I've lost my sources for an individual. Either I never wrote it down or it's been lost by my software (probably the former).

I realized this when I came back to this individual the other day and saw the birth recorded as in Yugoslavia about 1864. For those who know their history, this is a problem. Yugoslavia wasn't formed until post-WWI (1918). My course of action was to review the original source (probably a birth or immigration record). Unfortunately, my sources were not listed and I could not find them. A preliminary search did not uncover anything.

With a situation like this, what should I do?

Obviously, the best case scenario is to be more careful about recording sources in the first place, but what steps should I take to retrieve my source(s) when something like this does happen?


4 Answers 4


As mentioned in the other answers, you can narrow down where the information likely came from and do the research again. First, however, an documentation check of close relatives of your unsourced person may show citations that apply to both. I've sometimes missed adding a reference and then found the information again in a spouse's or child's record.

  • 1
    I can definitely imagine myself getting lazy writing the same citation info into repeated fields for multiple related folk. Apr 24, 2013 at 13:24

If you have exhausted all the reasonable possibilities of refinding the source, then it may be best to adopt a different approach.

Treat the piece of information as a suggestion of unknown value by a less-than-rigorous colleague (ignore for the moment that it was you in a moment of madness). How would you set about confirming or disproving the claim ab initio?

Mentally attach a little waggling green leaf to the time and place of the event and begin a completely fresh search to test the claim. At some point you may have a flash of deja vu as you recall that this was how you did it in the first place. Or you may follow a completely different path that answers the same question (correctly this time).


For one particular source, you're in a bit of trouble. It's like losing one particular item in your home. If you really want to find it, you'll have to look everywhere until you do find it.

If you have a lot of sources that you haven't documented, then that's a different matter and you'll want to take time to start rigorously going through all your documents and files and make sure everything is documented properly.

But when you think about it, that's not a bad idea for anybody. You can do that to verify that what you have is all entered correctly and sourced correctly. And I guarantee that you'll find things that you earlier missed which will make the effort all worthwhile.

For one particular source that's missing, you can take the latter path, but it may be overkill - like cleaning your whole house top to bottom to find that one lost item.

The alternative is to think very hard where it might have come from, and try looking there. If you think you might have got it from a relative, contact the possible ones. Also Google for the information, and maybe some clue there will result in you finding your source again.


Rather than ask the question "what steps should I take?" I like to ask "what steps can I take?" -- leaving the possibility open that there will be more than one approach. I want to use multiple approaches, because experience has taught me that I will find more records that way.

  • Pretend you are doing an all-new search. Don't worry too much about what you might have done in the first place -- concentrate on what you can do now. "What sources can I find that would support this assertion?"
  • Pretend you are working a same-name problem. You have your main person, and this other person who was born in Yugoslavia. Try to find records to show these are two different people. (Let the evidence itself drive you back to the conclusion that all these records refer to the same person.)
  • Pull together all the sources you have which mention that individual, and write a fresh biographical profile and research plan. Branch out to include siblings and the FAN group/cluster (Friends/Associates/Neighbors) as needed.
  • Use the assertion as a clue to what source it might be. What if the person was asked for their year of birth, and during the date the record was made, the administrative name of the place where they were born would be described as "Yugoslavia"? What time period would that be? Which informants might use that name?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.