When researching your family history, there are many types of information available, such as parish registers, tax records, census forms, wills military service records, electoral rolls etc., and although their interpretation is often not at all straightforward – they are very useful if you are looking to share your findings with other members of your family.
We asked Professional Genealogist Anne Sherman, for her advice on how to cite your sources and why this is important. We often receive questions about citations and referencing sources on Twile and it is something we are working to build into the site in the near future. We are delighted that Anne agreed to write a helpful guest blog article for us.
Referencing your Sources: Anne Sherman
A little time spent now can save hours of work later.
Imagine the scene – you have been researching your family history for years and you finally share it with a member of your family, who turns around and says “but John did not marry Jane, he married Elizabeth!“. Okay, so now what do you do? How do you prove that John married Jane? Where did you find that information? Was it from physical evidence (birth/marriage certificate, census return) or did someone tell you, in which case who told you and when? If only you had spent 2 or 3 minutes noting down where you had found that important piece of information, you would be able to quickly prove your information, instead you spend days trying to find it again. You might be lucky, if the information was on a certificate you purchased – it is just a case of finding it again, otherwise you have to start your research again.
You may think that this will never happen to you – but can you be sure? It has happened to me on several occasions. Fortunately I had referenced my sources and could quickly prove the details of the marriage, whereas my detractors only had it as a family story. One spent weeks trying to prove me wrong, but to no avail.
It is so easy to do.
There are no right or wrong ways to reference your sources. Academics generally use a version of the Harvard Referencing, but there is no overall system for genealogical records and different organisations will use slightly different systems. The main thing to remember is that it should help you (or someone else) to find that record again.
An easy citation will include:
- The type of record – Birth, Marriage, Death (BMD) registration index/certificate, Census return, diary, audio/written interview with Uncle Joseph etc.
- Place the event took place.
- The date or year of the record/interview.
- Name of the main person – child, married couple (give both names) etc. For Census returns you can either give the Head of the family, but if your ancestor is a lodger then give his/her name
- Any reference number for the record – archive reference, GRO reference for indexes, Census reference and enumeration district & page number.
- Location of record – name of the Archive Office, website or if held privately, by whom?
- Date accessed – although most people only use this for websites as they can change over time, although it is also useful for interviews.
Example of citation – Marriage Index. RD: Islington, Middlesex. March Qtr. 1876 WIEDHOFFT, Frederick Augustus & HUNTSMAN, Emma. Vol. 1b. p. 456. Available online: www.freebmd.org.uk Accessed 17 Oct 2012.
If you hold copies of some of your records, you will also need a simple but effective filing system, so that you can quickly and easily find the record that you are looking for – not just an old shoe box with piles of other documents. Remembering to reference your sources may be a pain, but it is better than the hurt and tears you may suffer if you don’t.
To learn more about referencing and other research tips, Anne runs an online course as part of Leaves Family History Research Services, where she not only researches family histories, but will teach you how to do it yourself. Anne is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) and the Register of Qualified Genealogists (RQG) having completed a 2 year Postgraduate Diploma in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies with Strathclyde University. Anne has undertaken some research for the Who Do You Think You Are? Television programme and recently had an article published in the Your Family History magazine.
We are working closely with Professional Genealogists to understand how we can best build citation functionality into Twile.
Further useful links:
- Evidence Explained – Elizabeth Shown Mills: “The go-to guide for everyone who explores the past”.
- EE’s blog: Quick Tips!
- FamilySearch: Cite Your Sources. “Document, organize and analyze the evidence gathered”.
- Cyndi’s List: Citations in Genealogy links.
- Family Tree Magazine: Genealogy Q & A, 3 Steps to Source Citations
- Find my past: The Importance of Citing Your Sources
- Genea-Musings: Sample Source Citations
Header Image citation www.freebmd.org.uk.