I want to be more diligent about how I record the information in my lineage-linked software (I use Family Historian).

This question may be a bit difficult to describe because the plain-English words I might use for some of the concepts are already in use as specific genealogy terms, so bear with me. (see note added below the dividing line)

For any given source in my source list, the quality of that source may vary. I might have a digital image of the microfilm (which is the best we can get if the original document has been destroyed), a transcription of what is on the film, and an index to that collection. The transcription itself might be a digital image of a printed book or an online text which I can scrape. The same for the index. The data might be further removed, that is, a one-name or one-place or ethnic study might extract a subset of the records for their own use and publish a transcript or an index.

My goal is to work from the finding aids to the original records, of course. But while I do this, the process might also include collecting the best versions possible at each step. E.g. I might start with the information from a website that published a list of German Naturalization records from New England, trace it back to the microfilm they copied it from, and acquire the digital image. (After that, the REAL fun begins while I use that finding aid to find the original records!)

A program like GenQuiry will let me keep track of where I am in that process, but how might I flag the data in Family Historian that came from the very-poorest-quality sources, to show that this is something to be wary of?

For example: in one of the recently-published collections on Ancestry, their detail page for an entry in a marriage index was incorrect. Looking at the image, I can see that the printed book's year is correct, but if this had been one of those cases where the data had been published online without the original image being available to view, there wouldn't have been any way to see that the year was wrong because of a transcription error.

How can this especially-shaky data be flagged without causing too much clutter?

The problem is that in the US we tend to use the 3 x 3 analysis grid described by Elizabeth Shown Mills in QuickLesson 17: The Evidence Analysis Process Map, which separates the source (container) from the information inside the source, whereas Family Historian follows the older model of describing the source as Primary/Secondary (rather than Original/Derivative).

  • Please feel free to comment about the tools available in your software, if you do not use Family Historian.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 16:03
  • NB: I've also seen people request color-coding as a means of keeping track of unconfirmed information in their files.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 17:13
  • @PolyGeo I have no idea why this Q should be retagged with one-place and one-name studies. It is relevant to G&FH as a whole.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 18:13
  • I added those additional tags to try and help them "stick" on the site but the case for doing so was marginal. If someone becomes aware of One Name/Place Studies for the first time and clicks one of those tags then I think it is useful for them to see and start to see the quality of more of our Q&As. I like to see 3-5 tags on good questions to give them more chance to show up in a Google etc search. Please don't hesitate to remove them if you think that they have no value.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 21:22

3 Answers 3


The good news about Family Historian is that it's GEDCOM 5.5 compatible. The bad news is that it's GEDCOM 5.5 compatible. Which is a flippant way of saying that as GEDCOM 5.5 doesn't have in the sort of concepts that you need, then, as the programmers haven't seen the need for these concepts, there is nothing immediately available.

Against the source record in FH, there is, however, an item "Type", which is outwith the GEDCOM 5.5 spec'n. I keep templates for the various types of source I am looking at - these define the format of the source-record items, such as what goes into the Title or Publication info. And the "Type" on a Source record defines which template I use, though I seem to tweak as many as I follow. That's just how I use it. You might care to use "Type" on the source-record to contain the sort of info you want to keep.

You may find it useful to review the BCG's "Skillbuilding: Guidelines for Evaluating Genealogical Resources" as that contains useful terminology about whether or not sources are the original. The other stuff in that page (indirect or not, primary or not) are important but don't apply to the source as a whole.

You may end up making "Type" contain multiple items, perhaps separated by semi-colons.

  • I was thinking more along the lines of adding a suspect-data flag for an individual's birth date, although the quality of the source should be recorded as well.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 17:15
  • So you're suggesting Source Type in FH could be: Census (image), Census (transcript), etc.?
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 17:17
  • 1
    @JanMurphy I use source type that way.
    – user104
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 17:18
  • I'm struggling with how to differentiate online-only indices from published indexes from books because an online index might be searchable or a web-published transcription of an index in a book. Yes, I'm over-thinking things again. :)
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 17:19
  • 1
    The good news about Family Historian is that it's GEDCOM 5.5 compatible. The bad news about Family Historian is that it is not GEDCOM 5.5.1 compatible.
    – lkessler
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 1:18

GEDCOM includes a QUAY tag, which is short for "QUAlitY" but is defined as a Certainty Assessment. This is from GEDCOM 5.5.1:

[ 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 ]
The QUAY tag's value conveys the submitter's quantitative evaluation of the credibility of a piece of
information, based upon its supporting evidence. Some systems use this feature to rank multiple
conflicting opinions for display of most likely information first. It is not intended to eliminate the
receiver's need to evaluate the evidence for themselves.
0 = Unreliable evidence or estimated data
1 = Questionable reliability of evidence (interviews, census, oral genealogies, or potential for bias
for example, an autobiography)
2 = Secondary evidence, data officially recorded sometime after event
3 = Direct and primary evidence used, or by dominance of the evidence

Because it is included in GEDCOM, many programs allow the a certainty assessment to be applied to a source citation, and will also export and import this value into GEDCOM.

In Family Historian, the QUAY field is labeled as "Assessment". enter image description here

You can select one of 4 values for the assessment, and they are:

0 = Unreliable
1 = Questionable 
2 = Secondary Evidence
3 = Primary Evidence

So you should give your so-called shaky sources a value of "questionable", and give your incorrect sources a value of "unreliable".


You could consider adding either a custom ID or a Note to the source; I'd favour a note as you could then be specific about the problems with the source.

Or you could add the note to the source citation, thus tying it to the event under consideration.

I'd also recommend being very thorough in the naming of your sources. I use the source list entry formats from Evidence Explained.

  • 1
    Taking @ColevalleyGirl 's point about naming in FH... I found it useful to use both the Title and the ShortTitle on a Source-Record. (I customised the property box for source records to show both). Title contains the title or descriptive-title that appears as part of the citation. ShortTitle is only used as the title of the source-record in the record window or the yellow sources-pane. That way I can be totally free with the title for the citations but set the ShortTitle to something that can easily be found scrolling up and down a record-list.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 20:23

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