Good Source Use and Documentation Practice



Good Source Use and Documentation Practice

WeRelate seeks to become a repository of high-quality, reliable genealogical information through the collaborative efforts of its user community. In pursuit of this mission, WeRelate has two major goals:

  1. Create a single community tree linking ALL of our roots (Pando for genealogy).
  2. Ensure that the information presented on individual person and family pages is sufficiently documented with quality source citations.

Contributing your GEDCOM

WeRelate grows through the submission of individual lineages by users that are combined with the existing lineages into the community tree. If you use a computer-based genealogy program you probably have the capability of converting your family data into a GEDCOM file. That file can then be submitted to WeRelate, adding your personal family line to the single family tree of WeRelate. You may find that some portions of your personal lineage may already be found on WeRelate, placed there by other users of this site. But everyone's personal lineage has its unique elements, either in the form of your immediate family, or in lines where you've researched, built and maintained on your own, but which may have not been previously explored by other users. Those unique elements are the ones that will then be attached to the community tree when you submit your GEDCOM.

If you have not yet submitted your first GEDCOM file, then please review the HelpPage: Before you import your GEDCOM for further information, guidelines and assistance.

Citing Quality Sources

We collect and include in our compilation of data a complete, accurate citation to the source or sources of each item of information we use. Citing sources lends credibility to our research, helps us have confidence in the research of others, and daids others during analysis.

In descending order of preference, quality citations include:

Type of RecordDescriptionExample(s)Quality Level
"Original Source"FIRST HAND ACCOUNT OF THE EVENT. The first oral or documented form for the information recorded, or where the record is contemporary with the event described. Obtained from or created by a person who was at the event, either participating in it, witnessing it or officially verifying the credibility of it. Also important is how soon the information was collected and the reliability of the person giving the information.A birth certificate, marriage certificate, a census record, a court record, a letter by an eyewitness describing a recently witnessed event.PRIMARY
"Derivative - Original" A published transcription of original records; film, photo or digital copy of original source.An index of county birth, marriage, death, and land records, extracted from the original court records. PRIMARY or SECONDARY
"Secondary Source" ONCE REMOVED FROM THE EVENT. The record was written substantially after the event described; given by someone who has heard about an event from someone else; or when the details have gone through several people before being recorded. A recollection by an eyewitness, written in old age; newspaper obituary; a biography or recollection by an eyewitness describing a witnessed event many years after the fact.SECONDARY
"Derivative - Secondary" A published narrative based on original sources, or well-documented secondary sources whose information can be readily verified.Verifiable records used within a biography, family history or periodical that incorporates those records to support facts; a letter or recollection by an third party describing an event told to him or her sometime after the fact. A typed index taken from a typed transcription of a hand transcription of a lengthy family history narrative or other genealogical record compilation. A well-documented article in a periodical. Index or transcription of a collection of obituary notices.SECONDARY or QUESTIONABLE
"Tertiary or Ephemeral Source"TWICE OR MORE REMOVED FROM THE EVENT. A published narrative based on questionable or poorly documented secondary sources such that the information may or may not be able to be verified. While not considered a quality source, it is still important to cite such a source.A family history that may not make use of verifiable records. A well-researched GEDCOM file, on-line genealogy database, or personal website with sources noted and recorded. Most newspaper articles. QUESTIONABLE
"Unreliable Source"HEARSAY. A source that cannot by itself be examined by others to verify its content or accuracy, or whose content is subject to change.A personal email message; a typical GEDCOM file, on-line genealogy message board posting, or a personal website with no authoritative, reliable, or verifiable sources noted.UNRELIABLE


It is possible for a single record to have both primary and secondary information. Genealogical examples include:[1]

  • Birth certificate: When reported by the mother or father who was present, or by the attending midwife/physician, the date of birth and sex of the baby are primary information. If the age or birthplace of the mother is reported by the father or the physician, it is secondary information.
  • Death certificate: The date and place of death, reported by someone present, are primary information. The age, birthplace and parents’ names of the deceased would all be secondary because the only reason the person reporting would know these is by being told earlier.

Difference between Original and Derivative Records:[2]

  • Original: According to the BCG, an original genealogical record or source is one that is original. It was not copied from another record, and is considered the most reliable.
  • Derivative: A derivative source is one that was copied from another record. This might be by transcription by hand or machine, photocopies, microfilm, or abstracts. The more layers of copying between a derivative record and the original, the more potential there may be for problems (which may affect reliability). Because every repetition or recopying of data is an opportunity for error, the closer the derivative is to the original the more reliable the data are likely to be.

Please review Help:Sources for more information relating to genealogical sources at WeRelate.

Online Ethics: Be Accurate - Be Honest - Be Courteous - Be Patient

Ensuring that the information presented on WeRelate is accurate, we encourage all contributors to:

  • Cite reliable, verifiable sources for as much of what is posted here as possible.
  • Give credit to the person who did the hard work.
  • Collaborate with others to verify the work to ensure its reliability.
  • Provide objective analysis to support conclusions drawn.
  • Give enough information, particularly page numbers or current URLs, etc., so that another person can easily and unambiguously locate the relevant material.

For more about what constitutes high-quality genealogical research, read:

Be wary of citing "sources" such as those identified below. These do not make good sources as it may be very difficult to assess the quality and origin of these types of sources.

  • Other people’s undocumented GEDCOMs
  • One World Tree data
  • Ancestral Files, etc.

Evaluate sources correctly and honestly. If sources cited are not original or primary, evaluate their reliability using the graph above and identify as accurately as possible.

If sources are cited for facts with which you disagree, start a discussion on the Talk Page associated with the person or family. Give the watchers of the page a chance to respond. Listen to what they have to say. If there is not a clear concensus, consider that perhaps the truth is not knowable without more information, and the most useful result may simply be to leave the discussion on the Talk Page where it may be seen by other researchers. Ambiguities may exist, and an educated "best guess" may be the best information available, but be honest and identify it as such.

The collaborative process of WeRelate is a long-term, two-way interaction. Your participation can be a valuable part of that process. But it is more than simply loading a GEDCOM. It is a continual process of querying, responding to inquiries, redirecting research, and sharing new data and thoughts. Please do not dump your data and go. Stay involved, be patient and watch the magic happen!

Footnotes and references

  1. Read more at NGS: Original or Derivative Records? Primary, Secondary or Tertiary Sources? What genealogists need to know about records
  2. Read more at NGS: Original or Derivative Records? Primary, Secondary or Tertiary Sources? What genealogists need to know about records