What is a source? We are all familiar with the obvious documents such as birth, marriage, and death records, census records, and newspaper clippings. However, sometimes we forget to identify our own personal photos, or a personal conversation we had with a relative, or an address we found in our Mother’s address book, or from the back of an old envelope, or the obituary we downloaded from the funeral home website. For every piece of information you add to your family tree, you need to have as many sources as you can find to confirm that your data is correct.
Citing these sources is an important step in keeping track of all the information such as documents, articles, photographs and other materials you find while researching your family history. It not only acknowledges the work that others have completed but it also provides a way for you to review information at a later date if you happen to find contradictory information from another researcher or a different source. If you fail to cite your sources, others may not take your work seriously. Without properly documented sources, other researchers cannot retrace your steps and examine the information for themselves.
Source citations should be added each time you include an event or a fact to your family history. This means that you are documenting as you go which is much easier than having to go back and add this information later. If you have looked at a number of documents over a long period of time, it is too easy to forget where you got that first fact from. Also, remember that some documents will provide information related to more than one event. For example, a marriage license may also provide information about each individual’s birth, their name, and their parent’s names and so each entry should have the source citation attached.
Source citations should include all the information necessary to allow another researcher to identify and find the material that you used. It is therefore, useful if your citations follow a standard format. There are a number of books and online articles that can provide information and guidance on how to cite your sources such as:
- Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace – Third Edition
- FamilySearch, “Cite Your Sources“
- Geneablogger, “Genealogy Source Citations Quick Reference“
- John Wylie, “How to Cite Sources“
- Cyndi’s List, Citations in Genealogy