Persons who are new to researching their roots want to know What's all the this about documentation? Why does it matter, and what difference does it make where I got my information? It's only a hobby I don't plan to publish.
Documentation helps prevent duplication of research
Documentation gives others confidence in your research
Documentation doesn't have to be hard!
It's true. Taking time to document where you got your information will save you time later. If you do your research in small increments of time and possibly have long periods of time between the opportunity to do research, you may forget what you have read, checked microfilm, read books, etc. Often you do some research on one family, only to set it aside for a while and work on another family line. What happens when you sit down to work on research for the line you put off? Without writing down what you searched and where you found your information, you may look at some of the same sources and will only repeat information you already have.
Sometimes we spend some time researching families others have already researched. Eventually, someone else will be researching some of the very same families we are looking for today. Check for previous research. Most don't have time to do only original research on all of our families. We depend on quality previous research to assist us.
Without documentation, you don't know what sources somebody has already used. This wastes time and resources which could better be used to solve questions that haven't been answered. Without proof, there is no truth.
The problem is that many people just starting out do not plan on publishing their research findings. Throughout the course of our research we are constantly using the research of others, a published family history, a biographical sketch, or computerized lineages. Research goes much faster when we use these resources.
We're obligated to contribute to the growing records of previously solved genealogical puzzles. Even if you don't publish, someone in your family or friends will want to copy your information for their research on your family line, and will want to know where you got your information so they don't follow in your footsteps and repeat your research.
You may run across information that another person is researching your same line and you've got better things to do than follow in the other person's footsteps repeating research already done. What a waste of time! Record enough information to make it easy for someone following along behind you in research.
If you cite a census record, include year, state, county, and page number. If your information came from a book, cite author, title, location of book (library, archive, etc.) and the ISBN Number. It wouldn't hurt to list the page number.
For newspapers, cite name of publication, date, volume, section and page number. Don't worry about capitalizing, initializing, commas and colons.
Use a research log to help you keep track of what you have done and what you need to do.
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March 28, 2009