Friday, May 15, 2015

Cite Your Sources!

Tools = Ancestry, Family Search, Find-a-grave and other genealogical websites are only tools to help you locate sources of documents to prove your ancestors existed, however, not all documents are online. Some you have to go dig out yourself from family members,  local libraries, inter-library loan and/or on-site such as in cemeteries, courthouses, FAN's (friends, associates, neighbors), and historical/genealogical society libraries and museums. I have said that genealogy is much like a scavenger hunt and a jigsaw puzzle all rolled into one!
3 Documents 4 Each Point = According to my schoolteachers, you should have at least three documents for each point you want to discuss in detail in a report and genealogy is essentially reporting on an ancestor. So in this case, to prove not only that your ancestor lived with three documents,  you also need prove each thing that happened to them during the course of their life with three documents apiece or more. And do not disregard the citations, for these help you prove your point(s), should you ever have to do so. Membership in various groups such as Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution or the Boone Society require these. And the more documents you locate, the better you will get to know your ancestor(s) as well.
Timeline = I found it most helpful to set up a timeline for both of the current ancestors I'm researching (my 3rd great-grandparents) with a birth and a death date and filling  in between those two dates with other documents.  It's a given that all people have at least two dates in their life-time -- a birth and a death, but generally, most people have more than that.
* birth records = (primary sources such as family Bibles, letters,  birth certificates, baby announcements, baptism/dedication/church/ministerial records,  census records, doctor/hospital records,   parental wills,  tax records, tombstone/cemetery records. Secondary sources such as published genealogies, county histories, magazine/newspaper articles, etc.)

* death records = (primary records such as family Bibles, letters, death certificate,  funeral leaflet, funeral home/mortician records,  tombstone/cemetery records, canceled checks,  military records, ministerial/church records, hospital/nursing home records, insurance papers, probated wills, and secondary resources such as newspaper death records or obituaries,   published genealogies, etc.)

I have set up a short general timeline of important dates in American history here. Begin with your ancestor's life dates per census records to figure out what they may have experienced during their lifetime. Be sure to figure their approximate age during these events. You may be surprised at what you discover.
Give credit where due = I cite or document my sources this way below, however there are other preferred methods too. Find the one you like and  consistently stick with that form. I'm using the one I learned in school.
* Citation form = Name of article and/or book. Author. Illustrator, if there is one. Publisher; city/state, copyright date. Volume number, if there is one. Page number. Repository location (where the material was found, so other researchers can also find it) or if retrieved from an online source, give website url/address. If shared with you from a family source, also acknowledge their contribution. 

Is it the gospel truth? = Documents can prove or disprove a family story. You begin with the family interview (memorized oral tradition) or family Bible (handwritten record), but then you go out and find other documents to go with it. Memory can sometimes be faulty or the tale may have been twisted in the telling. Remember the "Telephone" game we used to play as children?  Records can also be off  by a year or two, so take that into account. If the census taker did not have good spelling skills and if a transcriber of the records did not have much experience in reading the old script, there may be mistakes in written names, so look for all possible variations.

Be as Professional as Possible = I've been told by several genealogical/historian friends that they will dismiss a family tree as unreliable if there isn't any citations listed, so if you wish to have your claims about your ancestors to be taken seriously, you must cite all your sources as you find them.  Not everyone is endowed with photographic memory, so as you collect more and more information on your ancestor(s), you must add the sources in as you locate your material, because you won't remember them. Get OCD about it!

Good Hunting!

Update = Found a quote that goes quite well with this article:

"Unless you make notes as to the sources of your information they may not be available later for rechecking. Trust nothing to memory. Information that cannot be checked, compared or examined in the original will not bear much weight in genealogy. Be ready to back up all statements with the facts in black and white.

Thus being able to check sources of information is one means of determining the accuracy or competence of a report." ~ Harry W. Mills, Mt. Sterling, KY. Advocate

"every fact not documented is mythology"

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