01 December 2010

Sources & Citations in Genealogy

The principals outlined here apply to recording data manually or in an electronic database but it discusses the issues from the viewpoint of using an electronic database.

When researching your family tree it is important that you record the details associated with every piece of data and how you obtained that data. e.g. was it from a birth certificate, a census record or a date calculated from a headstone. This is important because at some future time you are going to want to go back and confirm data e.g. when newly gained information produces a conflict. It is also beneficial for other people to go to that source and see the evidence for themselves. Each piece of data should have its own citation of the source but remember each piece of data may also have more than one citation.

What is the difference between a source and a citation?

A source is the actual record of the fact e.g. a marriage certificate, a website or a notation in the front of a family bible. A source is always located in an actual place known as a Repository which for the above sources could be, My Marriage Certificate files; the internet and finally My Library (or maybe even Grandma’s bookshelf). Sources are subdivided between Original Sources
and Derivitative Sources. These refer to the providence of the record; so a taped interview would be Original while a photocopy or transcription of a Certificate would be Derivative. This information is usually stored under the Type Field of the Source.

A citation is a quoting of the source which you associate with a specific piece of data. Attributes associated with a citation are the entry date; the quality assessment of the source for the piece of data; where within the source the information is located; text from the source and any note you wish to make. A citation can be thought of as an audit trail for the data. A quality software database will provide the ability to complete all these fields as they are also part of the GEDCOM specification.

Let's look at entering some new data into the database such as a NSW Death Certificate. Such a certificate may provide among other things the following details - the Name of the deceased; Date of Death; Where Buried; Date Buried; the Informant; the deceased's Spouse and any Children of the Marriage. It is usually tempting when you have a new Death Certificate to go and immediately enter the person's date of death, etc. however, the recommended procedure is to go and enter the source first. Once this is done you have a source to refer to for your citations.

Next go to the record of the individual and the first thing to do is enter the data e.g. Date of Death. Then there will be a button to select to 'Add a Citation'. Select this and this will bring up a list of Sources; select your new Death Certificate as the source and you will then be able to enter the attributes. (This process will vary slightly between databases).

Entry Date : While a few people use this attribute to date when the record was compiled, common usage is to enter today's date. (The date when the record was compiled can be entered in the Notes section of the Source itself). By entering to-day's date you record how recently you looked at this piece of data.

Assessment : The four standard assessments are Primary, Secondary, Questionable and Unreliable. When entering the Name of the deceased; the Date of Death; Where Buried; Date Buried or the Informant, the assessment is Primary Evidence. However when entering the deceased's Spouse and any Children of the Marriage the assessment can be either Primary or Secondary Evidence, as such information on Death Certificates is totally subject to the actual versus perceived knowledge of the informant. Questionable is used when you have some doubt about the accuracy of the source for this piece of data. Unreliable is self-explanatory but is also only referring to this piece of data. If you decide that the source itself is unreliable, then this should be noted in the Notes section of the Source Record.

Where Within Source : This will vary depending on the nature of the source e.g. for a book it could be the Chapter Number and Page Number (remembering Page Number can vary between editions); for an Internet Source, the address of the site is shown. Sites can change or even disappear, so you should print the page (or appropriate part of the page) to keep in your records. For our Death Certificate you could either leave it blank or record the Column Title.

Text Within Source : This Attribute is used to actually quote the relevant text from the Source and common practice is to insert it in Inverted Commas.

Note : Used to insert any additional information. In the case of our Death Certificate, at least the Registration Number would be shown.

Typical Source names found in Australian genealogy databases are Bankruptcy (Name); BDM Online Index (by State and/or Country); Biography; Book; Book Notations (Inside Cover References); Cards; Cemetery; Census; Certificate (Type e.g. BDM, Railway Service); Eulogy; Headstone; Index (Type); Internet; Letter; Mailing List; Military File; Newsletter; Photo; Postcard; Researcher (Name); Shipping Records; Verbal and Will.

Entering your sources and then the appropriate citations gives your database much more meaning and can make chasing information from ten years ago that much easier.

John Owen
May 2010

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