Question of the Week: When did you realize the importance of sources in genealogy?

+50 votes

When did you realize the importance of sources in genealogy?

in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (2.5m points)

When I realized that my paternal grandmother never gave the same year of birth on any two documents. Genealogy "programs" were just starting to be a thing and I needed one that would let me keep track of all those potential dates. The software I chose had a really strong community who emphasized good sourcing habits.

I miss TMG but love the replacement community I've found here at WikiTree

Debi - I agree that keeping track of all the dates was the hardest thing for me and spreadsheets were so cumbersome - I'm sincerely glad to have found Wikitree :)
I'm new to all this ... just got confirmed for the site.  However, recently I came into possession of my Grand-Father's personal paper copy military records.  The family knew he had served in the Navy (briefly) and Marines but I have records showing he had also served in the Army.   Army?  3 Branches.  This all news to the family.   I'll confirm one way or another eventually.

Additionally,  we don't know my Great-Grand Father's Father's name on my mother's side.     Sources are important!
GREAT question, Eowyn! Generated a lot of great answers and comments from such a diverse range of wikitreers!
I first started my family tree back in 2008.  The reason being that my mum had never been able to form a relationship with her mother because she was institutionalized until her death due to severe postnatal depression which she never recovered from.  This had me wondering whether mum had more relatives than she even knew about.  To my surprise, once I started keying in her details, up popped all of these people who were siblings of her mother.  Six of them!  This mean't that she also had many first cousins which she knew nothing about.  Now she does and I have even taken her from Perth in Western Australia to New South Wales to meet many of them and the bonus was that one of them had a photo of her mother on her wedding day.  The joy I saw on her face when she saw that photo was priceless!  To think we would never have found these people had it not been for all the source materials available to us.
This is so heartwarming - congratulations on making the life connections for your Mother - I can just imagine her joyful face when she saw the wedding photo!

I don't believe some long time members have found that out yet.

Today I came across this citation. :-(


Oh Laura - I remember making some of those sourcing mistakes when I started...hopefully I caught all of them :)
When I tried to remember where I found something, and realized I hadn't written it down.  It is a learning curve.

35 Answers

+21 votes
Best answer
When I first began on Wikitree, I was already aware that knowing the source of information could help me discern the credibility of that information.  I had already been lead astray on several occasions by blindly following another's family tree research. First hand sources are the best sources for ensuring accuracy in establishing the World Tree.  I decided before entering anything into Wikitree that I would go over every piece of information I had carefully to be sure that I had the right parentage especially.  Often that involved finding birth records and finding census records that show the evolution of the family and the presence of that child/parent/sibling combination/relationship over the years.

My journey is a continual learning process and you will find that even here, as I try to be "final word" careful, I have made mistakes.  I have corrected my mistakes as I realize them and continued in my quest .
by Helen Mikkelsen G2G3 (3.1k points)
selected by Deborah Collier
Love that quote "my journey is a continual learning process"!
Exactlty! Helen. My experience exactly. I was made acutely aware when joining WikiTree and their desire to have only one page per person in the World Family Tree and each pertinent citation needed sourcing proof. I had become aware of these types of errors earlier on while using Ancestry and Family Tree Maker - blindly copying records and information from others' trees - until I realized most of it was all wrong! I then made sure the dates of birth and death, marriage, places of same, family members, children, siblings were correct. Most of my ancestors since the early 1600's were from Canada and the USA, so I perused the Government web sites and the Archives in Canada, etc. Started communicating with 'cousins', especially a 2nd cousin here in the US and a first cousin in Canada, as well as perusing the paper work I inherited when my parents and my hubby's parents passed on. So many pictures also to scan - haven't even scratched the surface yet. But, I continue on my quest ...

+28 votes
My eyes were opened up to the importance of sources in genealogy when I followed blindly down the same path on some other family trees. I ended up in such a tangle I had to start over. It was made even more important when I came here and STILL found I had made stupid mistakes that need not have happened if sourced correctly. Of course that not only makes your personal tree more factual but give your descendants the chance to follow your research and add to it in the future.
by Wendy Sullivan G2G6 Pilot (160k points)
I wish I had read your answer first.  You have shared my experience exactly.  What a learning curve this has been!
Ahh, yes, I'm thinking we all shared this same "tangled mess".  Wikitree has become the easiest way I've found to keep the factual information intact.
Yes ... because of their need for sourcing every fact and only one page per person! Like most of the bloggers here, I still have to clean up quite a bit of my tree; but, the most recent ancestors are 'shaping up' and I will continue as long as my 78 year old eyes will allow me to.

A thought - I had used My Heritage quite a bit before finding WikiTree and had early on become overwhelmed and frustrated with the constant emails advising me that I had new matches in my tree. It is a very good-looking web site and fun to use - however, I wonder why WikiTree uses them for our 'trees'? Because there are so many duplicate and more pages for each person. That is the reason I have become so frustrated using their web site. Have not edited my info. there for most of this year. Feel bad about that, because there a quite a few family members requesting my editing help - but it has become too time-consuming. I probably have thousands of requests for 'confirmation' of information there.

+26 votes
I realized early on that sources were very important. What took me a while to master was using sources to write a proof based on the evidence provided by the source. Learning how to analyze your sources for evidence; original or derivative, direct or indirect, primary or secondary, etc. is critical to mastering genealogical proof. Sources alone do not complete the process.
by Jeanie Roberts G2G6 Pilot (142k points)

When I corrected my mentor on a "fact" I read in a book that conflicted with his assessment.  His answer was "Read It For Yourself!"  The author was wrong.  Many thanks to Elizabeth Mills for her help.  Our ancestors become more human, too, when we write to the evidence. Thanks for a great answer, Jeanie.

I second that Barbara! Great answer, Jeanie!
+23 votes
When I came here! Trying to clean up the mess now! Thanks wikitree :) It was a good lesson!
by Living Blacklock G2G6 Mach 3 (30.2k points)
+24 votes
Great question!

For me, it was about a year after starting WikiTree. How embarrassing is that?!
by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
Makes me feel better! :)
We're all human...
+15 votes
It happened for me when I tried to see if certain of my ancestors would qualify (or qualify me or relatives of mine) for various groups like DAR or the Licking County Ohio first families.  I found that there were mising pieces of data which I had proof for.  And even ones I though I had proof for are a bit iffy.  I'm still missing one link for DAR qualification via my Evans line, though I have plenty of circumstantial evidence for the link of George Washington Evans as son of David Evans, Sr. More recently, trying to show the link for me to Pres. George W Bush I realized there were several missing links.  Now links are different than sources per se, but to have a proved link you have to have sources for it.  At this point I'm still entering relatives and adding the low hanging fruit of sources, but I certainly recognize the importance of the sources as the raw material of proof.
by Living Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (444k points)
Love that 'low hanging fruit of sources" reference and I'm stealing it!
+15 votes
Fortunately early on. When I started to discover different answers to the same question. I also had good fortune because I love colored pens. The day I consulted Savage's Gen. Dict. I had an orange Pen, then when I used families of Anc. New Haven the pen was peacock blue, and I had a purple one the day I added Torrey. So I was easily able to know what source items came from by the color of the ink on my charts. See there is value to paper and ink. Those early charts are a wonderful rainbow of information.
by Anne B G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
I also love colored pens and colored fonts and colored boxes - all of which is how I kept track when I first started combining my info into excel...great minds :)
+14 votes
The first several generations were easy, because I already "knew" that info. But digging deeper, I began to find conflicting information. Then I couldn't remember where I got my information.

Now I take notes (and still learning how to turn those into sources).
by Dennis Wheeler G2G6 Pilot (579k points)
edited by Dennis Wheeler
And of course, once you got past your first couple of generations, you were hooked (line and sinker) into genealogy!
+15 votes

In one way I was lucky. I started from primary sources since there was no such thing as online family trees.  I sent for my first birth cert when I was still  at school but it was far to expensive to continue to do that and I don't think I knew anything about census data then.(though only the 1841-61 censuses would have been public at that point)

 The spark was reignited by a BBC series by Gordon Honeycombe in 1979 ( part one and two are now on  youtube  and they are still worth watching) The programme  together with an accompanying book,  was a really good primer. It included  details of  a wide variety of English primary sources  and the 'new' IGI

What I do wish is that I had realised  the importance of recording my research a bit more systematically.

by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (477k points)
edited by Helen Ford
Helen - thanks so much for the youtube link!!  I had heard of this BBC series but couldn't remember Gordon's last name.
+14 votes
For me, I have always preferred facts rather than 'possible'.  In my case when I came to a brick wall with some of my family tree, I purchased a certificate.  Without this 'source' I could not have continued in my research. Alright I may have spent quite a large sum of money - but the information is ensured to be accurate.

With regards to my ONS - it became even more evident on WikiTree - came across profiles with barely anything in, now I absolutely love 'sources' it backs up the rest of the information.  Though as it is a ONS - I keep revisiting and providing more information such as newspaper documents.

All of my profiles - I consider a 'work in progress' as I keep finding more information as I dig deeper.  So bear with me as I improve my profile layouts.
by Living Bowling G2G6 Mach 6 (65.2k points)
I absolutely love it when I find more information on a profile - especially when I'm not 'looking' for it :)
+15 votes

It was 1975, I was ten years old, and the head of the local historical society brought me to the Vermont Historical Society library, where the helpful librarian first produced a copy of a 1905 Tobey family history (which connected to the starting point of the family Bible transcript that I had brought with me), and then recommended that I get a copy of Gilbert Doane's Searching For Your Ancestors, which I read over and over :-)

by Living Schmeeckle G2G6 Pilot (106k points)
John - I've never read Gilbert Doane's book, apparently I have missed a good read, thanks for the resource.
+12 votes
I guess it was when I started to do most of my work on familysearch,org. Sadly they do not have the option for exporting a GEDCOM so my early work on WikiTree came from other programs that do not place much importance on sources and for that reason I have spent a lot of my time fixing not only the unsourced profiles I created but also those of other family members I have found here.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.7m points)
I definitely feel your pain with having to hand-tranfer family history and later having to add the sources.
Deborah, I did have a GEDCOM to upload but the sources did not transfer. It was actually a blessing in disguise, I found better sources as well as I am ending up with better profiles
+13 votes
As a youngster when my grandparents spoke of my ancestors. They had researched the family on my moms side. But the bug really really bit when i started researching my paternal side.
by Robin Swanepoel G2G2 (2.3k points)
How lucky that your grandparents felt it was necessary to 'hand down' their family history!!
+13 votes
when I accidently erased part of my family history and had to go back and research again the branches I did not have on file yet.
by M N G2G1 (1.0k points)
Oh Michael - I have certainly been in both the situations of hitting delete AND of not saving corrected data. We all know better know - it just takes one time!
+14 votes
Very early in my family history research.

As an only child, parents deceased, but memories of two grandmothers.

What I thought I knew was soon dispelled from records, that proved differently and then the whole family tree developed through validated sources back to 16th Century.

In essence, I moved around the UK before settling in Harrogate, Yorkshire, 25 years before I retired to Spain, where I decided to investigate the family, through the Internet. I believed my family were from County Durham, were I was born.

No, in part my father's side from Norfolk but more than 75% of the whole family were from Yorkshire, indeed all within a 30 mile radius of Harrogate.

Sources & records revealed all this, but my largest surprise was sourcing the burial of my  "x" great grandparents more than 200 years ago, in my Parish Church in Harrogate, 800 m of where I lived.!

My belief, "don't guess" rather "prove"!
by Living Woodhouse G2G6 Pilot (288k points)
Ron - incredible find in your Parish Church!! Lucky you!!
+13 votes
When I started finding conflicting information without any way to determine what was accurate to some degree, what was supposition, and what was the way someone wanted it to be.
by Mary Nance G2G6 Mach 2 (21.3k points)
Oh yes, the 'way someone wanted it to be' has bitten me in the behind more than once :)
+12 votes
When I found out that the family tree I inherited from a relative, did not match the records placed online by Burke's Peerage!

The important person I thought was my direct ancestor, was in ancestor's brother! Both of them were involved in and survived being part of the courts of Henry the 8th and his children. My ancestor was a minor player in this time of turmoil and change.  While his brother (who only had daughters) was given a title and land.

In defense of my Grandfather and the Genealogist he hired in 1975. Neither of them had the incredible, world wide, easy to access information point we call the "Web."
by Kathryn H G2G1 (1.5k points)
I agree about having easy to access info.  However, I would caution that online info is only as good as the person entering it unless it is a photocopy of the original document or from an undisputed personal source (as is Burke's Peerage).
+12 votes

Well, AS I got further into research on a relative I found new, conflicting information on a person I had already researched. I think citing your sources as you go, you can see where you found the original information ,documents and so on. It's proof and I dont like not knowing for sure!  But also, I wish they had adoption records and documents cause I've often wondered if any ancestor was adopted and maybe I dont have the genes i thought we had. I'd like to know what kind of blood i have ,if its Irish,English,Spanish or what.

by Vicki Goodwin G2G Crew (960 points)
Vicki - I think if the death/birth/census records all have a time frame before they are made public, then why can't the same type of time frame be decreed for adoption records?  I know, I know, privacy and all that good stuff.  I'm not an adoptee so I can't even begin to understand the complexities associated with that however; I really hope someday this issue can be decided to benefit our descendants.
Yes, Exactly!   I agree.
+10 votes
I have always known the importance of genealogy.  My grandmother instilled family and stories in me from the time I was little.  My mother was an active researcher for family on both sides--hers and my Dad's.  I have large rolls of paper sewn together to show the family trees.  It is amazing the work she did before everything was "online."  She wrote letters to places all over the US and even to England and Germany.  She would be so amazed at the ease of the Internet and the research that can now be done online.  She has researched back to the Magna Charta, where we have a relative who was one of the signers.  I am anxious to continue the work she has started for my daughters.
by Peggy Talley G2G Crew (500 points)
Peggy - bless your Mother for understanding the 'need to feed her genealogical appetite'. I am always amazed how easy it is to click a few keys and actually see a birth/death record!  I remember showing my Dad his step-sister's birth/death records - he didn't even know she existed. I know your daughters will appreciate all the work, time and effort both you and your Mother gave to ensure they know their ancestors.
+10 votes
I realized that sources were important in genealogical searches when I just added someone to a relatives family without having proven resources. My relative had just heard stories about his existence, but there was no proof. I just put his name in as a possible relative. Later I saw that someone else had linked her family to his. I felt bad, because there were so sources to link him to anyone. He might not have ever existed. Then I felt I needed to delete because I didn't want anyone else thinking he was real, without some solid proof.
by Pam Newsom G2G2 (2.9k points)

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