Why We Add Sources

The importance of recording sources as you do genealogy research

As you gather information from relatives and online sources, it is much better to determine the correctness of the information early on in the research process. Otherwise, you could find out that they have been pursuing the wrong family lines for some time.

The best way to compile reliable research is to base that research on records that were created at or near the time of the event reported. The process of doing family history is essentially that of examining compiled records about your ancestors. Once you realize what this process entails, you will begin to understand the need to record where you obtained information about your ancestors.

What is a source?

At the most simple level, a source is a record, written or oral, that provides evidence of an event in the life of a person in the Family Tree or other family tree. If you were born in the last 100 years in the United States, you likely have a formal birth certificate. If not, you may have had to obtain an alternate record of your birth from a church record or some other type of proof of your birth. These records constitute a "source" for evidence concerning your birth. There is also a need for source records for marriages, deaths and all of the other events in a person's life.

Why is a source necessary?

Sources function at many different levels. Not only does a source provide information about a specific event, that same source may also provide information about other events and evidence that can be used to extend family lines. To have an accurate record, it is necessary to have some level of verification. This verification can only come through providing original sources. This is not an optional activity. We need to start with ourselves and our immediate family members and provide documentation for every event recorded.

What can I use for a source?

When we talk about source records, we usually mean some sort of document recording the events in question. For example, I mentioned a birth certificate. Another type of source may be a family letter or a Bible entry. The number of types of sources is immense. There are many places to begin your search. Of course, the first place to start is with the records you have of your own family. These records should be scanned and included as source documents in your tree.

This is not a difficult process to understand but it does take a great deal of effort to be accurate and consistent in recording sources in your family history. The important thing is to get started.

As we examine records for information about our ancestors, we find that the records themselves may have conflicting information. When we encounter conflicting information we are forced to search for additional records to resolve the conflicts. If we fail to record where we have searched, we may end up doing the same searches every time we return to our family history research. So, not only does the process of recording our record sources assist in verifying the accuracy of the information, it also prevents duplication of the same effort in the future.

To summarize:

  • We obtain information about our ancestors through searching records containing information about our ancestors and their families.
  • As we examine these records, we make notes, sometimes called source citations, about where we found the information so that subsequent researchers (even ourselves) can find the record again.
  • Of course, we record the information that we find about our ancestors along with the record of where the information was found.
  • We then evaluate the information to determine whether or not it is reliable and for additional clues as to where further information about our ancestors could be found.

This process suggest a simple way to evaluate the reliability of both records and information transmitted from our relatives. We can examine both the records and the information to see whether or not the sources cited are reliable. If there are no source citations then the record's reliability is suspect. These principles apply whether or not you are compiling your information in written format, entering it online, or entering it into a genealogy computer program.

Written by James L. Tanner. Used with permission.

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