Turning Fiction to Fact



Contributing Writer
Janet Wahlberg

Your family story is only a story unless you have sources. The sources and citations turn fiction to fact. I will admit that this is not a topic that I am an expert on. In fact, I am a novice when it comes to properly citing my sources. Having said that, I will attempt to give you a foundation that you can build on.

Why do we cite our sources? We cite our sources because, nothing is more frustrating to a genealogist than wanting to go back and look at a piece of research and not being able to determine where the information came from originally. Before I proceed it is time for confessions. Much of my early research is not cited properly. Much of it came from family members who did the research but did not add citations. A lot more came from my efforts before I knew enough to cite sources. I am working hard to remedy this problem so that my descendents will sing my praises as they will be able to recheck all of my work. Dream on Janet!

Let’s first define what a source is and what a citation is. A source is what you used in locating the information, an interview with Aunt Margaret, a census record, the family Bible, a website, a letter, a book, etc. A citation is a description that connects the source that you are using to the research that you completed. In other words, it lists the author, title, publisher, date published etc. of your source.

According to an online course titled Source Citations for Successful Genealogy that I am taking online from Family Tree University, there are 5 basic questions that need to be answered when you are citing your source:

  1. Who created the information?
  2. What is the title of the source?
  3. When was the record created or published?
  4. Where in the record the information is located i.e. page, etc.?
  5. Where is the source located i.e. library, etc.?

Some examples might be:

  1. Census Record: James Platt Family Year: 1920; Census Place: Ross, Jefferson, Ohio; Roll: T625_1401; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 180; Image: 596 taken from Ancestry.com on 8/8/2016
  2. Book: Elaine Ingalls Hogg; Historic Grand Manan; published 2007; p. 31;
  3. Cemetery Marker: John Platt Tombstone, Bergholz Cemetery, Bergholz, Jefferson County, Ohio, photographed by Janet Wahlberg June 2003

As this is just a very basic description of sources and citations, I would encourage you to dig deeper. One of the best books on the topic is Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills. We have it at the Hall House. You might also try googling “genealogy citations”. There are numerous online resources. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to be perfect at citing your sources to begin with, as the idea is to get the source information attached to your research. Then, over time, as you develop the habit of citing your sources, you can work on perfecting your technique for writing citations.

To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to jamestowngazette.com and visit Janet’s own web page.