View Full Version : found a great family website....now how do I use it?

18 December 2008, 10:45 AM
Hi everybody.
I found a website that adds info to my (inherited) already extensive family tree, but am not sure where to go from here because of 2 problems:

1. The source given is "per George Cogan". Is this a legitimate source? (no clue is given as to which George Cogan, or even which country he might be from)

2. The owner of the page adopted a "what you see is what you get" attitude and was not forthcoming with any further information -- and this is the only place I've been able to find this particular information.

I've been interested in my family tree for years, but am still a relative novice. Where can I go from here with this particular source? Thank you for any help you can give and for your time.

Mike Cogan

18 December 2008, 02:27 PM
Welcome to the wild world of genealogical sourcing. All facts are sourced with a certain level of authority. One factor in determining the authority of a source is whether a source is primary, secondary or even tertiary. Primary sources are fixed documents that were made by an actual observer of the event, usually at the time of the event. Secondary sources are records of data from primary sources, with references to the primary sources. Tertiary sources are everything else. Most websites, especially amateur family trees, are tertiary sources. Another factor is the number of independent sources for a particular fact. Having multiple primary sources is best.

Some researchers only record from primary sources. This is fine for publishing reports, but it is not helpful in research. You should save this data for future use. You can create a separate set of notes for future research or record the facts in your family file. Document the source in great detail. You may want to flag unique persons as "Needing further research". You never know when you might find sustaining documentation for these facts. By entering them into your family file, you will have them there in the future, as you do future research.

18 December 2008, 05:54 PM
I keep a family file with data like this just for fun. But I also use it as a map for my personal research (it's much easier to find things when you know where to look for them). As I verify this information, it then gets added to my official family file.

18 December 2008, 09:49 PM
It is easier to prove an answer if you know the answer. The web is extremely valuable for genealogy, because it gives you lots of possibilities, hints, and leads that you could never find yourself. Now that you have the info from the web site, you should look for the documentation which will prove, or disprove it. I almost never add web-only information to my data base. If I do, I source it as info from John Doe at <whatever web address.> That clear indicates (to me at least) that the info is hearsay, and not further documented.

19 December 2008, 11:40 AM
Thanks for the advice....I'm now trying to make the source into a better one, trying to track down the original interview documents

20 December 2008, 04:15 PM
That's great that you're trying to find the 'original' sources for your people. But I too omit my sources on my Laidman website - deliberately. The trouble is, if I were to give my sources, the data would be 'purloined' by all and sundry and added to their websites (this has already happened). Not only would I resent my efforts, time and money being taken by others, but I can be sure that their websites would not be corrected or updated. Result: a host of Laidman websites with conflicting data, and no one would know which is the right one.

As it is, my data is freely available, but not the sources. That way, only my website has any genealogical value. Of course I am happy to give sources on a need-to-know basis. There has been some discussion about this attitude, some saying that I should give sources since they are in the public domain and should be available for all. But I'm not going to do that for reasons above.

Like others above, if I take info from another website, I just source it as from the poster (unless I research it myself of course).

22 December 2008, 11:21 PM
...There has been some discussion about this attitude, some saying that I should give sources since they are in the public domain and should be available for all.


Ask them for a source! Your research is YOUR intellectual property. It is YOUR choice to publish, or not.

My only concern would be that arrangements are made to perpetuate ALL the data. I don't know about other FHC's, But my local Family History Center keeps a back-up copy of my research (Reunion AND GEDCOM). I compress and send the files via e-mail, so it is easy to keep up to date with minimum effort on their part.


Karen Peters
25 December 2008, 03:32 PM
Where can I go from here with this particular source?

To keep things straight in situations like this: say I got information from John Smith's website, he puts his source as Uncle Joe Smith and I don't have access to Uncle Joe. I enter the source something like "John Smith's Website", John Smith, etc., and then in the memo field put something like "quoting Joe Smith, uncle of John Smith." Same kind of approach for an obscure reference like an out-of-print book that I can't find. If I eventually get direct access to the source, I can add it in addition to the John Smith source. I just try to keep it clear what sources I actually accessed and which ones I never saw. After all, John Smith may have misunderstood Uncle Joe and got it all wrong!

Happy Hunting!

26 December 2008, 06:27 AM
Thank you all for the advice. The problem is that the owner of the website got the info second-hand himself, and does not know who the source is.

Another problem about using it without a strong source is that it is on the branch most-valued by family members, not a branch they would be too willing to accept hearsay (I found it on website A, which states it came from source B) about. Also the person that started genealogy research in my family used to work as a professional researcher.

I'll try to upgrade the source, at least making contact with someone who knows/knew him. Before that I don't think I can do too much with it unless it is "approved" by more knowledgeable members of the family.

Tom Robinson
26 December 2008, 07:54 PM
Another problem about using it without a strong source is that it is on the branch most-valued by family members
I'll reiterate what Tim said above: once you've been given a name and date it's much easier to verify than having to find it yourself. e.g. I could spend hours finding the children for a family by trolling through birth records, but if handed a name and date I can verify it in minutes. Once it's been verified against a primary source (like a birth index) you no longer need to quote the original source (although for significant amounts of information I normally include an acknowledgement).