Documenting and Citing Your Research
One of the more important (and seemingly laborious) tasks in genealogy is citing your research. The purpose of a citation is to document the connection between an information source and a particular fact you have found or conclusion you have come to while researching. The citation should contain enough details so that you, or someone else, could find the same information at a future time.
Something equally important is the ability to look back and evaluate the accuracy of the sources you have found. As an example, let’s say you are trying to document the birth year for your Great Uncle John Edward Smith who was married to Sally Susan Jones. You could come to a conclusion about his birth year from a census record , a marriage record, a church record, a military record, a death record, an SSN record, a birth certificate, etc. etc. As you collect information to determine your Great Uncle John Edward Smith’s year of birth you should be creating a citation for each of the sources in which you have found a birth year (or been able to calculate a birth year from a listed age and date a source document was created). You may find a half dozen citations for your uncles age/year of birth. Looking through these you will want to come to a conclusion about which one is likely to be most accurate.
After remembering what we said about primary and secondary sources, you would probably assume the most accurate date would be that found on the birth certificate. Although this is likely the case, you should still check the other sources to see if they agree. Suppose John’s age on his marriage record seems to be off by several years. Then you notice his age on the death certificate matches his age on the marriage certificate. What could be wrong with the birth certificate? Although it could be something like illegible handwriting, it is more likely that you have found the birth certificate for another John Edward Smith. You should never rely on the accuracy of a single source (even a primary one). In my family I have had to sort out enough ancestors named Hans or Fritz to staff a beer hall during Octoberfest. It often takes many sources to unscramble each of them!
One last note on the use of citations. When you have found sources for one of your ancestors, it is likely the same sources may be of use in finding information on other ancestors. If a source like a church record has information about an ancestor, the same church will likely have information on other ancestors. Use the sources you find to provide hints to further your research.