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Document! Document! Document!
In real estate, they say that it's all about "Location, location, location." When it comes to genealogy, it should be "Document, document, document."

In real estate, they say that it's all about "Location, location, location."  When it comes to genealogy, it should be "Document, document, document."

Even if you’re not planning on publishing a book about your family history, documentation is still an important key of any genealogy research.

Documenting your research helps you:

  • Know which sources you’ve already perused and what you found there.
  • Remind you that you only checked a source for one thing & not another (i.e. you checked for Raleys but not Spaldings).
  • Give yourself some confidence if someone else’s research contradicts yours.
  • Keep a list of people with whom you’ve corresponded, as well as their contact information.

Keep track of:

  • Author of the work, even if it’s just a pedigree chart on Ancestry
  • Title of the published work or a well-written description (i.e. “George family folder at Marion County Public Library”)
  • Publication information (publisher, location, year, edition)
  • Date you accessed the information (especially helpful for internet searches)
  • Location of the source (MCPL, Ancestry, KHS)
  • Specific reference (chapter, page #, etc.)

Real life examples:

  • In my own family tree, I stopped working on my dad’s side of the family for a while and ventured over to my mother’s side. One of her lines is the Lauderdale family. I got back to John Lauderdale, born 1744 in Virginia, but could not get back any further. Using Ancestry’s hints, I was directed to a few stories on a gentleman named John of Nolichucky Lauderdale. The story cited a work by Clint Lauderdale (“History of the Lauderdales in America, 1714-1850”), stating that the Lauderdales were originally Maitlands from Scotland, but changed their name based on the Earl “to whom they were related or for whom they were tenant farmers.” While this information isn’t completely correct, it did give me the correct direction in which to look. From here, I found an entire thread on Ancestry about the Maitlands/Lauderdales, which then directed me to the Clan Maitland website. Without this researcher’s documentation, I would have been left scratching my head.
  • Another example comes from work that I was doing for another researcher. In looking for confirmation of their great-great-grandparents, I came across a family pedigree chart in one of our family files. This chart cited a family bible, but we did not have access to that bible. However, the individual’s name who did the research (and owned the bible) was on the paperwork, allowing me to put the two researchers in touch with each other and the lineage to be confirmed.

The Genealogical Proof Standard

If you do decide to publish your materials, many researchers will be looking for the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). We currently have several titles regarding the standards, including one published by the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

The Standard consists of five points:

  • A reasonably exhaustive search for all pertinent information
  • A complete and accurate citation to the source of each item used
  • Analysis of the collected information’s quality as evidence
  • Resolution of any conflicting or contradictory evidence
  • Arrive at soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion

The Standard sounds more daunting than it actually is. Think of the Standard in the meaning of another device that shares its abbreviation – GPS. It helps show you where you’re going and where you’ve been!


Please join us the second Thursday of each month for Heritage Hounds!  Our meetings begin at 5:30 pm.