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

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Reason for Sources in FamilySearch Family Tree

A "source" is a document or other record that contains information that supports the information recorded about individuals and families in the Family Tree program. A source could be personal knowledge, information transmitted from others in the form of letters or Bible entries, or information obtained from online family history records or a library or other repository. If an entry is added to the Family Tree without a source, there is no way for those who subsequently view the entry to know where the information came from.

Let me give an example. Here is a screenshot of one of my ancestor's Detail page from Family Tree:

This is an entry for Samuel Linton supposedly born in 1775 in Derry, Ireland. There is no information entered as to a Christening date, Death date or any burial information. If I scroll down, I see that there are no sources listed. Here is another screenshot showing the Sources field:

How do we know if the birth date is correct? How do we know this is the correct "Samuel Linton?"
Where did the information about his birth date come from? Where would I go to verify that the person who entered the information originally selected the right person or even copied the information correctly? For example, if I go to and search for "Samuel Linton," I get 561,418 returns. Which of these is my Samuel Linton? If I add in the date and supposed place of birth, I reduce that number to 55,824 and none of the entries has a resemblance to the Samuel Linton listed in the Family Tree. Here is one entry that might merit some additional investigation in there were any way to do that?
Samuel Linton in the Ireland, Griffith’s Valuation, 1847-1864
OCCUPIER: Samuel Linton
LESSOR: Worshipful Company of Ironmongers
COUNTY: Londonderry
BARONY: Coleraine
PARISH: Desertoghil
TOWNLAND: Gortacloghan
The only problem with this entry is that my Samuel Linton would have been 72 years old (assuming the birthdate was correct) at the time of the earliest entries in this record. In addition, I find that my Samuel Linton is supposed to be the father of William Linton born about 1799 in Ardstraw, Tyrone, Ireland. My conclusion, the Samuel Linton in the record cannot be the same as my own Samuel Linton.

Essentially, I am going about this all wrong. Instead of now searching for someone with no sources, I should be looking forward in time to his children and making sure that I have the right people listed in the Family Tree. If I look at the person listed in my line who is supposed to be the son of the 1775 Samuel Linton, then I find that the William Linton has sources but none of them substantiate the birth information I noted above.

Over the years, genealogists and family historians have discussed the issues of "evidence" and "proof." All of this is meaningless until there are sources recorded that substantiate the information. The whole process of determining the correct conclusions from the "evidence" presupposes that we have some "evidence" to examine.

On a practical level, someone could come along in Family Tree and change the birth information for my Samuel Linton born in 1775 without putting in a source and how would I know if what was entered was correct?

There are a much more complicated reasons for adding sources or citations but the all boil down to substantiating the information in a way that others can verify what we have entered. If I go back on my family lines in the Family Tree, I will very quickly find entries with no sources. What about your own entries? How many of them have even one source to substantiate what is in the Family Tree?


  1. A ward member, recent convert, came to my home last week to get help with Family Tree. She doesn't have many family records, so her question was how to trace the lines back.

    I showed how to review and add sources, but eventually realized that she wasn't making the connection between collecting and adding sources and extending her family lines, so we had to go back to the beginning and review her questions and start over.

    Sometimes sources and their purposes are very much not self-evident to beginners, and it can take a few tries to explain.

    A few years back I had a discussion with an English genealogist about some specific sources in regards to a common relative, and she explained that she always gave a rule of thumb to people that each person in a family tree needs at least three sources. I’ve found that to be a really good standard to use with beginners. It gives them a specific, usually-attainable goal to meet until they start understanding the theories behind genealogical research.

    1. You are right. I get questions all the time about how many sources are necessary and I always answer, all of them.

  2. Folks (at least in USA) most often do not think about why they believe what they do unless there is some scriptural foundation for the devout. "X is true" often seems like an impenetrable wad of iron.

    1. Well, I don't think I would put it quite that simply. Thanks for your comment.

  3. The source attachment process in FT is such a great enhancement. Folks need to do it carefully, examining records/images to verify matches. But it seems to me this enhancement has drawn down the sometimes frantic green arrow/icon clicking somewhat. I would love it if folks had to, where possible, attach sources, clean up faulty data and relationships, do a little more research, and then and only then reserve ordinances. I think the engineers are doing all they can to direct users toward the right path.