A Note About Sources
"What is your source for that?" This is a question that I used to get quite often, especially in the "old days" when I first started putting my genealogy data on the Internet. Back then I was putting my data onto web pages in Register Report format, and without any documentation included. Researchers would ask me how I came by the information, or why it differed from something that they had found. It took a lot of time to answer those questions via e-mail. (Especially considering the volume of e-mail that I was getting).
Eventually I wised up and began to add documentation to my web pages. This cut down on that particular question about my sources. However, after several years online, and now considering myself something of an "expert", I'm saddened to see that most other personal genealogy pages (and submitted genealogies) on the Internet still do not contain documentation. There are exceptions of course, but I'd guess that at least 75% of the online family data is undocumented (I mean that the documentation is not listed with the data).
In this new age of Internet Genealogy, more and more people are trying to get as much info as they can, and as quickly as possible, never minding if the data is accurate or not. This is unfortunate, but a fact of life. It was true before the Internet, and now it is even worse. With just a few clicks, someone new to genealogy can find numerous generations of family data online at various "repositories", or on CD collections containing the same sort of submitted research. Unfortunately the quality and accuracy of the data varies, and since, in most cases, documentation is not included, there is no way to be sure if the data is good or not.
The lack of documentation is probably the biggest problem with the online data. (Not to mention the gross errors found in many of the compilations). The second biggest problem is related to the first. Many of the new researchers who have found this undocumented (and often wrong) data, turn around and add their data to it, and put it into their own web pages, or submit it to the various data repositories, thus compounding the problem.
Except in rare cases, I do not ask anyone "What is your source for that", because most often, they don't know where the data came from. "I found it somewhere on the Internet" is a typical answer, or that "I got it from so and so, but I don't know where they got it". This is a major problem. Don't get me wrong, I've been just as guilty of this, especially when I was first starting out. But I eventually learned my lesson. I found it quite embarrassing having to tell someone I did not have a source for a particular item, and that I did not know where the data came from. Occasionally I still feel this sting of embarrassment when some little tidbit of data has been questioned, and I can't figure out where I got it from. It could always be a leftover from my early days of research, when I didn't worry about documentation.
Just so I don't look like a total hypocrite, I should mention that some of my data (even now) does not contain good documentation, but for the record, I say those pages are "under construction", and they will have documentation on them eventually. A couple of years ago, after I realized the error of my ways (with undocumented pages), I deleted my entire website, and started over, only re-publishing pages that contained documentation, one at a time, as I could document them. I received such an outpouring of "complaints" (polite ones of course) from my visitors, that I was convinced to put all the pages back online, even without the documentation included yet. I never realized it would take years to get it all done, but each page of mine takes anywhere from one day to a week to get properly documented (the way I do it, anyway). So it will take a long time to get them all done properly.
What is proper documentation, anyway?
Documenting your data online can be done in any number of ways. Books have been written on the subject of proper citations, but I think as long as you have some sort of references you are doing well, even if not in the "standard" format.
To help those who may not understand, or who just need a refresher course, use the links below to read about the various types of evidence that I have used (primary, secondary, etc.), and how they are prioritized, and what is usually considered reliable, and what isn't. There have been many books and articles published on this very subject, but the following is just my take on it, and does not (as far as I know) represent any "official" genealogical standard, but it is what I use in my daily research.
- Primary Evidence - From the horse's mouth.
- Secondary Evidence - From someone who knew the horse.
- Tertiary Evidence - From someone who heard of the horse.
- Family Tradition - Grandpa always said that we ...
- Cyndi's List -
My Plea for More Citation of Sources - Scott Simpson's Virginia Genealogy
What are my sources for any particular family
In my older text based web pages it is difficult to list sources for each piece of data, so I don't even try to do it that way. (I've seen other pages with the sources listed that way, and I really don't like the way it looks). What I've been doing (and it is a slow process) is to put a commentary section at the top of each page. In this section, I list the evidence I've used to come to various conclusions. I try to document the life of the primary family members, chronologically, using all available source documentation. If other researchers or published sources were used, I list those as well. I still have a long way to go before I get all of my pages to this level. So if the documentation isn't listed, contact me and I'll be glad to share (keep in mind I get tons of e-mail, and it may take awhile). If I have a documented page, but there is some fact listed, but no documentation is presented for it; go ahead and ask me about it. It was probably an oversight on my part for not including it. In my newer data (in database format) you can see my raw notes for each individual. Some of those notes are formatted nicely, others are not, but the information is there. In some cases there are no notes. That is something I should fix when discovered.
What if you think my data is wrong
Please tell me! I'm sure that I have errors throughout my data. Omissions are the most likely error. It is impossible not to have errors. If you have proof for something that contradicts what I have, feel free to share it. If you don't have proof, but you think I'm wrong, let me know anyway, perhaps you are correct anyway, even without proof. If I feel that I'm right, I'll be glad to explain why. If we both feel we are right, but not in agreement, I'll be glad to mention the difference in the notes. I don't mind showing alternate views, even if they seriously contradict my own particular belief about a family.
What if I didn't give you proper credit
If you have shared data with me and I have used that data on my web pages, and I didn't mention you in my sources, first of all, accept my apology! Secondly, let me know about it and I'll correct that right away. I certainly don't want to offend anyone, but many times people will send me data I already have, and in those cases I might not list them as a source. Either that or I just plain goof and fail to note who sent me information. I generally don't credit people as a source who send me undocumented data (unless they share the documentation also) since I'm not going to use undocumented information anyway.