Sunday, October 17, 2010

Genealogy Lesson 7 - Citing your Sources

By now you have realized that I am not exactly holding your hand and taking you step-by-step into genealogy.  I assume that you have at least some basic knowledge of what to do.  My objective is to get your research off to a sound start.  I want you to be thorough in what you do, focus on quality versus quantity and above all...cite your sources.
Citing your sources is the most tedious part of genealogy but it can be the most rewarding.  I will give you a real-life example of how citing sources can get you out of a bind...
I run the manufacturing center for a local robotics company.  We are putting out a new product line that currently takes over one hundred man hours to produce.  That is an astronomical amount of time, but it is what it is.  I keep meticulous records and can prove how long it took each worker to build each part of the finished unit. 
This afternoon a co-worker tried to call me out on how long it really takes to build a unit.  He made the statement that he could "build the same robot, with no experience, in less than fifty hours"...and said this in front of my boss!  I immediately pulled out a spreadsheet documenting all of the build times, along with the corresponding work tickets, and he immediately looked like an idiot.  He shut his mouth and went back to work.
I was not shaken by his comment in the least.  I had the documented proof and all he had was conjecture.  In the end, no one likes that a unit takes one hundred hours to build.  However, like I stated before, it is what it is.  I have the proof in black and white and no one can argue with that.
Now let's translate this example into genealogy terms.  If you find a fact, be it a birth date, marriage location or mother's maiden name, write down the exact place that you found it.  In short, if you cannot reproduce your results...they are worthless.  You have to keep track of everything that you locate.  This is where programs like Family Tree Maker come in handy.  This type of database program allows you to easily track your sources (and defend them later if needed).
Let me also clarify do not need to photocopy everything!!!  I see people at the archives paying a dollar to photocopy the title page on a reel of microfilm.  It is totally acceptable to write the information on the copy of the document and not actually copy the title page.  Save yourself the money!  As long as you can reproduce the search, that is all you need. 
Write down the title, author, reel number...whatever...just enough so you could go back later and find the document again...just in case someone challenges your research in the future. 
As long as you can prove where you got your information, you will do a great job in this hobby.  If not, you come across as  unreliable when someone questions "where did you get great-great-grandma's date of birth?" and all you can come up with is "I do not remember."  With that in mind, I would strongly suggest that you get a copy of Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian by Elizabeth Shown Mills.  It is the premier resource on source citation for genealogical purposes.  I should also mention that Ms. Mills has more recently put out a second version of the book, Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace 2nd Edition.
One other quick tip before I wrap up....always cite your sources on the front of a photocopy, not the back.  If you make a photocopy of that copy for someone else later on, you will save time and money by only needing to copy the fronts!

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