Copying Sources

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Genealogists strive to collect a copy of EVERY source document to help build their case. They seek the best possible copy. Provenance, copyright, plagiarism are also discussed here.

Best Possible Copy[edit | edit source]

Collect the best possible copy of each source. Use copies that are faithful reproductions of the original. Strive to make complete and in context copies. Store the copies in a format that can easily be used a hundred years from now. Indicate where and when you obtained your copy.

Value[edit | edit source]

Researchers need copies of each original source document in order to:

• transfer data accurately from the source to family group records

• compare different sources

• judge the relevance and reliability of the evidence

• see clues

• identify neighbors and relatives

• make a case leading to a reasonable conclusion

• revisit evidence and rethink research when problems arise

• help convince other researchers

Copying Principles[edit | edit source]

  • Strive to see the original with your own eyes. This helps you judge if you understand the full context of the source, if any alterations have been made, and cite the source’s current repository.
  • Make copies from the most original source. The closer to the original source (fewer generations of copies), the less chance reproduction errors have been introduced.
  • Make copies as clear and readable as possible. This helps you and others see all the data and clues.
  • Preserve citation/source information. When making photocopies from a book, article, etc., FIRST copy the information on the back of the title page, which includes: the title of the work, the person or body responsible for its intellectual content, the place of publication, the name of the publisher and the year of publication. ..further information about the publication of the book, including its copyright This information is frequently printed on the verso of the title page.
  • Capture the context. Make sure you copy all relevant pieces and know what is before and after your pages in the source.
  • Search nearby for neighbors and relatives. Part of the context of a document is the family’s community. When you know the role of neighbors and associates you often discover they were also relatives of your ancestor.
  • Watch out for alterations or poor maintenance. Changes are sometimes made that affect the reliability of the source.
  • Learn the provenance of the original source. Where your source came from and who controlled it is important to judging its reliability.
  • Show where and when your copy was made. Knowing the provenance of your copy is also important. Write it on your research log and on the copy.
  • Organize and document AS YOU GO. Keep your paper work and filing up-to-date. Immediately write the source footnote information on (1) the front your copy, (2) your research log, and (3) as a source footnote on your family group record. Summarize the findings from the source (copy) on your research log. Transfer new data from the source to your family group. Give a preliminary evaluation of the source in its footnote. Give each copy a unique document number and file it. Do all this BEFORE you start another search.
  • Store copies so they will be useful in 100 years. So far this means paper copies are best. 100 years from now your descendants may not know how to boot your computer or run its software, but they can easily read a paper copy.
  • Respect Intellectual Property. Comply with copyright laws, intellectual property licenses, and avoid plagiary.

Storage Media for Copies[edit | edit source]

There are many ways used by genealogists for preserving copies of source information including:

Stone (or Metal or Wood) Monuments(rubbings)

Paper Copies of the Original- clippings (of newspapers, periodicals, or books)
- photoduplicate (Xerox) images of the original
- printouts from film or digital photocopies
- carbon copies (obsolete) - Mimeograph copies (obsolete)
-paper or ink handwritten transcript copies

Microfilm and Microfiche

Electronic Media Originals
email, fax, audio or video tapes, CDs, DVDs, diskettes (8, 5¼, 3½ inch), hard drives, flash drives, zip drives, Internet sites

Electronic Media Images of an Original
- digital camera images
- scanner copies

Human Memory (please make a paper copy and cite the paper rather than personal knowledge)

Transcript Copies(an interpretation rather than an image of the original)
- typed on typewriter or computer keyboard
displayed on a computer screen
Mimeograph copies (obsolete)
- notes from a telephone interview
- handwritten transcripts in ink or pencil

Paper photocopies are best.Photocopies of a source are better than handwritten copies because they are less likely to contain transcription errors. Paper image photocopies of a source are better than electronic copies because paper preserves better than electronic media, and will never be obsolete.

Provenance[edit | edit source]

Document the origins of original sources (and copies), and whose possession they were in before coming into your possession. This is usually done on research logs.

Respect Copyrights and Intellectual Property[edit | edit source]

Genealogists have “fair use” privileges. This means that for personal use scholars (genealogists) may make copies of material pertinent to their research. However, this privilege does not extend to copying an entire book or Internet site. See Fair Use of Copyrighted Materials on the Internet at

Before publishing copies of parts of other people’s works or images in your books or putting them up on the Internet, be sure you have complied with copyright law. This includes obtaining from any copyright owner (and/or repository of the original) permission to use copyrighted material or images in your book or on the Internet.

Some selected intellectual property (especially on the Internet) is protected by a less stringent license than standard copyright law. For example some authors choose to keep their copyright but pre-authorize others to copy and distribute their work provided they give the author credit, and its use is non-commercial. Consider this choice for publishing your own genealogy. For details see the Creative Commons Internet site at

For more detailed copyright information see the University of Texas Library’s “Copyright Crash Course” at

Plagiarism[edit | edit source]

Avoid plagiarism in your written genealogy by citing the source of any idea that was not originally your own. If you got the idea or words from someone else, tell us where.

Related Content[edit | edit source]

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