Tuesday, April 28, 2009



Here I will talk about the most important facet of research! DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT! Documenting the sources of any information you find or receive. This applies to anything from a conversation with a relative as you pick their brain for family history, to accessing reference materials at a library. In addition, crediting other researchers, where applicable, is the most ethical principle to keep in mind. You should never credit yourself if you have not done the research and documentation yourself. Remember, if you should ever want to apply to a genealogical organization and you have to submit documentation, you must be ready to stand behind what you have submitted. I will go into organizations to consider at a much later date.


The purpose of documentation is to provide evidence of the information you have amassed. You will then be able to put togther a more accurate picture of the information you have collected and an overall view of your family. Make sure if you do not have the original copy of a document that it is a very good copy that has been scanned properly, microfilmed or photocopied properly. There is nothing more frustrating than having a copy of a document that you know will have important information for you and realize you can't even read the copy in your hands! The most important documentation is original documents. For example, birth, death, marriage, and military records, are considered valid original forms of documentation if they are publicly recorded information. I'm providing a list of what can be considered public record and institution documentation, however there are other records that could fall under this category. But for the beginner, this a good starting point.


1. Birth Certificates
2. Baptismal Records from a Church
3. Christening Records from a Church
4. Death Certificates
5. Census Records
6. Government Records of any type
7. Military Records
8. Pension Records
9. Land Records, i.e., Bureau of Land Management records
10. Passports
11. Applications for passports
12. Tax Lists
13. Passenger Lists
14. Immigration Records
15. Naturalization Records
16. Original Grants
17. State Records
18. Local Records
19. Records of Entry into a country
20. Church Records
21. Cemetery Records & Cemetery Inscriptions
22. School Records
23. Social Security Records
24. Fraternal Organization Records
25. Hospital Records
26. Wills, Deeds

In addition, certain family records are considered valid documentation. However, family records can also contain errors if they are not recorded within the time period of interest. Please keep that in mind. "Aunt Mary" might be a wonderful source of family history, however, if she is simply relaying stories that have been handed down for 5 generations, there is a chance the information has been tainted over the years. However, it's a wonderful starting point and can always be further researched and used as a guide for continuing your research in the right direction.


1. Certificates, i.e., birth, death, marriage, divorce, etc.
2. Diaries and/or journals
3. Diplomas of any type
4. Family Bibles
5. Letters
6. Memoirs
7. Testimonials
8. Unrecorded Wills and Deeds
9. Vital Records
10. Family Photographs

There are also other materials that you can use, but they are not considered original sources. These would carry less weight in validity, however, they will have a wealth of information that can be used as documentation.


1. Email Messages
2. Genealogies
3. Transcriptions of Records
4. Family Histories
5. Mailing Lists
6. Newspapers
7. Websites
8. Message Boards
9. Local Histories
10. Phone & City Directories
11. Directories of any type
12. Manuscripts

I am going to give you a basic format for documentation which will apply to just about any situation. However, when in doubt, write it down anyway! I am also going to notate an exception where you will not have a literary or vital statistic reference, and that would be an interview.


You will want to list any/and or all of the following, depending on the source.

1. Author
2. Title/Book Name/Periodical Title
3. Volume Number
4. Edition
5. Editor
6. Date of Copyright or Publication
7. Publisher Name, place & date
8. File Number
9. Film Number
10. Page
11. Register
12. Detail
13. Issue
14. Contact Person
15. Submitter [if no author, the person who submitted the article]
16. Interviewer
17. Library/Archive
18. Location of the Source
19. Locality of Interest
20. Media Type
21. Owner
22. Date Viewed
23. Quality of the Data
24. URL if a website or web article

You will also want to list in your documentation the type of the source you are listing, such as any, but not limited to any of the following:


1. Abstract
2. Book
3. CD Rom
4. Cemetery Search
5. Cemetery Inscription
6. Cemetery Record
7. Census Record
8. Deed
9. Email Message
10. Family Bible/Diary/Journal
11. Gedcom File
12. Interview
13. Letter
14. Newspaper
15. Periodical
16. Tax List
17. Vital Record
18. Website
19. Will
20. Government Record


I have created a documentation form for beginners to take with them while they are doing their research. It incorporates the suggested guidelines for documentation and thereby helps the beginning genealogist to understand what information is important to documentation. CLICK HERE FOR A .PDF OF THE DOCUMENTATION FORM.

Interviews must be documented properly to be considered valid sources. The following information should be included in your documentation.


1. Interviewer
This is where you will notate your full name and relationship to the interviewee
2. Interviewee
This is where you will notate the full name of the person you are interviewing and their relationship to you
3. Important information about the Interviewee. If you can obtain the age of the person you are interviewing and notate their relationship to the ancestors/locations/ dates they refer to, that will help you determine the validity of the information they give you.
4. Date and time of Interview
5. Location of Interview
6. How the interview was conducted, i.e., in person, phone, email, etc.
7. Detailed notes of your conversation
8. [optional] Photograph of the person you are interviewing


I'll be adding to these lists over time, so make sure you check back for any additions.