Last week Randy Seaver posted an interesting question about sourcing information. After watching a webinar he wondered how many people source names and the relationships between people. This brings awareness to a very important issue.
When researching, it is important to document your research, but what should be documented? Every statement of fact should be documented.That includes names, places, etc. Unfortunately, we often don’t think to apply this rigorously. Our focus is so much on the big picture information that we miss the details.
A perfect example of this is collateral ancestors. We know how important doing cluster genealogy can be (researching the siblings and neighbors, etc. of your ancestor). Thus, when we are writing up our research, we often name the spouses of siblings of our ancestors.
We will often provide the spouse’s birth and death information, including the names of their parents. We might find an undocumented compiled genealogy that says: “John Smith married at Boone County, Kentucky, 25 June 1873 Mary Jones. She was born at Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, 13 April 1852, daughter of Henry and Esther (Williams) Jones.” We would then search marriage records in Boone County, find the original marriage record, and give a citation for it.
Then a search of the Massachusetts vital records shows the birth of Esther, including her parents’ names as Henry and Esther. This provides us with an original record, and we give a citation for Esther’s birth record. But did the record document all of the facts?
The missing piece: the mother’s maiden name, which is often left out of pre-twentieth century vital records. We found everything else matched the compiled genealogy, and we gloss right over the fact that the mother’s maiden name has not yet been proven. Many times the most convenient place to find this is in the marriage record of the parents.
In my source citations I include not only the citation to the birth information, but the source confirming the parent’s names. It would look something like this:
Massachusetts Vital Records, Births, 1852, 19:136. Parent’s marriage with mother’s maiden name in Massachusetts Vital Records, Marriages, 1851, 17:222.
If you cannot find the parents’ marriage record easily, you don’t have to spend years looking for it. Simply note where the information came from:
Parents’ names from Matthew Decker, Descendants of John and Esther (Williams) Smith of Carbon County, Wyoming (Belleville, Ill.: p.p., 1906) 22.
At least then your readers will know where the information came from. More importantly, YOU will know where the information came from. This could be especially important if your ancestors migrated a lot. You may discover someone named Williams association with your ancestor in Wyoming. Perhaps it is a cousin? Knowing where you found the information can help you find the information again.
Names can be tricky. When writing, I usually use a single, standard way of spelling the name. If the name is spelled differently in the original record, I will use that spelling, in quotes, in the discussion in the text. If I don’t use it in the text, I include the variant spelling in quotes within the source citation.
Source citations may sound stuffy, but they are an important research tool. And I promise you that if you do not use them, it will not take long before you regret it because you need to find that information again and don’t know where it came from.