Documenting Your Genealogy Research

You have been researching your family genealogy for quite some time. You have collected names, dates, and places and entered them into your genealogy program. Maybe you have made copies of the various documents or scribbled notes on pieces of paper. But, do you know where you got your great-grandfather's birth or death date or great aunt Sadie's marriage date? Do you have copies of birth certificates, death records or cemetery records.

When researching your family it is very important that you keep track of every piece of information. In genealogy research, any statement of fact, whether it is a birth date or an ancestor's surname, must carry its own individual source. Most genealogy computer programs include a way to enter your sources.

When evaluating and documenting the sources used to establish your family genealogy connections, it is important to understand the different types of sources.

  • Primary vs. Secondary Sources - A primary source is a record that was created at the time of a event by a person who had reasonably close knowledge of the event. A marriage certificate would be a primary source for a marriage date, name of spouse but not for the dates of birth. A secondary sources is a  record that was created a significant amount of time after an event occurred or by a person who was not present at the event. The above named marriage record would be a secondary source as to the birth dates. Primary sources carry more weight than secondary sources.
  • Original vs. Derivative Sources - Original sources are just that, original sources. Derivative sources are records which have been derived - copied, abstracted, transcribed, or summarized - from previously existing sources.

Cite Your Sources -

Accurately recording the full citation data from a source the first time is essential. Whether the source is a birth record, a old newspaper clipping, great-grandmother's diary, or a conversation with your father or another relative, cite your sources. A source is the record, however obscure or informal, from which we get our information. A citation is the link that connects a source to our conclusion.

Your genealogy computer program should have a way to add your sources.

Do a search on genealogy source documentation and you will come up with a long list. Here are just a few of them:

Resources Links: