Monday, January 14, 2008

Genealogy and History Thoughts - Column Ten

Why should genealogists cite their sources?

I realize that I and other genealogy bloggers have blogged before or touched on the issue of citing sources, but I wanted write about this issue again.

The lack of citations on genealogical information is a pet-peeve for me. It could just be that the drilling and insistence upon citing sources in papers in school has made me hyper-aware of the need for citations, but when I see family trees without citations, I get upset. As a history student, I have to cite my sources in any paper that I write, or I will face serious reprisals if I do not. I would be guilty of plagiarism, a form of stealing, and I could face either failing a paper or a course or getting expelled from school. Outside of academia, I could possibly be sued, as the lack of citations would indicate that I was claiming the words or ideas were my own, which in reality was not true.

I realize that from the previous paragraph, some people will consider my stance on this issue as being too serious, as these people are only doing genealogy for fun. I am also doing my family's genealogy for fun (I'm not a professional genealogist), but I am taking the time to cite my sources because the practice is ethical and because the practice saves me time. Even though I am a college student, I don't have all the time in the world, as is probably true for most genealogists. I do most of my research in the summer when I am not in school, and although I have more time then, I usually only get to visit the area where my ancestors lived about once, if I get the chance at all. I don't want to waste my limited time going over sources that I have looked at before. Plus, I am not going to remember where I found all of my information when I look over it later that evening. The citation of sources is even more important for me as I always have a couple of family members assisting with the research. If my relatives don't cite the source of their information, I am going to waste time trying to find the source of that information, especially when I could be spending the time looking at another source. I should be able to spend my time efficiently since I have relatives helping me. Of course, I have had the situation where one of my relatives did not put down the citation, and I had to spend time looking for that information again. I have also mistakenly transcribed a couple of records, and I have had to double-check some records. If you have the citation for the source, you can easily find the source within a couple of minutes. Thus, citing one's sources is quite practical.

Besides enabling one to find a source, citing also allows one the ability to be able to share quality information. What I mean is the information that one gives on a person is verifiable. The person requesting the information can find out where you got your information. For example, if someone requested information from me about one of my ancestors, I should be able to not only give that person information but I should be able to point that person in the right direction if that person wants to be able to look-up the information himself. Or in my case, when I have inquired for information on a person, who might be the same person as my ancestor, in another family tree, I hoping that I the owner of the tree will have some new information or will be able to point me in the direction where I can find a source of information. There have been times when I have contacted people who did not have any information on sources or where I could find their information. It is always frustrating to me when I find a tree with a possible connection, only to learn that the owner does not have any hard evidence to back up his or her claim.

Hopefully, by the end of this column you have understood the importance of citing one's sources. I realize that there are many experienced genealogists out there who already cite the sources of their information. My intention is not to patronize those who already know the importance of citing, but rather at those who are just beginning to do research, so that newcomers will understand why writing down where one found information is important.

So, what do you think? As always, you are welcome to leave a comment.

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