A bit about Sources (and mistakes)

Genealogy evidence comes in many forms, from word of mouth handed down the family, to an original birth certificate.  Sourcing information is so critical to your family tree, without it you will find yourself in a soup of wrong people and misinformation.  Trust me, I've been there, I once research a whole Fisher family that was the wrong family!  Nice people from Goulburn, NSW though.

So by sourcing your information you should (in theory) make less mistakes and save some time.

One point - NEVER trust family tree information online that is not sourced, it may be fiction. This type of information is useful however, it can provide a stronger (or weaker) link between family members, or have information that can lead you to primary sources.  Either way, contact the person to see what sources they have, often people do not put them online.

Records are classified into GROUPS that have similar content or purpose - for instance Birth records.  These are often referred to as VITAL RECORDS, or PRIMARY SOURCES and include records for BIRTH, MARRIAGE, DIVORCE, IMMIGRATION, MILITARY SERVICE and DEATH.

Primary Sources are documents and records that were created at or around the time that an event, such as a birth, death, or marriage, occurred. Someone with direct and personal knowledge of the event wrote these documents and records. They may include vital records, such as certificates of births, deaths, or marriages, military records, census information, naturalization records, and more. Because they are considered to be highly accurate, primary sources are preferred when obtaining and citing genealogical information.

Secondary Sources are documents and records that were not created at the time that an event occurred. They may include old letters, books, oral interviews, and vital records for events other than that in which they were written for (an example of this would be the DOB on an  Military Attestation Certificate).   Secondary sources are often provided by someone recollecting events of the past, and may not always be completely accurate, things such as newspapers, manuscripts, store ledgers,  family histories, indexes or compilations of census or marriage records, any sort of history (county, state, etc.), and collections of cemetery inscriptions, for instance.

These are also sometimes referred to as DERIVATIVE RECORDS. Derivative records can often be very useful as they can give you evidence of the date of an event, an example could be a probate document.  By knowing the date of probate you can estimate the date of death, and possibly narrow down enough to determine the date of death from a primary source.  They are very useful when trying to determine between two primary sources which one refers to your ancestor.

How to go from Clues to Sources

  1. Start by teasing out the statements of FACT
  2. Use a research planner or calender  - this could be in your genealogy software, from an online site, or one you put together yourself.  Always list the negative searches so that you don't repeat them.
  3. Locate any evidence that supports (or does not support) the fact you have.
  4. Evaluate was you learn.  This involves really looking at documents for clues or information that contradicts.
  5. Look for the original document - is it online, at a library, held in a repository or archive?
  6.  Determine the result of your search and make a conclusion, write it down!  Sometimes this will be an ambiguous statement and you may have to wait for for information to be come available.  (eg. Jason Clark died between 1900 and 1945, the place is unknown but likely to be NSW, Australia). 

What to record  beyond the obvious

Record all the obvious information firstly about the source itself, then the information it gives you for the person you are researching.  If you have a PC program, make sure it is one that has templates for your sources, as this makes things much easier.  You will find that many online sources will give you automatic source reference details.
  • Exactly (word for word) what the entry stated.  (eg. age rather than DOB)
  • Date of the DOCUMENT
  • Name of neighbours, associates (eg witnesses to a wedding)  that are listed in the document.
  • Exact locations, useful as locations can change names. 
  • I try to save a digital copy of all my sources, so that I can come back to them later.
The biggest mistake I made was not referencing sources when I first started my genealogy research, I had to go back and do it all again! 

And the last word ............
“If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.”
― Confucius


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