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From the Green Valley News, Wednesday January 27 2010, page C5

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Proof and Source Citations

Continuing our in-depth review of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), letís look at step two, "complete and accurate citation of sources."

We used to think source citations were for other people, so that readers and other researchers who might refer to our work would know the source of our facts. Prior to the mid 1900s few published genealogies contained source citations. Even when sources were provided, they were often inadequate or inconsistent. When we consult those works today we must verify every fact for accuracy or risk repeating prior errors.

Today while other researchers benefit from our citations, we recognize the importance of accurate sources to our own research. In order to make valid assumptions and reach logical conclusions, we need to know where we found our information. Proof is based on the facts and our analysis of their quality.

As we conduct research, we need to record all the necessary elements to create a proper source citation. Elements include complete title of the source, author if applicable, date the record was created, location, page and volume if applicable, publisher, etc. Any information needed to find the record, must be recorded.

We can also include notes as to our impression of the record, its consistency with similar records, legibility, whether an original or a copy, anything to help in our assessment of its validity. Then when we begin compiling our data we have all the information necessary for "complete and accurate source citations."

Source citations should also be noted for all records looked which did not provide information and/or did not copy. These sources contain negative evidence; i.e., evidence that should have been there but was not. When we record having examined them we eliminate the chance of forgetting and going looking for them again at a future time. Also, negative evidence often plays a part in a conclusion (proof).

Todayís standard for documentation and citation is Elizabeth Shown Millsís Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2007). This 885 page reference book is filled with information about literally every source record you will ever use. The examples are clear and concise, with source templates to show the proper format. Many genealogy programs are also being modified to include templates that make writing citations painless.

In genealogical writing, sources may be presented as either footnotes or endnotes. Footnotes are usually the most convenient form as the note appears on the same page as the applicable text making it easier for the reader to follow. Endnotes appear at the end of a chapter or at the end of the entire work. The reader must constantly flip back and forth to connect notes to text.

Documenting sources is not the most exciting part of the research process, but when we know the basics itís not difficult to follow the accepted standard.

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