In genealogy (or any other) research: Document your sources as you go.
I find a lot of contradictory information like, my grandmother is reportedly older than her mother, and I see that a headstone is the source of Gran’s birthday and her mother’s source was a drunk uncle.
I create a source called Family Stories and link it to all unverified information that I remember or am casually told at family events. I link that to events like births, marriages, divorces, deaths, immigration and adventures. I can tell at a glance when a new source is more/less reliable. Items linked to the Family Stories source is also a checklist for research for better sources (e.g. Newspaper obituaries, Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages, military service records).
Interviews with family members get their own separate Source record. Even if I didn’t record the interview and only took written notes – that’s a source. I try to record all interviews, but sometimes that isn’t possible.
Always put the URL of any website as a source where you found something or someone. Later on you’ll want to check something again and the URL will be right there. I missed doing that a couple of times and it took ages to find the data again via my bookmarks and other notes. I eventually had to use Google again and wasted about two hours.
Get a copy, printout, recording or photograph of all sources where possible. I then copy or scan it to my media folder and note its location in the source record. You don’t want to go to a library a second time just to confirm spelling of a middle name on newspaper microfilm archives.
I have been working my family history on and off for a number of years. As my older relatives age, the time left to get their stories is restricted. Sadly dementia claimed the memories of more than one before I’ve had a chance to interview them.
I’m using the brilliant GenealogyJ to catalog the information. It’s a standards based, cross-platform, open-source genealogy data viewer/editor (whew!). That means it reads and writes GEDCOM standard 5.5 or draft 5.5.1 data files for easy data sharing with software and other family researchers. Many other programs out there have quirks when it comes to sharing data with others. Modern genealogy research requires data portability.
There are other free and paid options available and I’ll list some I’ve tried at a later date. Comment below if you can’t wait for that post.
In the meanwhile I’d like to note a best practice method for genealogy research: Document sources as you go. Even if the source is personal memory. Include that in every individual record so you know where you stand. When a cousin provides birthday information, make a note of the source alongside the birthday entry. When the National Archives offers evidence of an ancestor’s birthday – note the source.
As you gather more and more evidence of an event, you can weigh the quality of the sources and the data. This is especially useful to researchers who build on your work. One day some cousins kid will ask for a copy as a basis of their work. Give them a break and note your sources. Also it’s a reminder down the track of why you thought your great-great-grandmother was four years younger than her mother.
The rest of this post gets technical and is for researchers and my personal notes. Let’s say you want to save the audio interview with your Grandmother as supporting evidence for a number of people and events.
Continue reading “Genealogy Research: Best Practice Part 1”