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The importance of documenting your sources

In the pursuit of your genealogical research, you will probably gather a lot of information from many different sources. Many of these sources will be easily verifiable official documents such as civil registry records, birth certificates, marriage records and death and burial records. Other sources though may not be as easily verifiable for one or more different reasons; the people you interview in the course of your field research may have since died or moved on to reside in another area, documents which you were easily able to access in the early stages of your research may prove to be inaccessible later on or may be damaged beyond recovery. For these reasons, it is of utmost importance that you thoroughly document all your sources.

Unfortunately, far too many people take the documentation process lightly and some even neglect this important aspect of research entirely.

Proper documentation can benefit your research in many different ways; you may find yourself needing to review data gathered from past research for example, or someone who is tasked with carrying on your research where you left off may need to have access to your information. Other people may need to verify the accuracy of your work or may need to use your data in relation to another entirely different field of study. If the data you have gathered thus far in your work is properly documented, these researchers will likely find your accomplishments a valuable resource in their own study and it will certainly help make their job easier!

Even if you have come about your information from well-established sources such as books or public records, it would still help your later recovery efforts immeasurably to ensure that you document these outside sources thoroughly. An ideal scenario stemming from proper documentation is that several years after you have done your initial research, you are still able to trace your steps so to speak and be able to return to the place where you first conducted your research, find the same source material you have used and further use the same source for your present needs.

If your work ends up being published, make sure you cite all the exact sources you have used so that you or anyone who needs access to the same information will be able to easily retrieve it.

Even if your hard work and research fails to uncover any pertinent information, it would still be useful to properly document these seemingly dead end searches; while it may appear that these efforts are useless to your work right now, you never know when an insignificant detail may be able to uncover facts further on in your work and lead you into new and more fruitful areas of investigation. Even in the absence of actual physical proof to your conclusions, the fact that you have uncovered nothing may still serve its purpose in your study as so-called “negative proof”. Negative proof is merely a comprehensive listing of the unsuccessful research you have done and can serve to support a particular theory because of the absence of proof to the contrary.

Original Authors: Doods Pangburn
Edit Update Authors: M.A.Harris
Updated On: 20/06/2008

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