How do you evaluate a source?

On the TMG cruise in September, Dr. Tom Jones shared his approach to analyzing sources.  He applies a systems approach to the analysis and here is my interpretation of his methodology. He is one of the most systematic people I have met which probably comes from his background in teaching teachers at Gallaudet College.

Dr. Jones presented a four column approach, with Source Name, Source Type, Informant and Other as his categories in the X-axis. I have attached a representative list of sources I am presently working with as I write a paper for our next publication to illustrate the use of this format. I apologize in advance for the odd way this “translates” in the published blog.  It might be easier to read in Word and so I have also attached the document with both of the tables at the end of this blog.

No. Source Name Source Type Informant Other
1 1870 U.S. census, Stephenson County, Illinois, population schedule, Ridott township, p. 29, dwelling 224, family 217, Henry Bode; digital image, ( : accessed 15 November 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 275. Original Unknown Census record was often a transcript of field notes.  One cannot tell which this is.  Writing is clear.  Document is undamaged. This is one of two entries for this family in the same census and the comparison of the two indicates that the other may be more accurate as it includes people who are not included in this entry.
2 1870 census, Stephenson Co., IL Derivative Unknown Census record is a database record of the original on
3 Mata (Tammen) Parker to Jill Morelli, letter, 9 October 1978. Original Mata Parker Letter was received directly from Mrs. Parker and information coincides with known information by author.  Although Mrs. Parker died shortly after the letter was written there is no evidence of lack of continuity of thought or wavering penmanship.
4 Robert H. Behrens, We Will Go to a New Land, The Great East Frisian Migration to America, 1845 to 1895 (Mahomet, Illinois: Behrens Publishing Co., 1998) 89. Mixed; narrative is original; listing of names etc. is derivative multiple Behren’s book is considered a reference book for Ostfriesen settlement in the US.  Published in 1998 it has withstood the test of time.  Many of the contributors are well known Ostfriesen researchers.

As you can see, the Source Type is derivative or original, the informant is named if known, and Other is used to describe the provenance and the veracity of the source.

Dr. Jones then analyzed the source.  I have analyzed two 1870 census entries of the Bode family below:

No. Source Comments
By 1870, Ridott township of Stephenson County IL is populated primarily with first generation Ostfriesen immigrants and their families.  Based on handwriting the same enumerator did the entire township. The enumerator has done a good job of recording the unusual names of this cultural group even tho’ he is not Ostfriesen himself.  The penmanship is clear although flourishes sometimes obscure the first letter of the surname.  The enumerator has not dated the sheets so it is unknown the gap of time between the two enumerations.
1 1870 U.S. census, Stephenson County, Illinois, population schedule, Ridott township, p. 29, dwelling 224, family 217, Henry Bode; digital image, ( : accessed 15 November 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 275.. First entry for Bode family: The information provided is a bit more erratic perhaps due to a different informant.  Eda is enumerated as “Mittjus” and George is not listed.  The neighbors do not include Cornelius who lived across the road, leading me to believe this entry was recorded out of sequence.  It is possible that a Bode family member was visiting their friends, the Peter Eckhoff family.  The enumerator recorded both the Eckhoffs and the Bodes, continued on and then later (p. 32, see below) enumerated the Bode family a second time. Because of the slight inaccuracies (Grietje’s first name, Eda’s surname) of this entry, the author conjectures that Henry contributed this information and the informant for the entry on p. 32 was Grietje.
2 1870 U.S. census, Stephenson County, Illinois, population schedule, Ridott township, p. 32, dwelling 245, family 238, Henry Bode; digital image, ( : accessed 15 November 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication  M593, roll 275. The names appear to be carefully recorded.  Eda’s surname in this enumeration is recorded as “Minnega;” All known living children (Ann/Annie) are enumerated; ages are correct. The family lived across the road from Henry’s brother, Cornelius, and Cornelius is recorded just prior to Henry’s entry. The Cornelius Bode family was not double enumerated

I have analyzed double enumerations using a table comparing each of the entries, but the purpose here was to analyze the source and not the content.  Of course, at some level the content reflects on the source itself. I hope this gives you some ideas.

I do believe that this approach may show up in the upcoming revisions to The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual which is supposed to be out next year (per Dr. Jones).

Here is the link to the Word document which you might find easier to read:

Source analysis tables

Your comments on this would be greatly appreciated.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  I am finishing the reading The Family Tree Problem Solver by Marsha Hoffman Rising.  Very interesting reading. Finished up the two publications.  I am starting to plan the next conference for OGSA (venue and a discussion on who should be the plenary speaker.)


Thomas W. Jones, Overcoming Surprising Research Barriers: A Case Study, Lecture, 2012 Genealogy Conference and Cruise, Wholly Genes, Inc., somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, September 2012; notes taken by Jill Morelli.

Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Washington, DC: Turner Publishing Company, 2000).

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