Lets talk about sources & citations

Recently I have received several questions about sources and citations and GenDetective source reports.  The conversation seems to begin with the Source Usage Statistics,  so today we are going to look at sources, citations and the Source Usage Statistics report.  Lets start with a couple of definitions:

  • Source – a book, family tree, government, public or private record, repository, photo, document or item that provides information about a family member
  • Citation – points to an exact page and sometimes line in a source that provided the information for a fact
Source Usage Report

Source Usage Statistics

In a nutshell, sources are things that provide information and citations are the references pointing to the source and where in the source we found a piece of information.  Using an example from my tree, Census: 1930 US,  you will find the relevant information: 1930 US Federal Census with all of the information defining where I can find the holdings (United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls).  For this single source, the 1930 US Federal Census, I have 7,786 citations.

Source Usage Statistics Report
Source Usage Statistics

There are several different tree manager products on the market (ancestry.com, Family Tree Maker, Legacy, RootsMagic, etc), that provide a way to manage and track our sources and citations.  Some offer a way to source a person and a family as well as the events (facts).  Looking at the columns we have:  Total, People, Families and Events for a Source.  Total is simply the People + Families + Events giving the total number of citations for each source.

So, what’s up with the first entry, Items with no source!?  In a perfect tree there would be no items without a source.  However, in the real world, we find events without sources.  Many times, as genealogy newbie’s, we do not understand the importance of sourcing.  Once we come to realize their role and importance, it becomes a source of shame or chagrin that we have unsourced events.  My initial reaction was to calculate the percentage of events without citations (it is around 10%), just so I can feel better about the situation.  However, to take on the task of adding citations for all these events would be overwhelming.  My compromise, examine all events for a person when I research them to make sure I have citations for each event.  This allows me to nibble away at the issue without diverting my research for the next several months.

So what was the purpose of the “Source Usage Statistics” report?  To identify the events without sources?  No, it is to show us which sources we rely on the most, and if we find a source that has proven unreliable, to identify how much we have relied on that source.

For additional information about sources and citations, Elizabeth Shown Mills has published the definitive work, Evidence Explained that delves into sources, citations and evaluating evidence, and the book is available from Maia’s Books and other booksellers.

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2 Responses to Lets talk about sources & citations

  1. Pingback: Sources & Citations in GenDetective v2 | GenDetective

  2. Pingback: My Vital Documents .. An Inventory | GenDetective

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