top of page

How Do You KNOW? Can You Prove It?

crime scene investigator

When we are looking at other people's trees, we want to know HOW they know they are descended from George Washington, right? What were their sources? How can we prove our own ancestry to the skeptical brother in law?

The professional genealogist must keep careful records in order to meet one of the five official Genealogical Proof Standards, "Each statement of fact has a complete and accurate source citation." The hobbyist should also keep track of their sources so they can refer back to them.

The advantages of using one of the big family tree sites include automatic storage of the citations in their online materials and the ability to save copies of those documents. However, if you are going to upload your own documents you should be prepared to include your source so you will have it when you present your family tree findings.

What exactly do they mean by "citation?" Thank back to term papers or reports in school with FOOTNOTES. "Ugh," I hear you thinking, at the not so fond memories. These days you need to be able to refer readers to internet sites, DNA test results, as well as the old standbys of books, magazines, newspapers, etc.

If we were getting graded on them, citations should include most of the same type info I learned was needed as a journalism student, namely "Who, What, When, and Where." Who is the author? What is the title? When was it written/published? Where was it printed or where is it located physically? It needs to be easy for your reader to find the source to verify it themselves. FamilySearch has a great online guide you can go to from here.
Citations from

Don't overly stress about formatting your citations correctly. There are a number of sources that will help you sort out exactly what you need and a couple will actually auto-generate your citations for you for free. Check them out at this link to Cyndi's List.

sticky note mess

It is so easy to get sent down a rabbit hole of clicking on link after link when you think you are making a breakthrough in your family puzzle! Trust me, you don't want to end up with a desk covered with sticky notes and insufficient reminders of what it all means, so you have to go back and do it again, do you, asked the sadder & wiser girl?

Chart on a computer screen

When doing extensive research outside of one of the online tree services you should set up some kind of a Research Log for keeping track of your work. Lots of people use a spreadsheet for each person being researched with columns for the data to be collected, such as the Event (birth, death), the Date (year), the Place (state or city), Details (exact date, location, etc.), (author, article, etc.), URL & notes. When I am running on the fly I will often take a screen capture shot of the webpage and save it on my phone or computer to come back to later for full citation.

letters spelling focus

It is important to remain focused! Before beginning research, set a specific goal or two. Pick a person in your tree and decide which direction to go. Are you looking for ancestors or descendants? If you are looking for a hypothetical relative, you can start a separate tree within your existing online tree so you can connect them later.

Remember, the online family tree services will keep track of the sources you collect from them. Don't sweat having perfect citations for your skeptical brother in law. He probably isn't going to demand a full set of footnotes and a bibliography, but I want you to be ready if he does! I hope you are having as much fun with your family history research as I am. If I can help make it even more fun for you with a little help, I would be glad to try. Always a free peek at and quote for your tree. Drop me a line, and let's chat.

Thanks for stopping by,

Leslie Ryan

No compensation received for any links or references. No copyright infringement is intended.


bottom of page