As researchers of our family history, it is important that we always record reference information about where we found each date, place, name and relationship. Without recording this vitally important information, there are two problems. First, when we share our data with another, that person cannot tell how accurate our research is or go back and see where we found what we are claiming. Second, we may not remember ourselves what we have already done and may end up repeating research in resources that we have already searched through.
Now, I suspect that most of us had to do at least one research paper during our term as a school student. But just how much of what we were taught did we retain? And how much of what we retained can we apply to citing sources in our research? After all, we tend to use some very unique resources in tracking down our ancestry.
Genealogical research should be evaluated based on the evidence cited. Show that you are sure of your research by including proper source citation.
Building from the Original
Many genealogists have picked up Richard Lackey's "Cite Your Sources" which was an answer to a prayer for citing books, periodicals, pamphlets and much more. Unfortunately technology has come so far that there are many resources that we now use that just weren't around when Mr. Lackey's book was published. So, it was with excitement that I opened the cover of Elizabeth Shown Mill's Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian published by Genealogical Publishing Company. It was first published in 1997.
In the Introduction, Ms. Mills says "Successful research - research that yields correct information with a minimum of wasted time and funds - depends upon a sound analysis of evidence. Source citation is fundamental, but it is not enough. . . Citing a worthless source is an effort that produces worthless results."
Evaluation in Addition to Citation
This book is divided into two parts. The first part is devoted to the fundamentals of citation and the fundamentals of analysis. The second part is a wonderful table of citation formats. In the section devoted to citation and analysis fundamentals, she has some important points that are put across in a simple and easy to understand directness. Each starts with thirteen guidelines, which are then delved into, in deeper detail.
The second part has an alphabetical table of different resources showing a footnote format, both a primary citation and subsequent uses of the same source, and a bibliographic format. This book is so current that she has included source citation examples for some of our most used electronic sources, including e-mail, newsgroups and mailing list messages (list serves), home pages on the Internet, CDs, the databases found in the FamilySearch(tm) system from the Family History Library, and others.
Other Useful Sources
In addition to Evidence! which can be purchased through Genealogical Publishing Company , there are some useful articles available online that can be of use in understanding the importance of documentation.
We are evaluated by the resources we use. If we do not cite them, then our research is immediately suspect. Show the rest of the genealogy community that you do know what you are doing by citing your sources.
Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is an award-winning author of several genealogy how-to books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, The Genealogist's Computer Companion, and Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.