Should You Judge Research by Its Source List?

I‘m a firm believer in always providing source evidence for conclusions in your research. If I come across research that either doesn’t provide sources or lists someone else’s GEDCOM or FTM (Family Treemaker) files as a primary—or only—source, I’m likely to skip it altogether.

But can you judge a piece of research simply by looking at the source list? Is a long list of sources a guarantee of the quality of the research? Ben Sayers of Genealogy makes a good argument in his article “The Dangers of Judging Reliability by Source Presence” that the answer is no. He argues that:

“Relying on sources as a soundness indicator in genealogy is like trying to understand a court case, but only having the witness list and the verdict. Sure you’ll know the outcome and you’ll know who was called to testify, but you won’t be able to understand why the decision was made. You won’t know what was asked nor what answers were given by whom. You won’t have a sense of the veracity of the testimony. And you won’t be able to get your own sense of whether the right decision was made. It’s the same thing with genealogy.”

A very good point.

I agree with his argument completely. I believe it’s important for every genealogist to actually do the research—postulate a theory, search for clues, locate the evidence, gather the records, evaluate and analyze the documentation, and draw your own conclusions. That last part is very important. I’ve been down too many wrong research roads because I made a half-hearted attempt at the evaluation and analysis and accepted someone else’s conclusions while ignoring conflicts with other information. Bad researcher!

This is the reason I try to provide as much evidence as possible for the conclusions I draw in my family research. It’s also the reason I’m considering posting those documents online and linking to them from the footnotes. I want share my research so that other genealogists are able to follow my research, review the evidence, and evaluate my conclusions for themselves. Who knows maybe that researcher will have different evidence that contradicts my conclusion and helps to break through a brickwall. And isn’t that what we’re all hoping for?

What do you think?

Cite This Page:

Kris Hocker, “Should You Judge Research by Its Source List?,” /genealogy the genealogy & family research site of Kris Hocker, modified 17 Sep 2010 ( : accessed 29 Mar 2015).

Content copyright © Kris Hocker. Please do not copy without prior permission, attribution, and link back to this page.

What do you think?