Genealogy with Lisa Marker: #3 Documenting Your Sources

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For me, the fun of genealogy comes in getting to play detective. I love being presented with a new challenge or mystery to solve. When I first began gathering information, I decided it was just for fun, no big deal whether I knew what my source for a particular fact was. I did not consistently record where that information came from. Bad idea. 20 years later, I still look at my genealogy database and wonder why I know what my fourth great grandparents’ marriage date was.

You need to record the source of information for each fact you find. Yeah, you just do.
Here are a few reasons. First, if you put down your genealogy research for a while and then pick it up again, you may not remember where you left off. Second, if you share information with other researchers or family, your credibility as a good researcher goes up hugely if you have citations attached to your work. Third, if you ever decide to publish what you find, you will need to have the citations in your work.
There are two basic kinds of sources, primary and secondary. 
  • Primary records are created at the time of the event, by someone who witnessed it or had personal knowledge of the event. Examples are birth certificates, marriage certificates or a university diploma. 
  • A secondary source was created a time other than when an event occurred. This could include books of compiled primary records, a letter mentioning the grandparents’ marriage date, a military pension stating a birth date. Even the birth date on a death certificate can be a secondary source, depending on the informant.
Regardless of where you obtain your information, document your sources. I like to document it so that a stranger could look at my citation and go right to the source. 
  • Check CyndisList under "Citing Sources" for help. 
  • Also, one slim, but extremely helpful book is Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian. This book was published before the internet was a real factor in research, but you will find it immensely helpful.

Previous articles from Lisa:
Genealogy with Lisa Marker
2-Genealogy - are you nuts?


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