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Kevin Airrington is a professional genealogist & historian with 15+ years experience. Specializing in adoptions - It's Who I Am!™
Genealogy Tip of the Day!
Work Independently–Then Compare

If you are fortunate enough to have another genealogist to work with on one of your families‚ try to initially analyze information separately until you have exhausted the information or gotten “stuck” and then compare your conclusions. It can be a good way to catch overlooked clues. Just try not to argue with your distant […]

What is your source for that? This is a question that I used to get quite often especially in the old days when I first started putting my genealogy data on the Internet. Back then I was putting my data onto web pages in Register Report format and without any documentation included. Researchers would ask me how I came by the information or why it differed from something that they had found. It took a lot of time to answer those questions via e-mail. (Especially considering the volume of e-mail that I was getting).

Eventually I wised up and began to add documentation to my web pages. This cut down on that particular question about my sources. However after several years online and now considering myself something of an expert Im saddened to see that most other personal genealogy pages (and submitted genealogies) on the Internet still do not contain documentation. There are exceptions of course but Id guess that at least 75% of the online family data is undocumented (I mean that the documentation is not listed with the data).

In this new age of Internet Genealogy more and more people are trying to get as much info as they can and as quickly as possible never minding if the data is accurate or not. This is unfortunate but a fact of life. It was true before the Internet and now it is even worse. With just a few clicks someone new to genealogy can find numerous generations of family data online at various repositories or on CD collections containing the same sort of submitted research. Unfortunately the quality and accuracy of the data varies and since in most cases documentation is not included there is no way to be sure if the data is good or not.

The lack of documentation is probably the biggest problem with the online data. (Not to mention the gross errors found in many of the compilations). The second biggest problem is related to the first. Many of the new researchers who have found this undocumented (and often wrong) data turn around and add their data to it and put it into their own web pages or submit it to the various data repositories thus compounding the problem.

Except in rare cases I do not ask anyone What is your source for that because most often they dont know where the data came from. I found it somewhere on the Internet is a typical answer or that I got it from so and so but I dont know where they got it. This is a major problem. Dont get me wrong Ive been just as guilty of this especially when I was first starting out. But I eventually learned my lesson. I found it quite embarrassing having to tell someone I did not have a source for a particular item and that I did not know where the data came from. Occasionally I still feel this sting of embarrassment when some little tidbit of data has been questioned and I cant figure out where I got it from. It could always be a leftover from my early days of research when I didnt worry about documentation.

Just so I dont look like a total hypocrite I should mention that some of my data (even now) does not contain good documentation but for the record I say those pages are under construction and they will have documentation on them eventually. A couple of years ago after I realized the error of my ways (with undocumented pages) I deleted my entire website and started over only re-publishing pages that contained documentation one at a time as I could document them. I received such an outpouring of complaints (polite ones of course) from my visitors that I was convinced to put all the pages back online even without the documentation included yet. I never realized it would take years to get it all done but each page of mine takes anywhere from one day to a week to get properly documented (the way I do it anyway). So it will take a long time to get them all done properly.

What is proper documentation anyway?

Documenting your data online can be done in any number of ways. Books have been written on the subject of proper citations but I think as long as you have some sort of references you are doing well even if not in the standard format.

To help those who May not understand or who just need a refresher course use the links below to read about the various types of evidence that I have used (primary secondary etc.) and how they are prioritized and what is usually considered reliable and what isnt. There have been many books and articles published on this very subject but the following is just my take on it and does not (as far as I know) represent any official genealogical standard but it is what I use in my daily research.

What are my sources for any particular family

In my older text based web pages it is difficult to list sources for each piece of data so I dont even try to do it that way. (Ive seen other pages with the sources listed that way and I really dont like the way it looks). What Ive been doing (and it is a slow process) is to put a commentary section at the top of each page. In this section I list the evidence Ive used to come to various conclusions. I try to document the life of the primary family members chronologically using all available source documentation. If other researchers or published sources were used I list those as well. I still have a long way to go before I get all of my pages to this level. So if the documentation isnt listed contact me and Ill be glad to share (keep in mind I get tons of e-mail and it May take awhile). If I have a documented page but there is some fact listed but no documentation is presented for it; go ahead and ask me about it. It was probably an oversight on my part for not including it.  In my newer data (in database format) you can see my raw notes for each individual. Some of those notes are formatted nicely others are not but the information is there. In some cases there are no notes. That is something I should fix when discovered.

What if you think my data is wrong

Please tell me! Im sure that I have errors throughout my data. Omissions are the most likely error. It is impossible not to have errors. If you have proof for something that contradicts what I have feel free to share it. If you dont have proof but you think Im wrong let me know anyway perhaps you are correct anyway even without proof. If I feel that Im right Ill be glad to explain why. If we both feel we are right but not in agreement Ill be glad to mention the difference in the notes. I dont mind showing alternate views even if they seriously contradict my own particular belief about a family.

What if I didnt give you proper credit

If you have shared data with me and I have used that data on my web pages and I didnt mention you in my sources first of all accept my apology! Secondly let me know about it and Ill correct that right away. I certainly dont want to offend anyone but many times people will send me data I already have and in those cases I might not list them as a source. Either that or I just plain goof and fail to note who sent me information. I generally dont credit people as a source who send me undocumented data (unless they share the documentation also) since Im not going to use undocumented information anyway.


Please note…this article was borrowed and improved upon…many times over.  Someday when I have time I will rewrite it completely as I have some additional thoughts.   The MAIN POINT I want you to get is citing your sources because you May need to go back years later to find a detail that you missed.



Karen Harris <> Charles E. McQuaid marriage 1884 SF CA McQuaid Surname Forum Online posting dated December 06 2001 at 21:5:37(Online: LLC. 1996-2001) <> accessed 25 December 2001.

Linda Fraser <> Huge Richard Thornley General Derbyshire England Forum Online posting dated 28 Dec 2001 11:37 AM GMT (Online: The Generations Network Inc. 2001) <
localities.britisles.england.dby.general&m=1576l> accessed 25 December 2001.

Obituary of Dorothy F. Barber The Columbus Dispatch Columbus Franklin County Ohio Tuesday December 18 2001 Obituary section available in print and available online for 90 days from publication at <> accessed 26 December 2001.

Mark Shaffer Pike Sheriff: Murder Suicide was Domestic Related [Murder of Cherry A. Cook and Larry Lee Melick] The Portsmouth Daily Times Portsmouth Scioto County Ohio Wednesday August 2 2001 available online <> accessed 28 December 2001.


Newspaper articles online:

General Format:  Author title of article newspaper name newspaper regional coverage place day of publication date of publication news section availability <URL of article> web page access date.

1870 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule) Concord Township Clinton County Missouri Dwelling 134 Family 134 Virgil Dixon household jpeg image (Online: The Generations Network Inc. 2001) [Digital scan of original records in the National Archives, Washington, DC] subscription database <> accessed 2 Dec 2001.

Henry Churchyard Photograph of Vesta Ruth Huntzinger Hann (Carson) 1900 jpeg image Our Family Museum: A Collection of Family History Notes (Online: Henry Churchyard 2001) <> accessed 21 Dec 2001.

Priestnall Family Genealogy Photograph of St Marys Church Cheadle CheshirePriestnall Genealogy Its Roots and Its People (Online: Mike Matthews 2001) [Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, n.d.] <> accessed 20 December 2004.

Images online:

Many personal and commercial web sites offer images online. As with all material cite where you found the image published on the Internet. Then if the original publication media and date are known include that material as well. The logic behind this latter practice is so that the original can be consulted if necessary for clarification purposes.

General Format:  Online presenter name of Image and description type of imageName of Website (Online:  online publisher online publish date) specific page number or citation within the website <URL or image> (original publisher original publish date) web page accessed date. (Online: LLC 1996-2001) <> examined for any reference to A. Arch Archie or Archibald Gregory accessed 25 December 2001. (Online: Inc. 2001) <> examined for any reference to Archibald Gregory or Gregory Archibald accessed 2 December 2001.

Rootsweb Meta Search (Online:  The Generations Network Inc. 2001) <> examined for any reference to first name Archibald and last name Gregory accessed 24 December 2001.

USGenWeb Archives (Online:  The Generations Network Inc. 2001) <> examined for any reference to Archibald Gregory accessed 24 December 2001.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Ancestral File v4.19 FamilySearch(Online: Intellectual Reserve Inc. 1999-2001) Individual Record of Archibald GREGORY (Ancestral File Number: 4DFX-QX) <> accessed 24 December 2001.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints International Genealogical IndexFamilySearch (Online: Intellectual Reserve Inc. 1999-2001) <> examined for any reference to first name Archibald last name Gregory accessed 24 December 2001.

AIS Census Indexes 1790-1870 (Online: The Generations Network Inc. 2001) [Original published by R. V. Jackson, ed., Accelerated Indexing Systems, Inc., 19–] <
rectype/census/ais/main.htm> examined 1870 for reference to Archibald Gregory accessed 20 December 2001.


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