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Guide 2 Genealogy   >   Cite Your Sources


Cite Your Sources

In the academic world, authors of published papers are always very careful to cite their sources. Some people think that this is only to give credit where credit is due, and while it is true that is a reason, that is far from the only reason. The main reason is to aid people (both the author himself, perhaps years later, and other researchers) to locate the source material

Likewise, as a genealogical researcher, even if you never intend to publish the results of your research, you too should always cite your sources. This gives you, and anybody else who may follow-up on your research, the best possible chance of locating that source again at a later time. You never know when you might need to go back to a source, or want to recheck conflicting information that may crop up.

Another reason to keep research logs and to cite your sources is that life may give you only a few windows of opportunity to trace your family tree. You might have to put away your genealogy hobby for months, or even years, at a time, and when you come back to this puzzle, it is nice not to have to start from scratch all over again. Completed research logs with your sources fully cited on your paper forms or in your computer files, will allow you to pick up where you left off.

Whether you use paper forms (ancestor charts and family group sheets) or a computer and a genealogy program, citing your sources is essential. Your citations should record where you found each piece of information about each person. Genealogy software will nearly always provide the option to attach one or more images to each source citation, as well as a field to type in (transcribe) all or part of the original source. You should type the person's name exactly as it was spelled in that source, and as well as including details such details as that source's condition when you looked at it or whether the author is prone to err.

Another idea is to buy special books that are designed to help your keep better source records. You will find that these books can make excellent travel tools when you are on the road doing genealogy research. Although, they may not sound like very exciting travel companions, you will appreciate them when you are standing in the family cemetery plot in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, worrying about bears, ticks, and chiggers and trying to remember what pieces of information to record. In other words, you can use these books as a checklist to determine what source details to record on your research log and copies.

Here is a list of the types of source information that you should aim to record:-
  1. Author:

    • Who was interviewed.
    • Who wrote the book.

  2. Title:

    • Title of the book, manuscript, census record, etc.
    • Title of an article, followed by the title of the periodical it is in.

  3. Publication information:

    • Place of publication, name of the publisher, and date of publication or copyright of the book, written in parentheses as (Place: Publisher, Date).
    • Volume, issue, and page numbers of the periodical.
    • Film and item number for a microfilm, plus the above information about the original if known, written in parentheses as (Author, Tide, Publication information).

  4. Where you found it (and where it is normally kept, if different):

    • Repository (such as the Library of Congress or the DAR Library in Washington, D.C.).
    • Cemetery name and location.
    • Web site name and URL (if you are quoting a Web page at that Web site).

  5. Details:

    • Specific page number the information was found on in a book.
    • Entry number and date recorded for a marriage record.
    • Date you found the gravestone, who transcribed the information, and took the picture.
Before you set foot in a cemetery, before you open a book at the library, and before you begin interviewing relatives, make it a habit to always write down source details in your research log. Once you get involved in the hunt, it can be very hard to slow down and go back to record your source details. So, first locate the source, then cite the source, and only then search the source. When you have finished searching and making copies, go back to your research log and double check to make absolutely certain that you have recorded all the information pertinent to that source (and don't forget to record your source details on your copies of documents, too).

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