I have not understood the need for recording where I obtained my information. Reading answers here has made me rethink. I would like to start my family tree again, this time recording the source for my research. What details and format should I consider to ensure the best result.

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    It's a situation most of us here have been in at some point in our history Garry. The importance usually hits people about the time that they realise they have an error somewhere in their tree. Maybe they spent the last few years researching the wrong family. It's then a matter of unpicking their data and deciding "where did I see this" and "how did I get from seeing this to believing this". It can be hard-learned lesson so the earlier people make the switch the better for them. Happy hunting!
    – ACProctor
    Nov 16, 2012 at 12:15
  • I'll take a stab at a preliminary answer, but it would be REALLY REALLY helpful if you would provide a LOCATION context for your question. The answer to this is usually the identity of the country where you live (US, UK, Germany, etc.). Only sometimes will it be a "homeland" county (as in, "I'm stationed in Egypt, but I consider myself, my research and my writing style to be US based.")
    – GeneJ
    Nov 16, 2012 at 13:36

2 Answers 2


There are several published references to how you should record the detail of particular record types and their sources, but for a gentle introduction (even though the production is a bit "cheesy") try one of the Family Search 5-minute Genealogy Lessons.

There is also a one-page pdf summary and suggestions for further learning.


Most genealogists, including esteemed professional genealogists with related day-jobs, engage in the work because they enjoy it. Helen S. Ullmann once quoted another, writing "Work is more fun than fun."

Only some of us come to genealogy as language or research experts. Assuming you had some other education or vocation, then the style and format you choose likely depends on the array of source materials you access, where your research takes you (and/or where you take your research), the kind of evidence you believe you utilize in your work. Comments below consider a couple of these notions.

  • What kind of source hound are you?

Do you mostly limit your sources to those considered highly stable, recognizable and accessible (by you and by others)? This would include almost all published materials, census, birth/marriage/death certificates (incl. parish registers), and the like. It may even be influenced by your regional research preferences. If this broadly defines how you work, then you may find more scholarly approaches to genealogical citations are awkward/unnecessarily burdensome. Ala, it won't be fun; the more simplified "author, book, page and URL" approaches are better for you.

In contrast, you may be a katy-bar-the-door researcher who brings an empty suit case whether you are visiting the grandparents or an archive. (Let there be no scrap left behind.) If that is the case, then you routinely utilize a wide variety of source materials that are not highly stable ... recognizable ... or accessible ... (this greater array includes privately held and/or archived family papers, clipping files, ephemera, annotated bibles and photographs; untitled work of sometimes unknown origin, unindexed/loose paper folders ...) If this describes your approach to the research, then you will likely become frustrated with approaches to source lists and citation styles that seem "too simple"/don't support your needs for accuracy and consistency. Ala, it won't be fun; a more scholarly approach is better for you.

  • What kind of evidence hound are you?

If you believe "direct evidence" characterizes by far your approach to recording family information and solving problems, then you may well see the purpose of your source notes and citations as "telling people where to find the material (so they can review it for themselves)." Again then, the more simplified, "author, book, page and URL," approaches are better for you.

In contrast, if you long for direct evidence, but rely mostly on an assortment of indirect, circumstantial, negative evidence, etc. (all of which must be weighed over time as part of the research process), then your source records and citations serve a purpose including but extending beyond "where you found it." If your work so extends, then you will want to take a more scholarly approach not only to "proof" but to your source notes and citations.

  • What kind of a sharing hound are you?

Do you mostly play in your own sandbox or not? If not, are you tethered to the "database" style of sharing? If you choose the simplified approaches to sourcing your work, you'll usually be able to make that fit into a GEDCOM schema, which will allow you to share what you have. Unfortunately, for those of us who choose the more scholarly approaches, sharing our "database" can easily turn it into something that looks like a bad plate of spaghetti.

There are other ways of sharing your work, of course. This includes that most of the time we are able to develop wonderful narratives, including great online narratives.

If you decide that the more scholarly approaches are right for you, then there are many options available. See the genealogy.SE Q&E/answer to "Citation guides ... "

You'll permit me a shameless plug. I'm one of many, many voices who want to see better standardized support for how we source our work. It probably shows in my answer above, we shouldn't have to make these kinds of choices.

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