Tabulate Multiline Text in Records and Reports


The multiline text fields, which include Address, Note, and Text From Source, do not support any text formatting other than preset left tab stops. Font styles such as Bold, Italic, Underline, font face, point size, or adjustable tab settings, as in a basic word-processor, are not available.

This poses a number of problems when attempting to create text that is neatly presented in both on-screen Records and printed or online web page Reports.

In particular, using tab characters to tabulate Text From Source to imitate, say a Census record form, is challenging. The tab width in Property Box fields is fixed, and does not correspond to the Tab Width settings in Reports. Thus, tidy tabulated data in the Property Box usually results in poorly tabulated data in Reports.

So here are some tips and tricks to make tabulating columns more successful.

Column Separators

Some users avoid the tabulated column problem by using a column separator character such as COMMA (,) or BAR (|) as in Comma Separated Value (CSV) files. The benefit being that if user adjustable tab settings were introduced by Family Historian (ƒh), then these column separator characters could be automatically replaced by a single tab character to create tidy columns. However, in the meantime, this precludes neatly tabulated columns, looks untidy, and it is difficult to tell which text is in which column.

Another snag with the default COMMA (,) separator is where any column text contains a COMMA (,) such as a place in Where Born. One workaround is to protect such text by enclosing it in string quotes (“). Another way is to use an alternative comma as the separator, which can be created by holding down the ALT key and entering 0130 on the number keypad.

To neatly tabulate a multiline text field, varying numbers of tab characters must be used in each column, depending on how much text there is in the column. When some columns have no text, it is then not clear whether multiple tab characters indicate multiple columns, or one wide column. If user adjustable tab settings were introduced by ƒh, then such multiple tab characters per column make it tedious to adjust to one tab per column to honour the new tab settings.

A useful trick is to combine the above two approaches by using a multi-character column separator such as COMMA (,) TAB or alternatively TAB BAR (|) SPACE. Then a neat column layout can be achieved by adding extra tab characters, and yet they can be automatically removed if adjustable tab settings become available. The TAB BAR (|) SPACE alternative looks particularly neat, as it imitates the vertical column separators found on real Census forms.

Ancestral Sources allows Text From Source Auto Text Transcript column separators to be user-defined for the Census Grid. To specify the multi-character separators suggested above, enter ,{TAB} or {TAB}| into the Other: separator box of the Grid Column Separator option.

Record Fields

The Property Box multiline text fields may also be edited in an adjustable popup window.

Unfortunately, the character size and tab settings are not quite identical in the two modes. Thus, it is occasionally necessary to add one or two extra space characters to the end of a text string, in order to obtain tidy columns in both modes.

Report Options

If a Report includes tabulated multiline text fields, and uses the default Report Options, then the tabulated fields are often not in neat columns. This is caused by the Font and Tab Width not having the same relationship as in the Property Box fields.

Report Default Layout

The solution is to adjust the Report Options settings for the Format tab > Section Data > Font and the Page Layout tab > Tab Width and Para. Indent.

The following Font and Tab Width settings usually work well, providing the Tools > Preferences > Property Box Text Font is the default MS Sans Serif or alternatively Arial.

Format tab > Section Data Page Layout tab
Font Name Font Style Font Size Tab Width = Para. Indent
Arial Narrow   7 pt 0.35”  08.9 mm
Arial Narrow   8 pt 0.40”  10.2 mm
Arial Regular   8 pt 0.49”  12.5 mm
Arial Regular   9 pt 0.54”  13.7 mm
Arial Regular 10 pt 0.59”  15.0 mm
MS Sans Serif Regular   8 pt 0.49”  12.5 mm
MS Sans Serif Regular   9 pt 0.54”  13.7 mm
MS Sans Serif Regular 10 pt 0.59”  15.0 mm
Tahoma Regular   8 pt 0.47”  11.9 mm
Tahoma Regular   9 pt 0.53”  13.5 mm
Tahoma Regular 10 pt 0.59”  15.0 mm

Strangely, the Times New Roman default Reports Font did not give consistent results with any single Tab Width setting.

The Para. Indent must be 0” or 0 mm, or equal the Tab Width, because the Tab Width steps start from the left margin.

If Para. Indent = 0” or 0 mm the Sources reference numbers are rather obscured, but the characters per line is maximised.


If Para. Indent = Tab Width the Sources reference numbers stand out more clearly, but the characters per line is reduced.

Importantly, each multiline text field such as Text From Source must start with a blank line, otherwise its first line in the Report follows on the same line as the Text From Source: heading, and does not align with the subsequent text.

For wide tabulated data, such as the UK 1911 Census, it may also be necessary to minimise the page margins. Use Page Layout tab > Margins and set both Left: and Right: to 0.1” or 2.5 mm. Alternatively, Orientation: Landscape may be needed.

Last update: 10 Sep 2020

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