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Find Your Family - The Importance of Sources

Article Date: 
4 May, 2012 (All day)

Many years ago I visited The Family History Library.  I had received a significant amount of genealogical information from my grandmother and I wanted to continue the work that she and my grandfather had done over many years.  I had never done genealogical research before and I understood little about what was required.  I was anxious to learn what I needed to do and find additional information.  

I approached the counter in the Library with some trepidation.  I told them my story and showed them the information I had received from my grandmother.  Their first question was, “Do you have the source information for this research?”  I wasn’t entirely clear what they meant, but as I talked to them I came to understand that they meant the documents (birth certificates, death certificates, probate records, etc.) from which the conclusions had been made.  I told them I did not.

The next instruction from them burned the experience in my memory.  They said that I would need to go back and re-research everything my grandmother had done to validate the work and gather sources.  With this answer in hand I left the Library and didn’t return for about five years.  I could not have been more discouraged.  My grandmother had spent nearly her entire life compiling this information.  Did this answer mean that I would need to spend nearly my entire life repeating the work that she had already done?  The answer was, “Yes.”

This experience has motivated me ever since.  I don’t want one of my grandchildren to have the same experience that I had.  As I have worked on my family I have tried to document the research conclusions I have reached with precision.  I am awaiting the addition of user contributed sources to the FamilySearch tree with baited breath.  When I can store my sources and evidence online with FamilySearch I can be assured that the information will be retained for future generations.

Genealogical research has changed substantially over the past twenty years with the introduction of searchable indexes.  Individuals that would have been nearly impossible to find with research methods of the past are now only a quick search away.  This does not mean that all information is searchable online, far from it!  It does mean that there is substantial information online and that I can now find information to draw better conclusions that the researchers before me could have hoped to draw.  It also means that documenting conclusions is more important than ever.  

Ten years from now there will be much more information available online and the software that helps me to search it will be even better.  My children may find that some of the conclusions I have drawn don’t make sense given the information available to them.   If I have not documented the conclusions I have made over the course of my research, including the analysis I did, they will not be able to easily determine whether their conclusions are more accurate than mine.  The practices of documenting research have been taught for many years.  We now are gaining access to tools that will ensure that our research findings can be preserved.  

Take time to document your research for those that come behind you.  Be sure to store the information in a way that will be preserved for generations to come.  Do a great service to your descendants and ensure that they can start where you left off rather than repeat all the work you have done.