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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Digging into sources in the FamilySearch Family Tree - Part One

According to statements made from time to time by representatives of, there are millions of sources being added to the Family Tree program. Many of those sources come from Record Hints, the sources suggested by the record hinting program on the website, but many are being added through the efforts of those using the program. These added sources are invaluable in evaluating the accuracy and applicability of the information and entries in the Family Tree.

Despite the constant addition of "sources," many entries are still being added without any supporting source citations. What is more serious is that entries in the Family Tree are being erroneously changed even when there is a long list of substantiating sources contradicting the changes. The most common issues involve adding unsubstantiated children to existing families. This often shows up as a change to the parents for an existing entry or as a new set of parents when none have been documented. Here are some specific rules or concepts that need to be considered both before and after an entry is made in the Family Tree.

1. All entries in the Family Tree, including all events, need to be substantiated by a properly evaluated record and accompanied by a source citation. 

The Family Tree gives users great latitude in adding source citations and has a very inclusive format for those citations. The issue here involves leaving a record of where the information added to the Family Tree may be found. For example, here is a family entered into the Family Tree that has no source citations:

In the descendency view, the missing source citations are indicated by the Purple Icons. This icon will disappear when a source is added or tagged to this individual. In this particular case, Amey (or Amy) Tanner has a source in the Memories section that has not been added as her own source.

Adding a source to this person involves simply attaching this source to this person. This brings up another important point, information in existing sources needs to be used to change and update the information in the Family Tree and added to each person mentioned or affected by the source. I often find that a source has been added but the old, inaccurate entries in the details have not been changed.

In my case, I add my sources automatically to my Source Box and so all I have to do is open the person's page and then add the source from the Source Box.

If you do not understand how to do this or need help with the Source Box, I suggest looking at the following:

Adding Sources to the FamilySearch Family Tree - James Tanner

See also:

5 - Adding Sources in FamilySearch Tree - Judy Sharp

There is also some specific information in the following Help Center articles:
2. A source tells other users where you got the information and reminds you also of where you got the information.

Unfortunately, there is some confusion between the terms "source" and "citation." When you find information about your ancestor it is extremely important to record exactly where the information was obtained. This could be a book or an online database or a letter or simply a statement made by a relative, but it every case the origin of the information needs to be recorded. In the Family Tree, this information is called a source. On the other hand, the format of the source entry is referred to as a "citation." In the greater genealogical community, there is a substantial amount of discussion about the format of citations. There is no specific citation format prescribed by the Family Tree. However, all the pertinent information that would help you or someone else to find where the information came from should be included. By doing this, someone else who wished to create a more formal citation can use your information to verify the source and create whatever formatted citation they wished to use.

3. When it is a source, not a source?

The most obvious answer to this question is when the information provided as a source does not contain the specific information needed to support the entry. This particular distinction seems to be a major stumbling block for substantiating the information in the Family Tree. For example, if a user were to add a child to the family and then listed a document as a source that did not pertain to that particular family, despite the addition of the source the information is still not correct.

A more difficult situation is one where the added document itself is incorrect. For example, let's suppose that an old surname book contained inaccurate information concerning the ancestry of one of the people included in the book. Simply adding the information from the book and adding the book as a source does not substantiate the validity of the information added. Likewise, a entry based on the book is still not a substantiating source. If the correct information is discovered and added to the individual's entry references to the inaccurate book reference should be detached.

Some may look at this as a "battle of the sources" and in effect, it may well be. This is an opportunity for those contributing information to collaborate and discuss any differences that may arise. In some cases, these situations can expand due to the fact that the incorrect information has been previously widely disseminated. There may be a transitional time while the accuracy of these traditionally accepted sources becomes known as unreliable. The unresolved question is whether or not the books containing these now known to be inaccurate claims should be retained as "sources."

In this regard, it is extremely important to read any comments made about a source and to look carefully at each source and evaluate the information contained for accuracy and applicability.

Stay tuned for further installments.

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