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what is a genealogical source?


Loyal Member
Staff member
Nottingham, England.
Hi hurdon,

A source in it's simplest form is a citation of for instance a marriage record. Anything that really confirms the event.

Experienced genealogists agree that accurately recording the full citation data from a source the first time is essential. over your research, you may vividly remember those first few finds; but, as more and more information is gathered, details blur, contradictory data is found and memory is not sufficient. Nor is it sufficient to declare, "I wouldn't have written it down if it weren't true." Whether the source is a probate court record, a yellowed newspaper clipping, grandfather's diary, or a conversation with your father, you must cite your sources.
Whether you take notes on a computer, hand-write them, make copies on a copier or dictate them into a tape recorder, practicality, credibility, and ethics require careful source citations. Most of us must also admit that we've occasionally neglected to do that and had to backtrack — time and effort we'd rather have spent seeking new information.

I have found this of interest:
How Are Sources Cited?
The Basic Format

Here is the basic format for traditional citations. It has four descriptors in the following order:

Author, Title, Publisher, Locator.Or in greater detail: Author(s), Article Title, Publication title, (Publisher place, Publisher name, Year published), Page number(s).

Let's take this part by part:

* Author: List up to three authors in the order their names appear on the title page of the work. For works with more than three authors, list only the first author and add "et al" [without the quotation marks]. In a work comprised of a collection of chapters by separate authors, such as The Source, use the form for periodicals.

* Title: For a periodical or collection of works, first list the article's title then the publication's title. Article titles are shown in quotations and publication titles in italics.

* Publisher: List the city, state, and country (the state is optional if the city is obvious and country is optional if your work is to be shared within one country), followed by the publisher's business name. These are almost always shown on the title page or the reverse of the title page of a book. If the publisher is not shown, list the place information (if known) and say "published by author" (as is often the case with family histories). For works published by the author, include the postal address if it is listed in the work.

* Locator: This is usually page number(s), but in legal and reference works, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, it may be paragraph numbers.

* Annotations: These are optional comments by you about the source. Place them in square brackets (the nearly universal symbol for author comments). They may address the credibility and reliability of the source, your rationale for the conclusion(s) made from the source(s) or some other comment of value to the reader or later to yourself. I annotate almost all citations. I do this with software that allows me to selectively exclude the annotations in any report. While I could use research notes for these annotations, I find it more productive and easier to simply use the citation feature of my software.

* Missing data: Indicate missing data using the following abbreviations: for no date, use "n.d."; for no publisher, use "n.p."; for no author use "__________" [10 underlines].

Some of the formats and styles that have become traditional were based on efforts to save time and effort in retyping drafts and in telling the Linotype operator what fonts and formats to use. The personal computer has changed this. For example, we need not use abbreviations as much (or at all) because the better genealogical software applications allow us to type information on a source only once and then use it as many times as we need it. Avoiding abbreviations not only makes our work much more readable, it reduces the opportunities for misunderstanding and miscommunication.
More Specifically...
Published Sources
First, list the author; second, list the title; then, the publisher and publication date. Last, list page numbers, and if you choose to make an author annotation, place this in brackets. List multiple authors in the same order as shown on the title page unless there are more than three authors, in which case, show only the first author and add "et al" [without the quotation marks].

Single Author Book
Helen Kelly Brink, Some of the Descendants of Asa Phillips (1793-1844); Who were Born in Vermont and Who Settled in Steuben County, New York in 1802, (Marco Island, Florida, By the Author, 1992) p.34.

Single Author Article
Fannie Clifton, "Some Brixey and Clifton History." The Brixey Bulletin (Garland, Texas, Brixey-Wylie Press), 2:4 (Fall 1992), pp. 39-40.
Newspaper Item
Charles G. Ferris obituary, Van Wert, Ohio, Van Wert Weekly Bulletin, 21 September 1888, p. 4, col. 3.
Unpublished Sources

Citing unpublished sources is equally important; and because follow researchers cannot pull a book from the shelf to verify your data, it is even more critical that your citation be specific. Each citation should identify the informant, the place, the date, and the information given, plus to whom it was given and where that information is stored. Comments describing the informant's reliability may be added. The elderly gentleman in the example below was described as "still alert and active," because some his age are not. Note that, since the cited letter belongs to someone else, permission to use it was requested, granted, and stated.

Personal Letter
Herbert E. Wylie, Letter to James Wylie, 15 May 1958. [The original handwritten letter is in the possession of James Wylie, Laingsburg, Michigan. Letter used with permission. Herbert was living in the Methodist Retirement Home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when the letter was written. He was 84 years old, alert and physically active.]

Oral Interview
Laurence V. Wylie, William C. Wylie and Gladys (Pomeroy) Wylie. Oral interview, 1 January 1982, by John V. Wylie at Laurence's home in Destin, Florida. Tape recording and partial transcription in the possession of John Wylie, Garland, Texas.

Photograph of Wylie Reunion, 1958, Lumberjack State Park, Michigan. Taken by Laurence V. Wylie, July 1958. Copy in possession of John Wylie, Garland, Texas.

Unexplained Notes
"Hon. Henry C. Wylie, Citizen Extraordinare," undated clipping from an unidentified newspaper, in family papers of William Calvin Wylie of Holton, Michigan; inherited 1988 by his son James Calvin Wylie of Laingsburg, Michigan; in possession of James Wylie. [References to Henry C. Wylie indicate this article was probably written in the 1920s, as he was not appointed to the Bench until 1921 and resigned in 1933.]
Official Records
Vital Records
Death Certificate for Jacob F. Rost, 24 September 1924, File No. 28093, Missouri State Board of Health. Certified copy in possession of author.

Certificate of Marriage, Edward H. Wigal to Velma G. King, 12 June 1912, Wood County, West Virginia. County Recorder's Office, Parkersburg, West Virginia. Copy in possession of Kelly Collier, Arlington, Texas.

Census Record
1850 United State Census (Free Schedule), Pitt Township, Wyandot County, Ohio; p. 233, family 86, dwelling 79, lines 967-977; June 1, 1850; National Archives Microfilm M-19, Roll 719. [This was a particularly readable film.]

Legal Record
Deed of Sale from William Brixey and wife to Thomas Brixey, 9 January 1869 (filed 14 June 1869), Webster County, Missouri, Deed Book D, page 703. County Recorder's Office, Marshfield, Missouri.
Online Sources

Citing online or other technology sources is a special case, although the basics still apply. Remember that the implied factors for traditional source citations do not apply and we must be literal to help others find the work.

Digital sources differ from hard copy sources only in that citations to them must include instructions for others to find the cited file. For example:

Ancestral File Extract
Moses Wylie-Mary Clark family group sheet (undocumented); ancestral file number B8RM-MT and B8RM-RT, Ancestral File, version 4.13 (1994), Family History Library, Salt Lake City. [All information on Moses WYLIE in this file was consistent with that proven by other sources.]

Scanned Image File
Birth Certificate of John Smith, Greyson County, Alabama Birth Book 19, Certificate #12345. Image file "smith123.tif" scanned at Greyson, Alabama, 7 September 1994 by William Lincoln [ and 5678 High Street, Lincoln, Nebraska 67890.] [Image has been digitally retouched by William Tell of Tacoma, Washington in July 1995 to remove artifacts. Data not known to have been changed. File provided to author by Mr. Tell in July 1995.]

Email Message
William Shakespeare, [ or c/o Globe Theater, London, England], "Birth of John Smith," Message to author, 12 September 1993 [This message cites Shakespeare's personal files and states that he has in his possession a photocopy of the birth certificate of John Smith.]

Listserve Message
Bill Clinton [ or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20022]. "Smith, John. 1929-VA, CA, NY." on . 18 October 1995. [Copy available at .]

Web Site File
Ted Kennedy [ or 2345 Any Street, Anytown, Maryland, 12345]. "My Smith Genealogy." August 1996. [This file contains numerous hyper-links, with three in the Smith section. On 21 December 1996, these three were checked and found to be active but with no additional Smith data.]

Newsgroup Article
William Wylie and 235 Evergreen Lane, Anytown, Maryland, 12345]. "My New York Smiths" in soc.genealogy.methods, 12 July 1995.
Extract from CD-ROM File
Genealogy.com CD-ROM #319, Ed. 1, Census Index: U.S. Selected State/Counties, 1870, Date of Import: 11 January 1996. Individual: Longcor, Lucinda. County/State: Wabasha County, Minnesota: Lake City. Page #: 030. Year: 1870.

Whenever material in a citation is not obvious, an explanation in the annotation is appropriate. In some cases I have provided both an email address and an URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Also a postal address is included when available, as email addresses tend to change more often.
Hope that helps you - its helped me :)


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