Document, document, document! your genealogical sources!

It took almost eighteen years for me to learn this lesson: Taking the time to document all sources you have used at the time you used them, no matter how tedious it may feel, will save you at least triple the time it took to write them down.  In this electronic age and with the accessibility of records on the internet, this is even more true.  It is too easy to get caught up in the search and following leads at breakneck speed to other records and then others and then …  Before you know it, you have twenty or thirty documents and can’t remember where you found them.

You may have seen these before but this is the approach I recommend.

  1. List the repository and its pertinent information. You can actually make a list before hand if you can access the catalog and holdings online. This is true for online sources as well!
  2. Keep a research log of all the records you examined even if there were negative results. Write down all the details of the source; take pictures of the title page and perhaps even the forward in books, of the manuscript file box and folders, of microfilm labels.
  3. For any source you examine, make notes about the quality.
  4. For every copy you make, every transcription and abstract you write, make a label of the citation and affix it on every page.

It’s embarassing and disheartening to realize years after the fact, that you don’t know where that obituary, that marriage certificate, that biography came from and have no way to track down the original repository and find the source again much less how to cite it.

As an aside, I remember, when I first started my family research, reading condescending comments made by professional genealogists about the “amateur” and how put off I was by that. Instead of offering well-considered advice, they purposely set themselves apart as “the professionals.” I didn’t know any better at the time and I was enthusiastically adding individuals and information to my tree with complete abandon. I was offended by those “professionals” and therefore did not take the time to listen.

I hope as a professional myself that I will always offer gentle and supportive guidance for those just starting out.  We can all learn something and we can all teach something.