Source citation for genealogy
When I started my family tree, I was young and naive. I hated source citation for genealogy . Why should I sit here and cite every source I enter into my family tree? It’s boring and it takes up so much time.
I quickly learned why it was important. One morning, my computer crashed, and I lost all of my digital photos, scanned documents and website links for my genealogy. I had a backup file of the family tree itself for the software I was using, but all of the attachments were gone, and I had not one source cited.
I’m still not perfect as citing sources, but I have gotten better at it. Please, learn from my mistakes and cite your sources. Having to reattach your source information and remember how each piece came into your possession takes a lot longer than it does to cite your sources correctly to begin with.
What is a source citation?
A source citation in short is, all of the important information about a document such as who wrote it, where you found it, and where the original is located.
How should you cite your sources?
Most genealogy software programs have a “add a source” option. I am currently using Legacy 9.0 and sourcing is quite easy though there are a few steps involved.
Once I have clicked add a source, a pop-up box appears that walks you though your citation. Add as much information as you can about the source and then attach the media file and you are done. I usually take the time to transcribe the item into the comments, but that is solely a personal preference.
If you are not recording your information into genealogy software right away, you can always write out the citation by hand for adding to your software later.
Make sure you include things like:
- Author or Organization
- Date published, filed, recorded, or registered
- Locators such as book volume number, page number, or file numbers
- Web pages, URLs or Databases
- The date you found or accessed the source
- The date you recorded the records into your files or genealogy software
- What information you found by searching this record.
5 reasons you should cite your genealogy sources
#1- Entry dates
When citing your source information, one detail that you will be asked (especially if you are using genealogy software) is the date that you added the document or image. This date is helpful because it gives you a timeframe of when you were actively working on that specific person. When you look back through your sources and find older dates of when you entered the information, it is a good idea to search for that person again in a genealogy database to see if any new information has been added. If the dates are more recent, you know that it is less likely there will be new information and can add that person to your to-do list for a later date.
#2- How you obtained the document
It’s always a good idea to know how you obtained a genealogy document and if you have a copy or the original in your possession. Should you have need of seeing the actual document and not just the digital version, you will want to know if it is something you have already, or who you need to talk to so that you can view it.
#3- Document location
Should you ever lose your media files like I did, knowing the location of the document makes it a lot easier to re-gather your information. When citing a source, it is best to put down as much information as you possibly can about the location. Did you find it in a courthouse? Write down not only the location of the courthouse, but where exactly you found the item, such as the book, page number, and file number. The more information you have the easier it will be to find again.
If you found your document online, include things like the webpage name, the URL, and what collection it was found in.
#4- It’s just good practice
Making sure you site each source is without a doubt a terrific habit to have. When it comes time to print your family tree, source citations show the reader that you really know your stuff and tells them where they too can look for the source material should they want a look.
#5- Strengthens your proof
Have you ever had an argument with a fellow family historian about the legitimacy of a member of your family tree? I can tell you from experience that it is not fun or pretty. Having proof of the members of your family tree can sometimes prevent that. The more proof you have, the better, and having it correctly cited can sometimes be the hammer that drives the nail home.
You will of course still have run ins with people who think that they are the only correct person in the world, when this happens, ask to see their sources and the source citations. Often this shuts down the argument as they either just added people to their family tree without proof, or their “source” was word of mouth. Grandma’s story about her Great Grandfather is wonderful, but without a source as proof, it’s still just a story.
And remember, enjoy the journey!
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