We’re not sure why, but documenting your sources (or recording where you found
the information on your ancestors) is so much fun that people often end up
getting the giggles. It’s one of those real gospel mysteries.
Research Principle #6
Information on your ancestors should be backed up by a source. List your sources completely and accurately for the benefit of future generations. List all the information someone else would need to go back and find the exact record you found.
Documenting your research with source citations is essential. Otherwise, those that follow you have no way of knowing that your work is not a work of fiction. Every good researcher knows to leave a trail that others can follow to verify the research.
You’ll do yourself, your family, and uncounted others a favor by carefully and thoroughly documenting the sources of your family history information. By leaving a documentation trail that is easy for others to follow, you’ll be much appreciated by the generations of your family who come after you.
• Document your sources as you go. Write down the source of your information as you find different records on your ancestors. Record the book or microfilm call number if available. A “Research Log” makes this easy to do.
• Enter your sources in a consistent manner. Figure out a format you want to use, then stick with it. You can make a “Source Formats” sheet (here’s an example) that lists how you do your sources. Then make sure you enter them the same way each time.
• When possible, obtain primary sources for each event. Seek original records, or copied images of them as the basis for your conclusions. Original records created near the time of an event are more reliable than biographies, indexes and abstracts.
• Cite the source you actually use. If you used an abstract or index, cite it as such and do not claim it was the actual record. Abstracts and indexes may contain errors.
• Identify and document conflicting or missing information. Even your hunches and conflicts are based on information from some source. Make sure you record it. If you have different dates, places, or names for the same events, record it in your research notes along with the sources of the information and a brief note as to why you think one record might be correct versus the other(s).
• Avoid using obscure abbreviations. While some abbreviations are in standard usage, such as NC for North Carolina, or U.S. for United States, you should avoid abbreviations whenever possible. However, if you feel you must use them, please leave a “Key To The Abbreviations” so others who follow will know what your abbreviations stand for.
Principle #7. Don’t Blindly Trust The Internet