Nothing is more aggravating to a genealogist then not being able to trace information back to its original source. Proper sourcing is important, if only to avoid repetitive or duplicate research. Whoever contributes well documented sources not only improves the quality of the research, it also helps those who have to help you retrieve those sources years after the fact. Considering the work load of the staff in most archives and libraries, it would not be very accommodating to ask them to retrieve a record you used years before, using only a vague recollection of the source with which you worked. With all the records and other sources you might have used over the years, how can you expect to find that one important document you want to see again if you have not properly documented its source.
You may say, “I only do research for my own family and share it with my relatives.” Nevertheless, if you do not want to endlessly debate the details with others and haggle over data, it will be a good idea to clearly state where you got your information from so that it can be traced back to its original source.
If your research becomes extensive you can quickly lose sight of what records and sources you have already searched. A well maintained research log will help you determine what else you need to search and what to check when questions come up.
How should one source a document? Guidelines for writing reference sources can be found in various books and other publications. But dealing with archival records is a different matter. The following items seem to be standard practice when sourcing materials from an archive or a library:
- Name and address of the repository.
- Components of the archival record, i.e., where in the repository the document is found
- Who is the owner of the document and when was it created
- What is the film number or archival reference
- On what page number was the document found
For example, if you are sourcing a birth record which was found in Germany, you might provide the following information:
Birth records for (place name)
For the years…
In (church book of…)
Repository (name and address)
In record… (film, book, magazine, CD etc.)
Births for the year of…