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Documenting Genealogical Research

Since many people are using computers to keep track of their genealogical records and research, it is much easier to document sources directly on the computer.


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Resource: Tracing Lines
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In my college Philosophy 101 class, we were greeted by a craggy, gruff professor who squinted his eyes at us and asked, "How do you know?" These four words are excellent when evaluating your genealogical research. Several years ago my husband asked a serious question regarding my research, "Where did you find that?" Throughout your research keep those two questions in mind.

Since many people are using computers to keep track of their genealogical records and research, it is much easier to document sources directly on the computer. Some genealogical software comes with source formats. Even so, researchers need to do their documentation correctly. So what's the mystery about documenting your sources?

There are so many types of records that can be found and utilized in research, we all must know how to not only evaluate them but also document them. The classic and well-known book for documentation is Elizabeth Mills's Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian. She is a professional genealogist with knowledge and experience to teach us how to do it correctly. Both analysis of research and documentation are covered in the book. If you follow her examples, your research will be well-documented.

Personally I have this book beside my computer. If you never publish or write a paper or case study, it is necessary to document where you found something. Future generations will be at a loss if you don't.

The latest item by the same author is QuickSheet: Citing Online Historical Sources. This is a laminated folder that provides sample citations for documenting sources such as databases, digital books, articles and images that are online. Basic principles and basic templates guide you through sorting out what should be documented in these sources. This is another item that I keep beside my computer.

Examples that Mills shows on this folder are how to document a newsletter and newspaper item as a source list entry, then as a full reference note and as a short reference note. Realizing that we are using both images and electronic delivery (archived) presentation of items such as these, Mills gives us examples for both.

With both of these items at hand, start looking at the information you have collected, how you analyze it and its origins. It doesn't take much time to go back and add sources to your research items. Once your research is documented, stick with a plan to continue documenting. Ask yourself that simple question, "Where did I find that?" The key to good research is to ask the question before you finish the research. If you are making copies of documents, be sure to include the necessary information pertaining to the location of the original document. If you are using online sources, stop and make sure you have complete information before you leave the web page or better yet move away from the computer.

I think both of these items would be great for starting a new year, and equally great to help with a resolution ... evaluate properly and document properly. Both are available from the Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. For more information on their prices, check out the web page

Genealogical societies will benefit by having both the book and QuickSheet. Lessons or programs could be presented using the examples in each. If you are already documenting, keep it up! If you have never started, don't go another day without learning how to properly do it.

Source Information: Tracing Lines, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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