Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Family History Month - SOURCES

~ Today's prompt is brought to you by the letter S~

Performing genealogy research is quite a bit like working on a school research paper.  You have to determine what you plan to write about, read some general knowledge texts for background, develop your paper's theme, check out possible books and articles for research, read through your source materials and draft your bibliography, perform the actual research and, finally, write your paper and cite your sources

With genealogy (as with most other serious research) we need to cite sources for each piece of information we add to the (research paper) story of our ancestors.  Often we are in such a rush to get the names, dates and places that we sometimes forget or haphazardly cite our sources.  Then we leave our genealogy for weeks, months or years at a time (real life has a way of interfering with genealogy research).  When we get back to it, we are left to wonder ~ where did I get that piece of information, what does that "shorthand" source citation mean, is it reliable and/or accurate, do I have conflicting information and if so, how do I resolve the conflict.  If we have not clearly and accurately cited our sources for our information, we have to go back and do the research over again.  Does anyone want to reinvent the research wheel?  

How do you keep track of your sources when you research?  Is your method different when you research on-line, or at a library or archives?  If you use a genealogy software program, how does its source function work for you (both in theory and in practice)?  Do you regularly review your source citations and make sure they comply with accepted practice?  An excellent handbook/bible in this regard is Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills.  Additionally, several websites provide source citation assistance for articles, books and online materials (check out ProGenealogists' Citations Guide and WorldCat's Citation Guide).

Today pick one family group sheet and review the information you have entered for that family (names, dates, places and events).  How many of these pieces of information have sources?  Do you need to do some clean-up work? 

Today, make the decision to work with your sources on a regular basis and clean them up as you go along with your research.  Focus on both the information and the sources when you perform genealogy research.  Future genealogists who make use of your work product will thank you for taking the time to do it right.  They will be able to carry your work forward and not have to "reinvent the wheel" when they pick up where you left off.

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