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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Recording Family Sources

Written Sources

Family Bibles

Check the date of publication of the bible. If some of the entries predate it then they were written from memory not at the time of the event and are thus subject to error. These entries would be classified as secondary information.

Examine the handwriting of the different entries. Are there different styles? This would indicate that each entry had been entered at a different date, and thus each is likely to be contemporary with that event and thus primary information. One can imagine the family returning home from the christening, marriage or funeral and father taking the family bible off the shelf. Placing it reverently on the table he would inscribe the latest details for posterity. The bible would go back on the shelf and the next event could be recorded by a different person.

On the other hand, if the handwriting is consistent and the page looks as if it has been written at one time this means that most of the events are being recorded from memory or from being copied from another source. This is much more prone to error and the bible entries are thus considered secondary information.


Do file and evaluate replies to letters as soon as they arrive, or you will forget crucial thoughts. When transferring information to an ancestor’s file, always note down who told you what item of information. For example your file for grandfather William GARDNER might contain three items:

  • Cousin George GARDNER said he was born 12 Dec 1888 in London.
  • Aunt Martha BROWN said he was born 12 Dec 1889 in Wembley and that his wife’s name was Eliza.
  • Cousin Bert GARDNER said he was born in Wembley and that his wife was Eliza Louisa HAMMANT.

You can then evaluate the reliability of these oral sources and search for documentary ones.

When you have acquired information from another researcher be scrupulous about giving credit—this covers both excellent research and errors. Quote their name, the date the information was passed to you, whether oral or written (and what kind—letter, notes, book, etc.). You should keep their contact details in your own files but only publish them if you have their permission, of course.

Oral Sources

Tapes can be transcribed word for word which is tedious, recorded in point form, or rewritten in story form. This complete set of notes should be placed in the interviewee’s file. Then abstract every morsel of information separately and place in the appropriate ancestor’s file.

Visual Sources

The first priority is to get all photos identified and labelled with the names of people, places, dates and events for each. These should be written with a soft pencil on the back along the edge of the photo and certainly not in ballpoint pen across the centre back, where it will leave an indentation and where the ink will gradually eat through the paper. Special archival pencils and Pigma pens are commercially available. If you take the trouble to research your photographs they will become more valuable as source material for family history. Find out where and when the picture was taken and why. What was going on in the world at the time? Was the picture taken by a professional or an amateur, and who might that have been?

Was the picture posed or a snapshot? Posed pictures, particularly professional ones, are contrived in many ways, the objects in the picture probably belong to the studio, and even the clothes the people are wearing may not be their own. Spontaneous snapshots show life as it really was for these folks.

Was anyone missing from the group? Perhaps older relatives can tell you why, if not you can think of some reasons and then research them, for example was there a war on and some of the young men were in the forces? Was someone in hospital or gaol, away on business, or recently married and left home? If it is a snapshot, who took the picture?

Copy negatives, good photocopies or computer scans, as well as digital images can be made of significant photos for making prints for everyday use and display. A well-adjusted color photocopy machine will make great reproductions of most types of photograph.

Avid family historians can scan hundreds of photos for archiving on a single DVD or other storage device. Ensure that you scan at least at 600 dpi to allow magnification of portions of the image in the future. I keep a running list of photographs in a table on my computer, identifying each person and significant place in the description. I can ask the computer to find any name in the table and quickly identify all pertinent photos.

Alternatively, you can add keywords to each digitally saved photo in your collection to make identifying and searching quick and easy. You will need photo editing software to add the keywords. For more details see the Help section of your photo software.

Old movies should be converted to multimedia files while one can still do so at reasonable cost, as film projectors will be scarce in the future. One can also make a digital collection of slides or photographs, together with an accompanying commentary―see the National Institute for Genealogical Studies course Producing Your Family Video for more ideas. These can then be archived on DVDs or other storage device at home.

Don’t forget to copy all information from the backs of any illustration handed down in the family into the relevant person(s)’s individual file(s). A profusion of postcards were sent, and enthusiastically collected, during the period 1890-1950. These are not only interesting for the views they display, but the family historian will find dated addresses and interesting information can be gleaned from the messages they contain. Make sure you ask to see any that your family have. The Shire Album Picture Postcards by Hill is a useful aid in understanding picture postcards.


Their original ownership, date of manufacture and history should be recorded together with details on who owns them now and a photograph of the item. These details can go into individual files, providing important clues as to occupations, skills, interests, hobbies, habits and lifestyles, so helping to build up an interesting biography of each relative.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 11 March 2014, at 16:13.
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