Genealogy has always been something of a detective story. You find clues
about your ancestors, do some research, and hopefully find answers to
your questions. Like any good detective, you keep notes on what you find
as you go along. Sourcing takes this note-taking one step further
it involves referencing the proof for each fact you add to your family's
history, and is as valuable to you and future researchers as a detective's
"caught-in-the-act" photograph is to his client.
So Why Doesn't Everyone Do it?
There are several usual objections to sourcing: it takes too much time,
it's too hard, and the perennial favorite, "I'm not planning to publish
this or anything." For many folks, it seems unnecessary, especially if
genealogy is more of an occasional interest than an addiction. However,
sourcing is what ultimately ties the entire genealogy community together
we all rely on each other's work to some degree, whether it's a
pedigree chart sent by your cousin or a family history written two centuries
ago. Sourcing your work ensures that anyone who picks up where you left
off doesn't have to retrace your steps and can have confidence that your
facts come from reliable sources.
How it Can Save You Time
Almost as importantly, good documentation can save you time in your
own research. Keeping track of where you find information about an ancestor
can help you quickly find it again in the future. If you know that a
piece of information about an ancestor came from a source in Des Moines,
Washington, then you won't need to look in Des Moines, Iowa and waste
valuable research time. Sourcing also works as a way to remind you of
which sources you've already checked, and which ones have been useful.
If you pick up a branch of your tree after a long time, it's helpful
know where you've already looked.
Give Others More Confidence in Your Research
It will also help those who follow in your footsteps. Even if you only
intend to share your findings with family, consider the possibility that
your children or some other relative may want to continue what you've
started. You may also want to share with other genealogists in your family.
In either case, you will want to back up what you find with evidence
it's what makes it possible for them to take your word for it. This is
especially important if your research debunks a cherished
family myth or turns up something unusual.
If you are planning to publish or share information outside of
your family, then documentation becomes even more crucial. As worldwide
databases like the World
Family Tree continue to expand, more and more people are looking to
them for clues about their ancestors. Including sources gives them (and
you, if you use sources like these) more certainty that the information
is correct, and the chance to double-check if there is some discrepancy.
Also, if you're submitting your family history for inclusion in a journal
or as proof for entering a hereditary society such as the Daughters
of the American Revolution (DAR), then you will need to provide source
information according to their guidelines.
So How Do I Source My Information?
Sourcing can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. There are
many guides available about how to write citations,
and you can
certainly follow one of these systems if you like. John Wylie's article
"How to Cite Sources" is an excellent reference
on how to cite many different types of genealogical resources. These
good guidelines to follow if you're planning to publish your data to
a broader audience than family.
If you're planning to share your genealogy more informally,
then the important thing is to provide enough information so that another
person could find your source. Generally, you will want to include the
- Publisher's name and location
- Publication date
- Location of the source and identifying information (for example, the
library where you found a book and its call number)
- Specific information for the piece of data you found (page number,
Depending on your source, there may not be information for some of these
categories. A census record, for example, won't have an author. For public
records like this, items like microfilm roll number and page number become
more crucial, so be sure to write them down as you go along. You may also
want to make copies of particularly useful records so that you can refer
to them later.
Sourcing takes a little bit of time up front but it doesn't need to be
a big chore. Genealogy software programs like Family
Tree Maker allow you
to enter source information once, and then apply it to multiple records
as necessary. So, once you've entered that census record as a source for
great-grandpa's birthplace, it only takes a few clicks of the mouse to
add it as a source for other facts about him. They also allow you to format
your sources into end notes so that they can be included in reports.
Sourcing and documentation, while they may seem like extra work at times,
are really the backbone of genealogy. Taking the time to prove your information
makes your research more solid, adds great value to the whole community
of genealogists, and leaves a more lasting legacy for those who follow