A little time spent now can save hours of work later.

Imagine the scene – you have been researching your family history for years, and you finally share it with a member of your family, who turns around and says “but John did not marry Jane, he married Elizabeth!” OK so now what do you do? How do you prove that John married Jane? Where did you find that piece of information? Was it from physical evidence (birth/marriage certificate, census return) or did someone tell you, in which case who told you and when? If only you had spent 2 or 3 minutes noting down where you had found that important piece of information you would be able to quickly prove your information, instead you spend days trying to find it again. You might be lucky, if the information was on a certificate you purchased, it is just a case of finding it otherwise you have to start your research again.

You may think that this will never happen to you – but can you be sure? It has happened to me on several occasions, fortunately I had referenced my sources and could quickly prove the details of the marriage whereas my detractors only had it as a family story. One spent weeks trying to prove me wrong, but to no avail.

It is so easy to do.

There are no right or wrong ways to reference your sources. Academics generally use a version of the Harvard Referencing, but there is no overall system for genealogical records, and different organisations will use slightly different systems. The main thing to remember is that it should help you (or someone else) to find that record again.
An easy citation will include:

  • The type of record – BMD registration index/certificate, Census return, diary, audio/written interview with Uncle Joseph etc.
  • Place the event took place.
  • The date or year of the record/interview.
  • Name of the main person – child, married couple (give both names) etc. For census returns you can either give the Head of the family, but if your ancestor is a lodger then give his/her name.
  • Any reference number for the record – archive reference, GRO reference for indexes, Census reference and enumeration district & page number.
  • Location of record – name of the Archive Office, website, of if held privately then by whom.
  • Date accessed – although most people only use this for websites as they can change over time, although it is also useful for interviews.

(E.G. Marriage Index. RD: Islington, Middlesex. March Qtr. 1876 WIEDHOFFT, Frederick Augustus & HUNTSMAN, Emma. Vol. 1b. p. 456. Available online: www.freebmd.org.uk Accessed 17 Oct 2012 )

If you hold copies of some of your records then you will also need a simple but effective filing system, so you can quickly and easily find the record you are looking for – not just in an old shoe box with piles of other documents. Remembering to reference your sources may be a pain, but it is better than the hurt and tears you may suffer if you don’t.
To learn more about referencing and other research tips join our online course. The details are on our website. http://www.leavesfamilyhistory.co.uk/courses