15 January 2017

Where Did I Find This?

A Lack of Sources Can Ruin Your Tree

To give credibility to your genealogy facts and make your family tree stronger, you need good annotation.

Describe the source of each bit of information well enough that anyone can retrace your steps and find the same information. That includes:
  • Name
  • Birth date
  • Birth place
  • Marriage date
  • Death date
  • Death place
  • and more.
For example, if you haven't found a ship manifest documenting a person’s immigration to America, but the 1920 census states that they arrived in 1905, be sure to cite the 1920 census as the source of that tidbit.

It's clear that the 1920 census is not as reliable as an actual ship manifest when it comes to immigration, but at least we know where that data point came from.

Written proof is more trustworthy than a family story passed down to you.

Myth destroyed. Not our uncle after all!
Myth destroyed. Not our uncle after all!
This seems like a good place to tell my passed-down family story that turned out to be 100% false. My in-laws fully believed they were descended from the brother of the captain of the Titanic.

I met Grandmother Lillian who told the story of being Captain Smith’s brother’s daughter. She was ashamed of the fact that her uncle lost so many lives at sea. It clearly pained her.

The problem is Captain Edward Smith had no brothers. He had a half-sister, but there were no other Smith boys in his family. How could Grandmother Lillian be so wrong?

I decided to see if Grandmother Lillian’s father was Captain Smith’s first cousin rather than his brother. Unfortunately, this was another dead end. No Smith boys.

This story illustrates how much you need to show exactly where your facts came from. Captain Smith’s would-be niece is no longer alive, so we can’t ask her why she believed he was her uncle. Without proof, we’ve got nothing.

Think about this: Would you want to grab someone else’s family tree and attach it to your own when a goof like this calls their entire tree into question?

Do your due diligence. Cite your sources. Here's a great reference on citing sources from FamilySearch.org.

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