Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 6, Number 19 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 September 10, 2014
In this article we discuss documenting our sources. It is so important for future generations to know where we found our information. I did not always do a very good job when I started my hobby, but hopefully I have gotten better in later years.
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James L. Douthat
We have all been told in every workshop that I have attended, and that is more that several hundred through the years as a speaker, participant and vendor, cite your sources. Somehow this does not always sink into our thick skulls, maybe because we have heard this so much throughout the years. I have become more aware of this in the last thirty years as I have had to study the writings of early genealogist and historians primarily from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Seldom did they ever cite a source. Statements are made without any proof and when we go back to verify that note, there is little or no reference to the event. In today’s computer world, there is no excuse for not documenting your sources.
I did have a head of the department once in seminary that could quote over 15,000 books word for word that he had read. When he wrote another book and used a reference, he could call the page number and data exactly. A friend of mine was his proof reader and he told me that the Professor misquoted one footnote once in eleven books. In this case, there was an almost exact quote on both pages referenced and he just mixed them up. I don’t know of anyone else that has this kind of photographic memory. I have actually been in the audience when this Professor would read the Bible in any one of eight languages. He would stick his finger in the page in question, hold the Bible to his breast and then begin to “read” word for word a chapter at a time. Can you do this??
If your memory fails you like mine does, then we have to reference what we write down in some fashion. Those that follow us want to verify everything. Here are few simple rule to follow in these references:
A. Author[s] - this is the person that gave us the original source of our information. We don’t invent information as it has to come from somewhere else. I was not present at the time of my great-grandfather’s birth or his marriage. We rely on someone else for these facts.
B. Title - The other person wrote this down somewhere other than in our head. Today this can be a website, database title or even an e-mail. With this information, future generations can go back to the source for themselves. We are all encouraged not to just copy anything that we find, you need to prove it!
C. Date - when was this written. It is important to know the time frame of the source as this may or may not add to the validity of the information. It is not always possible to know the date, but we do the best we can. We are never certain when an entry is made into a Family Bible or by whom it was made. The source of “family Bible” is sometimes all we can give, but definitely note it.
D. Location - where was the source found such as library, archives, personal letter, diary, website, etc. Those who follow in our footsteps will at least know where to start looking to verify our materials. Each source is important and is housed somewhere. There is so much information out there, we have to narrow it down. The internet is a great beginning tool, but remember it contains only about 10% of the information that is out there somewhere else. Where do we find the other 90% of the facts?
E. Exact location - don’t forget the page, volume, chapter, etc. of each reference. In today’s modern world, the source might be found on microfilm, either state generated or at the National Archives. As more and more localities are getting into the coping of their records, it is extremely important that we know where information is housed. For example, one of the groups I work with locally has been given the task of scanning and cataloging the last 100 years of photographs from the major newspaper in the area. We have at our hand, the negatives of those photographs gathered by the year. We can, with lots of time and effort, go back to the microfilm version of that newspaper and identify each person shown in the photograph. We have to get the material scanned into a computer first and then identify the persons. One of the delights will be those photographs taken by a highly award-winning photographer who was a reporter for a time.
Your task today is to check your referencing system and make sure that future generations can follow your work and prove how great a job you did in your research.
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