Archives for : February2015

What Makes a “Good” Source?

From Family Tree come these hints for a good Genealogical source. While there are suggested ways to do a source citation, there is not a true wrong way or right way. It is said that “citation is an art, not a science”. It comes down to sticking with the components of a citation listed below. Once you know them, you can ad lib as needed when you run into an out-of-the-ordinary record.

There are 5  elements to a successful source citation. If you include these, you will be good to go, with only a few exceptions.

  • Who created the information (author, editor, transcriber, etc.)
  • What is the title of the source
  • When the record was created or published
  • Where in the record the information is located (volume, page, etc.)
  • Where is the source physically located (archive, library, etc.)

“Who” specifically refers to the author or creator of the source. It may be a person(s) or it could be an organization. There are two reasons you wouldn’t list a “who.”

  • If it is unknown, like the writer of a historic newspaper article which typically did not list writer’s names.
  • If it is the same entity that published the item and the “who” is also the title of the work.

“What” refers to the source’s title. Underlining, italics, and capitalization rules for publications apply here. If the item does not have a title we create a description for it. The description lets others know exactly what the material is. For example “Letter written by John Doe to his wife Jane.” If you think the title doesn’t make it clear what type of a source it is you can add descriptive words after it such as database, transcript, image, and etc.

“When” refers to the date the media was published. Years are used for books. Months, quarters, or seasons are added for journals and magazines. Full dates are used for newspapers, downloads of online information, and unpublished sources if applicable. If the item is undated we can state that by using the letters ND for “no date.” However, if we can estimate a publication date then we should try to do so. This can be done by simply showing the estimated date range or writing “likely the 1880s.”

“Where in” refers to the specific place in the source where the information is located. The place is a page number, volume number, chapter title, or etc. If the record is an unbound source, or has no page numbers, you can identify the information on the page you are citing by describing it. For instance “birth dates chronologically listed on loose page in file.”

“Where is” refers to the specific physical location of the source. Did you find it online, in a library, at an archive, or is it held privately? This can get very complicated but remember, you want to work from small to large. Start with the collection name (the smallest where) and work your way up to the state or country (the largest where) listing all the information about the location of the source as you go.

Should You “Source” All Your Material Before You Publish It?

“Should you”….. Yes, you should, but you always CAN’T. The study of Genealogy won’t allow it.

Genealogy is a “Soft Science” of sorts, not a “Hard Science.”  The difference means you can’t PROVE definitively what you find in a Soft Science. There is always an element of doubt built in, and expected, in anything you find and read. Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Psychology are just a few other Soft Sciences we’re familiar with. The other thing you’ll find is a lot of opinions, based on that element of doubt.

When Genealogists share their research, it is usually done with the best of intentions. I don’t recall anyone (related or not)  I’ve talked to who is “lying” to me about their research. They are often having some of the same problems I have finding reliable information, or having problems I used to have when I was starting out – just figuring out how to START!

I got started in Genealogy for several reasons. 1) I was a history major when I started in college, and would have enjoyed doing historical research, although I found quickly it was NOT something I wanted to teach. 2) I was an only child. I had friends, but no siblings. As I got older, I found out that I indeed did have siblings, albeit HALF-siblings from previous women my Father was married to. After 20+ years doing research, there are still questions I cannot answer. 3) Among those questions was my Mother. What were my parents’ relationship issues that caused her to divorce my Father and begin again three other times with other men, in two cases having other children? This turned out to be one of the major factors in my interest in Genealogy.

These were all viewed from the perspective of a much younger man. As a more mature individual now, I know people divorce, move on to other marriages, trade one set of friends for another, move around trying to find work, become criminals, and so on. EVERY family has a story to tell – no family is immune.

But I digress. I was talking about SOURCES. I have hundreds of relatives in my database I know very little about, and others I will probably never be concerned about researching. They are so far removed from me they are relatively unimportant. Once in a while, I run across one who changes that opinion, but I don’t see too many surprises any more. Figures of historical importance are well-documented, as are royalty at most levels, high-level church leaders, and influential landowners, so there is not doubt of their existence, just my connections to them.

When information is shared between Genealogists, best case scenario is that sources go with demographic information. That’s the PROOF factor of Soft Sciences. History is rife with examples of individuals or entire families who never existed, but somehow made it into Genealogy records and passed from generation to generation and accepted as fact. I know, because I have them in my lines.

I try to source whenever possible, and try to verify the sources I find, but since I’m not making any money from my research and I’m doing it mostly for fun and family history, I’m willing to accept that I won’t find sources for everyone in my database. It doesn’t mean my research is no less important than someone else, just that I haven’t got a solid source for the information I have. I still can’t afford to travel all over the world poring through public records and searching library files.

Some Genealogists are purists, and look down on anything less than references that have been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, which many of mine aren’t. I am always looking for more “proof” of my existence down through the generations, but I have a level of acceptance of source credibility I’m happy with, so I’ll continue doing what I do. More about what should be in a “proper” source in my next post, this from Family Tree.