I've made the decision to re-enter all my family history data in a consistent fashion (as opposed to the current file, which has grown organically over time), validating the data as I go. Is there a definitive set of documented 'standard' or 'best practice' genealogy data entry guidelines to which I can refer, to ensure that my data entry is as clear/unambiguous and complete as possible? It needs to be something that is available on-line, or in-print for purchase in the UK.

Note 1: I intend to use Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Revised edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009.) as the basis for my source citations, so am not seeking advice on this aspect.

Note 2: I'm not looking for opinions here, but for widely-accepted/definitive published guidelines or standards.

  • I'm not sure what your looking for. It seems as though you've already answered your own question. A detailed account of the sources in the form of a written report are all in Evidence Explained. Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 13:56
  • @Ezri, as I said, I know what I'm going to do with sources. I'm looking for best practice guidelines on all other aspects of data entry (i.e. the conclusions I have drawn form the sources) such as names, places, addresses, dates, relationships, associated people, events, and I'm sure there are more.
    – user104
    Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 14:02
  • @ColeValleyGirl - I was going to give you a few references, but doing so implies your question is a "list" question, since you are looking for "references to". Maybe you can rephrase it to solve a specific problem without being so broad.
    – lkessler
    Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 14:50
  • @lkessler, any suggestions how I can do that? I don't want pros and cons, 'cos that shades into opinions. I'm looking for a definitive reference work to solve the problem I've outlined. Maybe use the word 'definitive'?
    – user104
    Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 14:56

5 Answers 5


I presume you want something that suggests how you can consistently enter your data, sort of like a style guide.

If so, I suggest you read Judith Schaefer Phelps article: "Getting It Right: Data Entry Standards for Genealogists"

She goes on to describe the book "Getting It Right: The Definitive Guide to Recording Family History Accurately" by Mary Slawson. Some of the guidelines she summarizes includes those for Names, Dates and Places, and she says that is just a sampling of the guidelines offered in the book.

Getting It Right, by Mary Slawson

There are some good reviews of the book at Amazon.com. See also this comment about it on the Legacy Users Group mailing list.

I do not have the book myself so I cannot provide additional details. But as a result of answering this question for you, I am now ordering it.

Followup: The book arrived. I think it's excellent and I think it should serve you well. There are many examples and the suggestions are explained very clearly.

It covers: Names, Titles, Gender, Events (Dates, Locations, Event Tags), Research Tags, Ordinance Information and more. It shows how to enter each item of information very clearly using input screens from the Legacy Family Tree program.

  • 1
    I've now received my copy of this book and agree with lkessler.
    – user104
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 12:31

There's an interesting issue here that may seem subtle but I believe it's worth highlighting.

You mention Evidence Explained (EE) by E. S. Mills. Citations are a great start and all newcomers should listen to your words. But how should they be recorded?

EE gives both a printed style and a list of parameters for the citations of a huge number of sources. Does this mean that we should write them all long-hand? Does it mean that we should enter the parameters into a software product and let the software generate that printed style whenever we ask for a report?

If we're sharing our data with someone else - someone who may use a citation style different to CMOS, or who may come from a different country to ourselves - then what are we actually sharing with them? Will it make sense to them?

These are questions that have been discussed many times in forums such as BetterGEDCOM, and a scheme must eventually be part of any new data standard.

The essential point here is that what you record isn't the same as what you see later. This will depend on whether you rely on software to store and manipulate your data, or whether you do it the old way with written documents. It's important because giving up total control and relying on software isn't a natural progression for everyone. If you're someone with hand-crafted citations in your data then it may be because you distrust software to make an accurate job of it, or the product you use just isn't up to the job, or you use especially intricate citations (e.g. with multiple inline references when explaining your reasoning).

This differentiation between "data" (i.e. what is stored) and "presentation" (i.e. what you see later, whether on-screen or on-paper, and including charts) is not confined to just sources and citations. It applies to all our data, including narrative text - something I'd love to elaborate on but it would overload this response.

In the case of simple citations, a product could rightly record just the parameter values of the reference. This would mean that the selection of a corresponding printed style such as CMOS, or the application of locale preferences such as date formatting, could be done by the product of the respective end-user. They are not part of any data exchanged with another party. With some thought, this could be extended to include complex citations such as those that include multiple sources and/or author annotation.

  • 1
    You make some good points here, especially on the difference between data entry and data presentation. I'm particularly concerned here about data-entry -- getting the data into the software. When I'm displaying my data, I tend to rely on tabulated reports from my software program (i.e. no attempt to make it into a narrative report, just the data exactly as I put it in) plus my own hand-crafted narrative reports and proof statements.
    – user104
    Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 17:15
  • 3
    Just a clarification, Evidence Explained may be oft' mentioned as a citation style, but the book is about handling evidence; working with sources. See the first two chapters, for the first is titled "Fundamentals of Evidence Analysis" and the second, "Fundamentals of Citation."
    – GeneJ
    Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 17:24

There is, to the best of my knowledge, no definitive reference work such as that which you are seeking, nor has there even been. Genealogy is 90% opinion and 10% definitive- and that includes works such as Cite Your Sources and Evidence Explained.


Unfortunately and fortunately, there is no "one way" to document all your events and facts. I think all of us have searched to find the best practices, and had to develop our own ways to be internally consistent in our databases. This is a lot of work - planning, execution, and re-doing when needed. But it allows a lot of flexibility to YOUR needs and YOUR particular research situation (people, records and software options).

My pet peeve in on-line databases is the implication that only date and location are important. (Lots of discussions on exactly how to format these, too). My own approach is to look at the event identifier (gedcom tag or custom), and look at what information is critical to the event and to me.

For instance, in my database, passenger lists are attached to a custom event called international travel, and are formatted to include final destination, entry and exit ports, and method of travel. My relatives went back and forth across the Atlantic, so I never felt that the GEDCOM immigration tag was appropriate, especially if I knew they weren't staying.

Your own choices will probably be different. Watch what other people are doing for ideas and some consensus, but don't be afraid to deviate if it is your best interests. If you are using one of the software programs that facilitate report sentence structure, that will affect your data entry, too.

Discussions at BetterGedcom have mentioned trying to retain the current flexibility while improving transferability.


The University of Strathclyde publish resources used by their genealogy based postgraduate programmes, which present a straightforward, practical yet comprehensive way to cite a variety of genealogical sources.

The "Referencing guide" (current version 2021-2022) is linked at https://www.strath.ac.uk/studywithus/centreforlifelonglearning/genealogy/genealogyresources/ along with other useful documentation on citing sources.

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