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Revision as of 17:50, 26 January 2013 by DanCornett (talk | contribs) (Discuss "other" (non-cite-able) facts.)
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Sources are an important part of genealogy. A source is a document that supports one or more facts on a Geni profile. Sources can also have a citation note that adds additional information about the source, such as a transcription of the relevant text.

Genealogical Sources

Genealogy is a discipline within the subject of history. In order to obtain quality, that means we need to know about the methods of sourcing within the field of history.

The Historical Method comprises the techniques and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence to research and then to write history.

Sources and Quality

The aim for any genealogist is to only use Primary Sources if possible.

Simple Overview

  • Primary Source: original documents from the time of the events, i.e. Census records, Birth certificates etc
  • Secondary Source: texts based on a Primary Source, but of good quality, like well-researched history books and academic articles
  • Tertiary Source: based on secondary sources only - should be avoided if Primary or Secondary Sources exist
  • Private Sources: created by a person with unclear sources and no verification - should not be used in genealogy - typically various family trees found online

Primary Sources

Primary source is a term used in a number of disciplines to describe source material that is closest to the person, information, period, or idea being studied.

In historiography, a primary source (also called original source or evidence) is an artifact, a document, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study. If created by a human source, then a source with direct personal knowledge of the events being described. It serves as an original source of information about the topic. Similar definitions are used in library science, and other areas of scholarship. In journalism, a primary source can be a person with direct knowledge of a situation, or a document created by such a person.

Primary sources are distinguished from secondary sources, which cite, comment on, or build upon primary sources, though the distinction is not a sharp one. "Primary" and "secondary" are relative terms, with sources judged primary or secondary according to specific historical contexts and what is being studied.

Secondary Sources

A text where all the information is based on primary sources, but written by someone else. This might include some degree of interpretation and selection of which facts/texts to rely on.

Academic texts will fall into this category

Tertiary Sources

Text or material based on secondary sources with further interpretation, selection of facts, and personal opinions, thus being less reliable and consistent with primary sources

Private Sources

Any private text or material created by a person where the source of the information is unclear or not verified in any primary or secondary source. A private source can sometime be considered a tertiary source, at other times such notes or texts should not be used as sources at all. This sort of material should be avoided in genealogical research.

Online Family Trees

There has been a strong tendency among amateur genealogists, especially proliferating since the birth of the internet, while searching for family connections, to uncritically accept and paste into their family trees whatever they find that helps to add so-called ancestors to their trees. At the same time, there has been a proliferation of online services and databases to help curious amateurs find genealogical information, some of which is trustworthy and some very suspect. It is fair to say that most people who have online family trees stretching back more than a few centuries into the past have not done their own historical research but have found those branches from other online family trees (e.g. on or from popular databases such as the LDS FamilySearch, Rootsweb's WorldConnect or One Great Family Tree.

While finding this information and being able to link to these people is very exciting in opening up possibilities about one's possible ancestry, and may be enlightening for one's own personal identity, unfortunately many people then post these trees as "fact" and they in turn become sources for other searchers.

The goal of the Geni Curator Team is to encourage the use and inclusion of primary and well-researched secondary sources but to help users to understand that, while potentially helpful as clues, these popular shared trees and databases culled from these tertiary sources are NOT reliable sources and should only be used as starting points for further research.

When no reliable primary sources are currently available, it can still be useful to provide "references" to such on-line information where your data came from; this can be done by providing 'links' in the "About" text for the profile.

The Sources Feature on Geni

Adding sources helps you document the information you add to profile and helps other users determine the accuracy of the information that you've added.

NOTE: In order to add a source to a profile fact, you must first upload the corresponding Source documents.

Sources Tab

Use the Sources tab to view all sources associated with a profile and to add new ones.

Select View Sources to view the list by source:


Select View Facts to view the list by facts:


Click on a source title to view the underlying document.

Use the Add Source link to add a new source to this profile. When adding a Source, you can either upload a document (such as a PDF file), or provide a link to an on-line Source (such as a Google Books URL), or create a new "text" document on-line.

Once that Source is imported into Geni, you can then do two things: (1) "Edit" the source -- which provides additional information about the dating, categorization, and quality of that Source itself.


(2) "Cite" the source -- where you refer to specific profile "facts" which that Source supports. By adding a "note" to each profile 'citation' (individually cited) you can also document the value which that particular Source provides. An example would be when two Sources have different death dates: by adding the particular 'death date' when you "cite" the profile's death date for each Source, then those two conflicting values can be seen when using the View Facts on the Sources tab.


When viewing a document, you'll also see a list of all profiles and facts that the document supports:


You can use a document as a source for any profile associated (tagged) in the document. Click "edit" at the end of the People list under the document, then "add source" next to the name of the profile. Select the fact or facts that the document supports on that profile. Then add a citation note (optional) and you're done.

Because anyone can view a source associated with public document, most sources will be viewable by all users. We hope that this feature will help our users as they continue to improve the integrity of the data on Geni profiles.

Add A Source Now!

Citing 'other' Facts

Not all of the fields on Geni can be directly 'cited' -- that is, there isn't a means to directly link a "fact" to a Source document. One example is a marriage relationship and the date and location of the marriage.

For this particular example (marriage), one reasonable method is to use the "Note" field when 'citing' a closely related "Fact". For example, 'cite' the "Gender" fact, but in the "Note:" field enter the information about the marriage date and location. While that doesn't link the 'citation' to the actual data of the relationship (i.e.: as shown on the Relationship tab when editing the profile or as shown on the profile's Timeline tab), it at least provides a means to link a document which contains the marriage information.

The other method is to describe the 'facts' in the profile's Overview ("About" text), and use a hyperlink to the on-line source which supports those facts.


See also

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