealogical Proof Standard, a written conclusion.

Some of these families I last seriously researched when I was a teenager, so I knew they were not all up to my current standards, but it is eye opening to see how much work remains to be done. I have been working on this for my mother’s side off and on for the past couple of years, one nuclear family at a time, but my father’s side is lagging. I create a report for each ancestral couple to document all the research, and then add the conclusions to my family tree.

A few things I notice:

  • My mother’s side (right side of the chart) is doing a lot better than my father’s side (left side). That is largely thanks to the better online availability of records in Noord-Brabant, where her family is from. For example, the notarial records for the towns where her ancestors are from and prison records are available online, while criminal court records are available via free scanning on demand.
  • On my father’s side, I have not completed even the basic research on the population registers for many of my ancestors (level 3). For a long time, these records were not online for the town of Winterswijk where most of his ancestors were from. They are now, and I should make it a priority to do this.
  • For some of the more recent generations, I have a lot of information but haven’t taken the time to properly write it all up and meet the GPS to get it to level 5.
  • The 0’s are especially glaring, but I cannot do much about them. They are the fathers of illegitimate children whom I have not identified yet. I have been researching the mothers and the children, trying to find out what men were in their lives, and then looking for these men among my DNA matches. I have a theory for one of them, but nothing close to a solid conclusion yet.
  • I like that the visual chart makes it easy to see which lines need the most work.

Since I have not met the Genealogical Proof Standard in many parts of my tree, I’m building on quicksand. I need to fix this!

Level-up challenge

I challenge you all to join me in leveling up our ancestors.

You can use the levels as defined above, or define your own if that makes more sense for the way you do research. For comparison, I suggest we all stick to level 1 = names only and level 5 = GPS. You can download an Excel-sheet for seven generations like the one I did above that automatically does the coloring if you put in the levels.

My first goal is to get all of my ancestors in the first five generations to level 3. That will take me back to the mid 1800s.

What level are most of your ancestors? What’s your first goal? Please leave a note or link to a blog post in the comments.

Let’s level up!

Please feel free to share this challenge with your society or other genealogists, as long as you credit me (Yvette Hoitink) and include a link back to this blog post. You can use as a short URL when sharing in print.

Pole vaulting, 1962. Credits: Eric Koch, collection Nationaal Archief (CC-0)



Several people have asked me why I don’t include DNA in the levels. The reason is that DNA testing is not very popular in the Netherlands. Few people are willing to test, so it is pretty random whether you have matches on a line or not. I use the levels to keep track of my documentary research. But if including DNA works for you, you can include them in your own levels.

DNA Painter

17 April 2021: DNA Painter adds research levels as a dimension.

Progress reports

Research plans for different levels

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, CG®, QG™ is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She holds the Certified Genealogist credential from the Board for Certification of Genealogists and has a post-graduate diploma in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee. She has been doing genealogy for over 30 years and helps people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Sieger Witvoet says

    Hi Yvette,

    I see I still have a lot to do regarding my family tree and that of my wife. From 1811 onwards I have almost all of the birth, marriage and death dates, the names of the children from a marriage and even their marriages. Unfortunately there are only a couple of people in the most recent generations where I have more information (adresses, professions etc). Before 1811 information I have on the ancestors is rather scarce. Some information I even got from fellow genealogists when I first started out. In those instances I only have names and dates but very few sources. So the proof that those people really belong in my tree is something I have to do more research on. Research that is not always possible online.

    The levels you provide can be a handy tool for seeing where I stand regarding the first 7 generations. If I could get these generations to a higher level, it would be so much more satisfying and a stimulus to take it back some further generations.

  2. Ingrid van Garderen says

    Great idea!
    I started a do-over quite some time ago. My initial tree is in Aldfaer, and mostly based on index entries so level 1 or 2. I’m working up one family at a time in Gramps now, straight up to level 4 of your system (i’m afraid I seldom write research reports so I’m not GPS-level-worthy. I do write notes to explain my choices in the case of conflicting evidence). Last step is writing a short bio and putting things up at Wikitree (one person at a time, so no gedcom upload. And not an exhaustive bio, just the notable details such as a police report on a drowning).

    To be honest: I’m working at my father-in-law’s uncles and aunts now. It’s slow going when you’ve got people from Amsterdam who move house 2 or 3 times a year…it’s unreasonably exhaustive research :-).

  3. Lola Swearingen Weber says

    I’ve concentrated on direct line ancestors. It’s time to document all those siblings. Adding historical context is something I love to do to get a feel for my ancestors lives. Of so much to do.

  4. In terms of what I have recorded in my database — a large majority are at Level 2.5 or so. I only add them with actual vitals, including siblings and spouses. But in the past (40 years doing this) I failed to use ALL the information in a record. So, I added the birthdate and place, but not the parents’ occupation, address, etc. Same with many other types of records. I got the date, skipped all the identifying info. Saw the military statement in the marriage supplements, never recorded anything about it.
    I’m kind of where I was when I first computerized my data. Need to pick up each piece (or, nowadays open the image) and squeeze out every scrap of info. That should get me to 3.5. Not sure I can get beyond without some on-site research.

  5. This is a great challenge. I’ve got names and dates for most of my father’s side and my mother’s Acadians. Then there’s the Irish line. Back to the early 1800s for some. Clearly a lot of work to do.Thanks for sharing the spreadsheet.

  6. A fantastic idea! I’ll be giving this more thought to see how my 30years of research match up….but I do have Irish…sigh. I can only dream of a brick wall at 1650.

  7. Anna Hopkins-Arnold says

    Yvette, I just LOVE this idea. I had a checklist for each ancestor, but assigning these level categories is great. It acknowledges that there are levels between “unknown” and “complete”. I’ll be doing an inventory of the tree over the next few weeks. Thanks for the inspiring idea.

  8. Thanks for sharing this idea, Yvette. After 40+years I am at Level 4 or 5 back to the 5th, 6th or 7th generation for many lines on my Dad’s side (his ancestors were mainly English and Scottish), and I have extensively researched the siblings and their descendants. On my Mum’s side (German and Prussian origins) I’ve done very little work back beyond the 4th generation. I confess that I’m much more interested in the people, places and historical context for my families in Yorkshire, Somerset, Wiltshire and the southeast of England.

  9. I love, love, love this idea, Yvonne. I use RootsMagic and have been dithering for several years about whether to split or lump sources. Having made a decision just this past week I’ve been going through my sources to try to make them uniform, and I’m amazed at what a poor job I did of recording sources and of recording them properly. This post of yours is very encouraging because it gives me successive levels to aim for. I have my work cut out for me! Thank you.

  10. Eveline Folkers says

    I’m going to do this. Over the years i’ve build a rather large familytree. I started a while ago totaly fresh in a new evidence-based genealogy software. Takes a lot more time but every source is documented en squeezed for all the information that it contains.
    I’m going to do this test on both trees and am curious about the results.

    • Joan Crum says

      Hi, Eveline Folkers

      Which evidence-based genealogy software are you using? And are you exporting the results to a family tree software once the evidence is processed?


  11. What a wonderful idea, Yvette. Thank you for sharing. I have only been working on my (and my husband’s) ancestors for about 7 years and doubt I will ever get to level 5 or 6 for all of them, but this is a great way to keep track.

  12. Debra A. Hoffman says

    Yvette-I will take the Level-up challenge with you! What a great way to analyze and prioritize your own family research. Thanks so much for sharing the concept and your spreadsheet.

  13. Siske Pratt says

    What an interesting article. Without putting it into words this is what I have gradually been doing. I first started with names. But found names puzzling. They were not people. So I started adding all the aspects you have listed. The names are now people. My husband’s family did a family tree with only names, not even dates. I was really impressed at first but then I wondered what did they do, where did they live. I have filled in a lot. Especially with obituaries. Thank you for the challenge. And may I add. watch the programs online, they contain a LOT of erroneous information.

  14. This is brilliant, Yvette! Your idea helps me to not only visualize my tree as I knew it to be (lacking depth and strong evidence), but also offers a working tool to base improvements on. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing tool.

  15. Billie Fogarty says

    Great idea, Yvette. Thanks for sharing. I am pretty sure I have much to do but will let you know after the analysis.

  16. This is really interesting. It is very difficult to find anything beyond vital records for many ‘ordinary’ pre 1800 English ancestors, despite exhaustive research. So although my 44 years worth of research means that the work I have done into most of my lines rates a 5, the findings are, in many cases, more of a 2/3, due to a combination of the lives they led and non-survival of records. So many of mine, weren’t rich enough to own land or leave wills but weren’t poor enough to be in poor law records. They weren’t in the services, or professions, didn’t do an apprenticeship, didn’t end up in court (not even as a victim or witness) and stayed out of the newspapers. I do have some additional records but I have to concentrate on social/local historical context to add colour rather than biographical information.

  17. Hi! I post a genealogy blog on the 1st of each month, so I wanted a topic for Feb 1. Your Level-Up challenge was a fun and useful activity — thanks! I blogged about it, and the tweaks I made for my own goals, here:

  18. Christopher Schuetz says

    It’s really valuable to re-evaluate one’s goals from time to time.
    I used to work to this kind of challenge some time ago.
    Now I bring in the DNA component of the GPS at an earlier stage – around stage 3.
    This is partly because it can be pointless collecting a whole lot of extra facts on the wrong person.
    But mainly because my current interest is in the structure of collateral branches.
    As I live in an immigrant country, where we came from tends to be primal after a while.
    Now I have that, it’s on to “where did the siblings go?”. So I have been tracking those who went to other parts of Australia or other colonies, or stayed home, or helped build railways in Europe or South America and so on.
    And in some cases, people meddle with their names during their lifetime; maybe just reversing first names, but sometimes completely changing names due to stage work, trying to avoid the law, or to join the military when under/over age.
    DNA has also helped me to compensate for missing records at level 2.
    And it can greatly help with confirming those other branches deserve to be connected.

    I salute this post for challenging us to consider the adequacy of the detail in our family history.
    I may have a slightly different focus, but I enjoyed taking the challenge to re-discover what my focus is and why.

  19. Barbara Ball says

    This is a splendid idea. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. I have much more time for my own research now and your chart will help me organize myself and devote more time to the ancestors who need the most work. In the end I hope my grandsons will have a well written and comprehensive family history. Your system will definitely help!

  20. Stacy Anderson says

    Thank you so much for posting this and providing the file you used. I have learned a lot from you about organization since I heard you speak a few years ago!

  21. Dorothy Egan says

    Sounds great. I haven’t yet started but plan to soon.

  22. K Fehlhaber says

    This is a great idea – thank you! I love the clearly laid out steps – and your honest reflection about why things are scored as highly as you’d like. I downloaded the Excel but the chart in the first worksheet is blank and I don’t see how to input data so it automatically updates. In case I’m missing something. Otherwise, I can color code it myself. PS – I found your blog because a course in genealogy that I’m taking pointed to your blog (the post about bad data in indexes).

    • Of you full in a number (0-6) in the top chart, it should automatically color the cell.

      • Stacey L Cummings says

        I just finished IGRH Intermediate Studies (summer 2021). Debra Hoffman, the instructor, referred us to your site and posts about organizing genealogy files and the six level ancestral profile post. Thanks for all the examples. I love this excel sheet! I’m working on the Level-Up challenge. I have a checklist to see what I have and don’t have, but this visual aid is a hundred times better than my list.

        I’ve kept all my notes in research logs and my family tree software, but haven’t been writing up narratives. All of your posts on those topics have been very helpful.

        I think the poster, K Fehlaber, is asking about something other than filling in Sheet1 with a number between 0-6. The download file has two worksheets, Chart1 and Sheet1. I think she’s asking if Chart1 is supposed to be automatically populated with something after you have completed the Sheet1 worksheet.

        Thanks again for all your wonderful explanations and examples.

        Stacey Cummings

  23. David Grawrock says

    So after going off the clock and now waiting for my results, I started looking at this for my genealogy. It’s not pretty 🙂
    Two comments regarding what is happening. First, many times the levels aren’t sequential. I may have a solid GPS regarding the marriage but I don’t for the birth. I know that’s a nit but it really messes up with my OCD. Instead of a level it’s almost a check box that combines. But it’s something to think about as we try and get others like DNAPainter to take this up.
    Second, and actually more importantly, the levels do not include DNA. It would be very nice to see, in the same way, those lines where we have a GPS’d triangulation. Is that another level? And the same holds true. I may be able to triangulate on an individual without having all of the other research.
    Anyway, thanks for a great idea, and one that i’m working on daily.

    • Whether or not you met the GPS depends on your research question. My goal is to know everything there reasonably is to know about all my ancestors. I only meet the GPS for that goal at level 5.
      These levels do not include DNA because what is possible with DNA analysis depends so much on the specific line or generation, and the randomness of serendipitous matches and who is willing to test. That is hard to capture in levels. The levels here are meant as a tool for me to assess how complete my archival research is.

  24. Susan Der Kinderen says

    Thanks for this challenge. I have large random holes in my research. Especially the Dutch Batavia ancestors. Back I go to search for more than vital stats on my Dutch family.

  25. I finally got around to doing a first pass of my tree with the assistances of DNAPainter and the dimensions facility on the ancestral tree tool. I think the tool provides excellent focus. Thank you.

  26. Gary Gauthier says

    I like the idea of classifying the levels of completion of one’s research. It sets a measurable/achievable goal, no matter what one has available. I find my greatest challenge is to properly document more recent family members, myself included. For me; recent documentation is far more extensive and therefore more work. I need to force myself not to procrastinate. This level system helps.

    I’ve a bankers box of records from my Mum and those are just relating to my coming to Canada and my early years (to about 16 yrs). As they all need to be translated and analyses, I decided to start with my family archives and document people to the “level” that the archived material will support. That achieves three things. I complete a person to the greatest extent I can without more research, it makes it clear what I actually need to research to reach the next level and it encourages me to properly file what I have on hand.

    A special thanks to Yvette for helping me get started on report writing and breaking my dependance on software reports.

  27. I like the “level” concept. In medicine we have HL-7, an international standard. HL is an acronym for Health Level … as you might guess, there are 7 levels. Genealogists would do well to have standards about attainment of goals, such as levels as you outlined.

    Nice concept and work!!

  28. Susan B Farmer says

    What a fabulous idea!! (Followed a link from Twitter to Jonny Pearl’s blog about trees and dimensions, and wound up here!)

    I know you said we could share. Is it ok (and do say *no* if you’d rather not!) If I turn your articles into (PDF) checklists? Clearly, you will get a copy, but I won’t share without your say-so!

  29. Very interesting – I’ve certainly got to Level four for a couple of my ancestors, but only on my maternal side. My paternal one is very difficult as my dad was Polish and Polish genealogy is not easy. There are few population schedules, records are in Russian, and many were lost during WWII (my dad’s birth cert for one).

    I’ll definitely apply your levels to my maternal side – now if I could just find one of my sets of 3rd great-grandparents in the 1871 census, I could take another couple up to Level 4.

  30. Lisa McCullough says

    I have adapted your Excel spreadsheet to indicate how many DNA matches I have to each one of my ancestors through the 7 generation levels. The visual really helps! If there are reason for the gaps, fine. Like for recent immigrants or only one child has off-spring. But there are still some holes. Now to determine why! I hope it’s okay to share with others. I reference you and this blog post in the Excel spreadsheet. If you would like a copy, I will send to you….

  31. Cheri Stokes says

    Hey Yvette,

    I tweaked your spreadsheet too. See here:!AnY4cGihA9l3keRD4RQ_pQOv3ccivg?e=qOcCD9

    Thanks for the idea!! ❤️🧡💛💙💜🤎


  1. […] Well, today, genealogist Yvette Hoitink published a way to color code one’s research progress in her blog, Six Levels of Ancestral Profiles – Level Up Challenge. […]

  2. […] of a simple self-assessment tool that any of us can use at any time. She calls this tool “Six Levels of Ancestral Profiles,” a term that I suspect we’ll be hearing more often as more and more people begin to think […]

  3. […] January, Yvette Hoitink posted about her level-up challenge. The basics of it are that she assigns each ancestor a level from 0 to 6, depending on how far your […]

  4. […] the Dutch genealogist who started examining how thorough her own personal research was (and then issuing her “Level Up!” challenge) and thanks to Dick Eastman who wrote about this in his weekly genealogy […]

  5. […] useful challenge that categorises ancestral profiles was posed earlier this year by the Dutch genealogist …. She suggests there are six levels of profile beyond ‘Unidentified’ (where not even the […]

  6. […] items that I still need to research. I then color-code my people based on a blog post that I found (here if you want to read). Going in, I expected Sidney to be a nice solid Green, instead she turned out […]

  7. […] and how much I truly know about each of them. I encourage everyone to take a look at Yvette’s post, as well as an example provided by another genealogist, Ann Raymont, discussing her look at the […]

  8. […] – focusing on my assembled DNA evidence. (This is a modification of Yvette Hoitink’s original Level-Up Challenge for genealogy research). Here, I’ll walk through the steps I take to bring my genetic […]

  9. […] way of analyzing my pedigree and determining where I could focus is using Yvette Hoitink’s Level Up Challenge. I started working on improving my genealogy based on her approach after she published this idea in […]

  10. […] that I haven’t gotten beyond Ancestry hints. If I was to use the criteria in the ‘Level Up Challenge‘, I would have to rate my research of James Barr Ralston at Level 3 while my research for […]

  11. […] my Level-Up Challenge, I defined six levels of ancestral profiles. In this post, I will give you a basic research plan […]

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