Have you ever found a great family history all about YOUR family and it didn’t include one source? I have found a few about my family. It’s like someone made a big batch of pudding and offered it to you. It looks like it tastes good, but when you take a bite, it’s bitter. They forgot the sugar!
A family history without sources is like pudding without sugar. You need to be able to examine the writer’s sources to discover how accurate the information is.
This goes both ways, however. No matter what level of researcher you are, you need to record your own sources. If your source is a family history or just that “grandma said so,” you need to record where you got the information.
Thus, if you’re importing information into your database or writing a family history, attach a source or footnote or endnote to each fact. (Disclaimer: You may have heard the chatter among genealogy bloggers about citing sources in blogs. I won’t be getting into that discussion here.)
There are plenty of tools to help you formulate a citation. Most genealogy software has a source citation template to help you, or you may want to order one of the Evidence books from Amazon recommended on my sidebar. Thus, it’s pretty easy to cite vital records, census records, etc.
What do you do if one record does not give you the direct evidence you need to prove your case? What if you don’t have a certain source to cite? What if your conclusion comes from things that are inferred or from multiple sources of indirect evidence? What if you have two items of direct evidence that conflict with each other?
Here’s what you do. Write up a proof summary. A proof summary is kind of like putting together all the ingredients to make pudding. Describe the problem, the sources that make your case, and how they make your case. Be sure to include any evidence that contradicts your conclusion and how you refute the contradiction. Be sure you’ve cited all your sources. Make your argument and sum it up. Give your write-up a title and publication date. You may publish it if you want. At least, keep it in your files. When it’s done and you’re ready to write that source citation for your family history or database, cite yourself as the source!
Your proof summary IS the source, so go make some pudding and don’t forget the sugar!