Citing Your Sources: The Road Map to Your Information

[Editor's note: Elyse Doerflinger of WikiTree shows why citing your sources in genealogy research is important and how WikiTree can help.]

After researching your family history for a while, you begin to put together the pieces of your family tree puzzle.  You’ve got names, dates, and places that you’ve found in census, military, and vital records.  But do you remember exactly where you found great-great grandma Bessie’s marriage date?

Why Cite Sources?

When researching family history, it is important that you keep track of where you got your information.  Not only does this help you verify your information, but citing your sources also serves as a road map for you or other researchers to follow if you ever discover conflicting information. This is why it’s part of WikiTree’s Honor Code. Sources are essential for productive collaboration.

In genealogy, it is important that every statement of fact – whether it is an occupation or date of birth – have its own individual source. Giving each fact a source not only leaves a trail to follow, but it also allows other researchers (and potential cousins) to analyze your genealogy connections and assumptions.  In addition, citing your sources also makes it much easier to pick up your research where you left off after a research break.

A Lesson Learned

When I first began researching my family tree, I was far too concerned with finding records and I didn’t care about citing sources.  But it wasn’t long before I ran into conflicting information and I had no way of backtracking to where I got the information to sort it all out.  It was then that I realized how important it is to cite sources and since then, I always take the time to cite my sources.  When a cousin contacts me asking a question about where I got a specific fact, I can easily pull up the source citation.

Types of Sources and Information

There are two different kinds of sources.  Original sources are records that contribute information that is not derived from another record.  Derivative sources are records that have been copied, transcribed, or abstracted from a previously existed source.  Original sources generally carry more weight than derivative sources.

Within each source, there are two different kinds of information.  Primary information comes from records created at or near the time of an event and the information is contributed by a person with knowledge of the event.  Secondary information is information found in records after a considerable amount of time has passed from the event or when the information is contributed by a person who was not present at the time of the event.  Primary information generally carries more weight than secondary information.

Source Citation Formats

While there are many different styles to cite sources, what matters is that there is enough detail in the citation for someone else to find that exact document.  In the genealogy world, the standard is to use Elizabeth Shown Mill’s Evidence Explained Style.  Other people choose to use APA format or MLA format.  At the end of the day, it isn’t where the comma is located, but whether or not someone can find that document based solely on the information in the citation.

WikiTree Is Source Citation Friendly

At WikiTree, it is simple to add sources and footnotes to profiles.  The sources on the profile help prove the information you list in the biography section.  When other WikiTreers (and potential cousins) have conflicting information, the sources will be able to help resolve those conflicts.  At WikiTree you can easily customize the profiles to display information and sources in the way you see fit.

Do you cite your sources?  Do you follow a style and if so, which one?

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