Frequently asked questions

General principles of data entry
Sources and their importance

General principles of data entry

When you add or edit any data on the Family tree there a few general principles that should be followed:

  1. All information must be factual, or described in a way that clearly indicates how accurate it is. If, for example, you know a person's age, from a census, but not their actual birth date, then you cannot say AS FACT that they were born in a certain year. There are issues of rounding, possible error on the census page, or even in some cases people might have misrepresented their age. In these cases, the use of date qualifiers like ABT (about), or EST (estimated), or CAL (calculated) to show how you arrived at the birth date you entered would be appropriate. Another good example is finding a birth, marriage or death on the UK's registration index pages. These only record events within a quarter (3 month period) so the closest you can record the date is, for example, BET JAN 1850 AND MAR 1850, meaning "in the Mar quarter of 1850. Entering a date like that is easy in the software we use - just type "Q1 1850" and it will be converted to the full text required for you.

    Whenever dates are entered, it is important that the rules governing format should be followed. To the right of every date field a yellow question mark is your friend - click on it to show all the formats and tricks.

  2. Information should accurately reflect what it really is, and what you really know. This means that the date of a baptism found on a Parish Register, for example, should NOT be entered as a BIRTH. It is a baptism or christening date. If it is the only record you have for the person's birth you should either not enter a birth (preferred - the baptism will be used instead in any age calculations), or enter the birth with a date of BEF (before) whatever the date of the baptism was. That clearly shows that the only thing we know for certain is that the birth happened before the baptism, but we don't know if it was 1 day, or 10 years before! The same applies for Parish register burials. They are not a death event, so the death would be better not recorded (preferred) or recorded as BEF the date of the burial.
  3. Places should have each part separated with a comma followed by a space and always include the full country name WITH THE EXCEPTION of the United States of America which must use the Abbreviation "USA", examples are
    • Windsor, Berkshire, England
    • Dallas, Texas, USA

Sources and their importance

We believe it is VERY IMPORTANT that whenever possible anything recorded on a family tree should include some evidence about where the information came from - in other words a SOURCE or references for it. In this FAQ, we describe why sources are important, and give some specific help for adding source references to data on the family trees of this site.

Dick Eastman describes the issues well in his Genealogy Newsletter:

"... I well remember my early days of family tree searches. I would record new information into three-ring notebooks. (This was long before the invention of the personal computer.) I would write down names, dates, places, and perhaps a bit more information that I was lucky enough to find.

Unfortunately, in those early days I did not write down where I obtained the information. Nobody told me that I needed to do this, and I wasn't smart enough to figure it out for myself. I simply assumed that everything I found was accurate. After all, it was printed in a book, wasn't it?

As time passed, I frequently found new information that contradicted what I found earlier. When I discovered these discrepancies, I needed to determine which piece of information was more accurate. The question that arose time and again was, "Where did I find that information?" Sadly, I often did not know.

The better solution would have been to always write down where I found the information along with the data itself. This is known as citing your sources. To quote author Elizabeth Shown Mills in her excellent book, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian: "Any statement of fact that is not common knowledge must carry its own individual statement of source. ...Source notes have two purposes: to record the specific location of each piece of data and to record details that affect the use or evaluation of that data."..."

Entering source references on family trees here is incredibly easy. They can be included with any event (e.g. birth, marriage, death, divorce, migration etc.). In many cases you can re-use an existing source reference. If the one you need hasn't been created yet, you can easily add a new one.

The basic steps, using a birth record as an example, are:

After adding the normal date, place etc for the event, before you click on Add or Save, look at the bottom of the edit screen for the line that says: "Add a new Source Citation" and click on the '+' to its left.

This opens some new entry fields. The first is "Source". Here you type the reference number for the source. We have over 300 sources already referenced for your use. The full list is under Lists - Source List. If you don't know the reference number for the source you found, click on the "+" If your source is not on the list, add it.

The next field is the "Citation". Here you describe, in a formal way, where in the source you found the information. This is often a list of information such as Volume, Page, Date, Place, or similar references. The important thing to note for citations is that each element should include a ':' (colon) after its descriptor, and a ',' (comma) after each section. You may enter a web URL into either the citation or text field to provide a pointer to another site, but it is also helpful to include the name of that web site.

In some cases there is no real "citation", so that section can be ignored if necessary. In fact for many sources, all that is required is the reference number (e.g. "S25"). This is often the case when information is supplied by another researcher, particularly in the case of photographs.

The final section is called "Text". This is again an optional field. It can be used instead of the citation (if there is no formal reference); or as well as. It allows for free text entry, but no fancy formatting. Often useful for explanatory notes related to the citation.

Once all this information is entered, simply click 'Save' or 'Add' and the job is complete.