The October 1, 2009 posting was entitled “A ‘To-Do’ List for Genealogists”.
This posting will discuss:
#2. Go for the Source of each piece of data
I am guessing that of perhaps 1,000 pieces of information, including Descendants listings, Register reports and similar writings on ancestors, I have received over the years, maybe 200 have cited a source here and there. Of that 200 I would guess 50 include as a source an e-mail address of a person. So? you say.
Nearly everything I have been sent can be considered only as a suggestion, a hint, a maybe, a place to start!
The rigors of genealogy are more rigid than rules in a court of law. In the courts there is a concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt”. In genealogy there is either a source or there is not. And if the source does not fit the definition of “a recording of fact at or close to the time of the event by a person who had reasonably close knowledge of the event”, it must be viewed as questionable. The good definition is referred to as a Primary Source. Everything else is called a Secondary Source.
If one uses secondary sources in his research, it should be accompanied by the logic suggesting how the researcher accepted it as fact.
Let’s look at the ramifications. In a court of law, beyond a reasonable doubt would suggest there was no other way an event could have been executed. But there are other safeguards in place from appellate review, DNA tests and the like. In genealogy if the wrong husband or wife is selected with a fifth great grandfather, hundreds of people would have a false understanding of their heritage.
While I did not at the beginning of my research warn people, today I warn anyone to whom I send data that if there is not a source referenced they should treat the information carefully. I say that they should read the Endnote describing the source to evaluate whether it is Primary or Secondary.
I often hear individuals say their family has been documented back to the Xth century; but when I look at the writing, there is not a single source cited. To handle this is a delicate social situation which I will leave to others.