Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Question About Citing Your Sources

Public Service Announcement:  I would like to congratulate David Allen Lambert on his promotion to Chief Genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogy Society (NEHGS).  Great job, David!  You can read about it at  NEHGS Promotes Long-Time Staff to Chief Genealogist.

Question from Anne:
”If you are only doing research for yourself is it really necessary to cite your sources so formally like you teach?”

Even if you are the only person that ever sees your research you still want to cite your sources the correct way because one of the reasons you cite your sources is so that you can backtrack and find that source again.  For example, let’s say I record the marriage of John Lewis’ to Leticia Offutt, 22 Dec 1833. Sometime later (maybe years) I find someone else that has a different marriage date recorded.  Now I need to go back and recheck my source.  Where do I look?  I doubt that I would remember where I got it.  Let’s say I DID record my source.     

Columbia County, Georgia Inferior Court, Marriage Book B: 53, John Lewis-Leticia Offutt, 22 Dec 1833.

  I would have no problem finding this record again if I needed to.  Hopefully I copied the license first time around but if I didn’t, I could get it easily..  But there is another reason to cite your source.  You can look at the citation and see how credible the source is.  In the above example I can see that I have a copy of the original marriage license.  That is pretty credible.  What if my citation was this?

Hunting for Bears, "Georgia Marriages, 1699-1944," database, (, entry for John Lewis and Letitia Offutt, 22 Dec 1833.

I can see that I used an index which isn’t near as credible as the actual document. One thing that you can see is that the index gives a different spelling for Leticia’s name.  Leticia’s name is spelled two different ways on the actual document and neither of those spellings match the index.  Indexes are notoriously wrong with spellings and dates.  In this case the date is correct but I have found several Hunting For Bears entries that have the date the license was issued and not the date the marriage was actually performed.  Does it matter?  Yes it does.  If you look through the marriage books you will find times where a license was issued but the marriage didn’t actually take place.   Knowing exactly where the info came from is crucial.

Also, just because you don’t think anyone else will ever read your research you could certainly change your mind about that.  When I first started researching 22 years ago I had no idea that I would eventually be sharing my data with anyone else.  I had to go through my file one person at a time and re-research everything just so that I could get my sources right.  My research was not credible until I did that.


Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

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