Sourcing Your Entries – Correct Sources will Ease the Family Historian’s Research

February 17, 2012  - by 

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:

  1. Name and address of the repository.
  2. Components of the archival record, i.e., where in the repository the document is found
  3. Who is the owner of the document and when was it created
  4. What is the film number or archival reference
  5. 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 department…

In record… (film, book, magazine, CD etc.)

Births for the year of…



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  1. I often copy/paste the census record, or marriage or death record into the appropriate “notes” record when working in Roots Magic. Should I be adding more?

    1. I do the same with Roots Magic. I find the source page a little overwhelming and stick to the “notes” section.

  2. Some of your records are incorrect! My brother is listed as Flynn Pritt. That was not his name it was Flim Pritt. I can understand it is a large undertaking to list these records, but I urge people to be extremely carefull. It can make your family search impossible.

  3. I first found out about Family History & Genealogy about 1996. Bought our 1st computer, & there I introduce myself to Family I have spend a few years trying to locate my grandmothers birth, & maybe her parents. At the beginning I tried this yr. date you had of her birth, since then it has been corrected to another year. But have not been able to find anything about her. There are no living relatives that I could ask, & probable she was born before records were seriously saved in Mexico. Though they have outstanding records I still have no idea. I can’t afford to pay to have someone to look into this, but Maybe someone has an idea how or where I can look into this more. I am 84 yrs. now , but this is an interest I want to find if possible.

    1. You might try to find a marriage record of your grandmother if you can. Many times those records record maiden names and parents names for groom and spouse. If you know where they were married you may be able to contact that city or county and find out the information from the marriage license which should have her date of birth too and possibly where. Good luck in your search. Sometimes the funeral home who did the burial information may have this information too. Check with the funeral home people they are usually very helpful and many of them can be emailed for the information. Dates of birth can be tricky because many times census records go up or down a year depending on what time of year it was done. Hope this helps your search.