Revised 31 Dec 2018
OK, so you’re working on building your family tree. You’re easily finding new names: ancestors in your direct lineage. Exciting!! You’re adding the new names to your family tree rapidly. Father’s names; mother’s maiden names; children’s names. New lines to research based on new maiden names. Even more exciting! Wow, soon you’ll be able to regenerate your Pedigree Chart and visualize your lineage back even further than before. And all those new distant cousins, too!
And then three months later…………oops, you run into conflicting dates. Now you have to take time to research and fix it. You take a look at the birth date of the name with a conflict. The dates you have don’t make sense. As one example, perhaps the child’s birth date is only 8 years after her mother’s birth date. That can’t be – that’s got to be fixed! Oh no…you didn’t take the time to cite any sources for their birth dates. Where did I get that from?
Or you find a name which may be a duplicate of someone already in your tree. The birth and death dates are the same, but the name of their spouse is different between the two. Is this the same person with two different spouses? Or do you have the dates wrong? You take a look at the marriage date and, oh no (again)…no sources cited. Where did I get that from?
This has happened to all of us, from beginner to expert, in our genealogical research. Sooner or later we all realize it’s important to take time to find credible sources, verify, and cite sources in your tree for facts, especially for names and vital facts such as birth, death, and marriage dates. It’s also important to link the fact to the source or to the media item in the gallery on the profile page so it’s clear what fact came from what source.
What is a credible source? Someone else’s family tree? Well, maybe…. depending on the sources they used. But there are more credible sources to search for. First, let’s discuss the types of sources available for genealogical research. Using the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) [Reference https://bcgcertification.org/ethics-standards/%5D as a guide, the types of sources include:
Original and Derivative Sources: original sources are considered more reliable and thus preferred.
Primary and Secondary Sources: primary sources are considered more reliable and accurate.
Direct and Indirect Evidence: direct evidence is considered more accurate.
It’s best to seek original, primary and direct evidence sources whenever possible, which are most credible.
Examples of primary sources include:
- Original vital records (VR) available in town, city, or county records, such as birth, marriage and death records. However, keep in mind that for a death record, for example, the name, date, and place of death is considered primary information, but the deceased individual’s birth date and location may not be accurate so is considered secondary information on a death certificate. Also, for example, the names of the individual’s parents must also be considered secondary information on a death certificate.
- US Census records, which are available from ancestry.com databases. Census records contain both primary information as well as secondary information. For example, the primary information is the date and location of the Census Record. But the names, birth dates and birth locations of the individuals are considered secondary information since the person(s) providing the data may not have been physically present at their birth. Likewise, it is of course unlikely the US Census Recorder was not present for the births for those individuals, either.
- A Family Bible is considered a primary source if the author of the Bible was a participant or witness to the names, dates and location of all the events recorded. Years later that may be difficult to state with certainty.
- An autobiography or biography containing facts, events, or family stories/history is a primary source providing the author was a participant or a witness to the events at the time.
Derivative and Secondary sources should also be investigated and may be of value. Some include:
- Vital record websites, indices, or published books containing vital records taken from town, city or county records.
- Genealogical and Family Histories, published by recognized organizations, such as the New England Historic and Genealogical Society (NEHGS). Reference: https://library.nehgs.org/
- American ancestry: giving the name and descent, in the male line, of Americans whose ancestors settled in the United States previous to the Declaration of independence, A.D. 1776; or The Magazine of American Genealogy These sources are timeless collections and remember someone put a lot of time and effort to research and document these. Keep in mind, however, even these sources have been known to contain errors, so trust but verify!
- Biographical, historical, genealogical and personal memoirs, written by reputable authors, editors and genealogists, such as William Richard Cutter; Henry Sweetser Burrage and Albert Roscoe Stubbs; Charles Thornton Libby, etc. Once again, even these sources have been known to contain errors, so trust but verify!
- Sources going back into England’s historical records, including ancestry from royal lineage include Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Collins’s Peerage of England; etc. Once again, even these sources have been known to contain errors, so trust but verify!
Finding Ancestry Sources (searching on ancestry.com) and adding them on the ancestor’s Profile page creates a huge advantage since it helps ancestry.com to find and present Hints for you to review and consider.
Many sources can be found by simply using your favorite search engine for an ancestor’s name or an ancestor couple and reviewing the hits to pick out the most credible ones. If these aren’t found and added as Ancestry Sources that’s OK. Add them in the Add Source box on the Profile page. Below is an example of a source citation for a book found in a Genealogy Department of a county library, then added as an Added Source.
Is it OK to use other people’s family trees? Yes! I do recommend taking a look at other’s family trees, including those in ancestry.com, MyHeritage, or others. It is especially recommended to look at published genealogical books and papers which have been researched and published for a given family name. However, use these secondary sources as a REFERENCE only, to give you ideas and clues to explore further. Look at their tree for primary sources which you can use. If other’s family trees are used as a source, and they cite no sources, cite their tree as a source. That’s better than nothing!
Don’t let this happen to you (see below)!
F – Find – a primary source (or a secondary source, if all else fails)
V – Verify – the information found against other sources, preferably primary sources
C – Cite – the source and record/link the details in your family tree records
FVC to add sources to look like this:
Remember: FVC Find Verify Cite
Your goal should be to NEVER have to again ask: Where did I get that from?
Frank Staples, Jr.