Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sourcing: not a new issue at all

For some time I have been posting about a 1915 publication from the Genealogical Society of Utah (now FamilySearch). Here is the citation for the book.

Genealogical Society of Utah. Lessons in Genealogy. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Geneaological Society of Utah, 1915.

In reading through the book, I was struck by the following statement made in the context of using family traditions:
If your traditional information appears to be fairly accurate and contains any names and dates of your kindred dead, then you should put such names in proper order, first in your notebook, and next in the family record of temple work. Always at the top of each page in your notebook write the sources of the information which you are recording. As, "The names which are here given were furnished me by my father," or uncle, or any member of the family who may have given them to you. Thus you show exactly where you got your information, and if your first information is furnished from memory only, you would be justified in correcting any of these which you may later find in dates from parish records, as memory is often treacherous. Let it be repeated: always write at the top of your page in both notebook and record of temple work, the source of your information, whether it be from family tradition, from individuals, from old Bibles, from books in a certain library, from county wills or deeds, from cemeteries, or from parish records searched by yourself or another at your instigation. Write out on each page just where the names you record can be found. Be careful, be accurate, and give all facts.
Does this sound familiar? Remember, this was written before 1915. So how did we go for almost 100 years without learning this lesson? When I say "we," I mean all of us collectively as genealogists. Doesn't this statement make the issue rather clear? How many books, articles and family group records have been created in the last 100 years without citations to source? Why have we collectively, not speaking of or including notable exceptions, failed to understand this simple advice?

If you are reading this post and you have extensive citations for every one of your ancestors, then, of course, you are one of the few that heed this admonition. On the other hand, all you have to do is a brief search on's FamilyTrees to see how little attention is paid to sources and documentation. By putting the the name of any one of my ancestors, I can pull up from a few to hundreds of trees with no documentation whatsoever and this is on where supplying sources is automated.

OK, so this is another rant. But here is the challenge. How do we encourage the new and even the existing researchers to cite their sources? I think that major steps have been taken in this regard by those designing genealogy software. Even FamilySearch has come around to its own advice and is incorporating a more robust method of citing sources in its new Family Tree program scheduled to replace the problem ridden program later this year.

I would suggest that it would be appropriate to emphasize source citation in conferences, genealogical societies and other organizations on a regular basis. Let's try to stop the cycle of repeating traditional errors and relationships and move genealogy up a notch in the world of believability.

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