The Genealogy Blogiverse Speaks on Sources

The Genealogy Blogiverse Speaks on Sources

As an addendum to our earlier blog post on resources to help you cite your genealogy sources, I wanted to link to some other posts on the topic from genealogy bloggers. Most researchers agree it’s important to cite sources, but the hows, whens and wheres have caused a bit of...

As an addendum to our earlier blog post on resources to help you cite your genealogy sources, I wanted to link to some other posts on the topic from genealogy bloggers.

Most researchers agree it’s important to cite sources, but the hows, whens and wheres have caused a bit of a stir. Genealogy blog readers may notice what my mom and dad used to call a “discussion” over the importance of adhering to the finer points of source citation style (which might be intimidating to newbie or casual researchers) versus just getting the source information down.

Another component to the issue (and something else that can make source citation look complicated) is evaluating a source’s reliability:

Is the information likely to be correct because the source—say, a birth certificate—was created when the birth, marriage or other event happened? Or is the source less reliable because it’s a transcription of a digitized book written years later by someone who read a newspaper article about the grandson of the person whose neighbor was actually there? Do several less-reliable sources that provide consistent information equal a reliable source? Can you ever really prove when certain events happened in your ancestor’s life? What does it all mean??

These folks weigh in with their opinions and encouragement:

  • Source Citations in Genealogy: Church or Cult on the Clue Wagon blog encapsulates the above-mentioned discussion. The comments here include 10 commandments of source citation from Evidence Explained author Elizabeth Shown Mills.
  • The Genea-Musings Source Citation posts describe sourcing in genealogy software and online family trees, review presentations on citing sources, link to others’ posts on the topic and more.

Source citation doesn’t have to be scary. The key is to note every bit of information available about the record, website, book, newspaper, person or other source you used, and make sure it doesn’t get separated from the information the source provided. Whenever possible, get the original record rather than stopping when you find an index or a transcription.

Use your knowledge as a researcher to decide whether the information in the source makes sense, and how far you can trust that source. If you have any doubts, don’t add the information to your tree, but use it to form a hypothesis you can keep researching.


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  1. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury

    While formatting for a source citation is important, my understanding of the main reason for sourcing information is to make it possible for someone else coming to the information and being able to go to the source themselves, to see the origin of the information. If a source citation makes that possible, it has done its job. If it hinders or obfuscates that, it has failed.

    I love it when I find that information has been sourced clearly, whether it is formatted properly or not.