Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Why Do We Add Sources?

I had an interesting question recently. Why do we add sources? I guess the question was somewhat unexpected. I have been adding sources for so long that the question of why I am doing it has not occurred to me for some time. When I was asked the question, I tried to give a satisfactory answer but I could tell that the person asking the question was not convinced.

If you are an experienced, seasoned family historian, I can only assume that you have personally resolved this issue of adding sources. But for newly minted family historians, the idea that you need to spend your time copying out source citations is not very appealing. The first step in beginning a family history is to exhaust the memories of the people who are still living. The next step usually begins the process of looking for written, recorded sources for additional information. In some instances, new researchers look to older family members who have collected names and information about the family. This can be from an informal source such as a family Bible or a more formal source such as when the relative has compiled an entire family history. In today's world, the new family historian may find additional information readily available online in family trees.

At this point the researcher can assume that all of the information they find is correct and simply copy out the parts that refer to the researcher's own family, or take a more realistic view and try to verify if the information proffered online is correct.The real question is how to determine whether or not the information gathered from relatives either in person or online is correct. It is much better to determine the correctness of the information early on in the research process than later when the researcher finds 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. It is quite common, for relatives to supply information which lacks any record as to where the information was obtained. If the source of the information was not recorded there is no way to verify whether or not the information is correct other than doing the research over again. Unfortunately, failure to add sources for the information transmitted from relatives has resulted in much inaccurate information being transmitted.

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 failed to record where we have searched, we may end up our searches every time we return to our family history research. So, not only does the process of recording are record sources assist in verifying the accuracy of the information, but 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 of 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.

Unfortunately, I did not have time to completely explain this to the person asking the question in the introduction to this post but hopefully that person and others in similar situations will take the time to learn enough about the family history process to realize the importance of recording the sources for any information added to a family file. This principle applies whether or not you are compiling your information in written format or entering it into a dedicated, genealogy computer program.

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