Cite your sources

I have a photograph of my great great grandparents that I found on Facebook. At least, I have been told that it is a photograph of them but it was posted without a citation so I do not know where it came from, when it was taken, who took it – all those details that would convince me that it really is them. I keep the photograph because it is the only one I have, but it bothers me that they may not actually be my family at all.

generationsgenealogy_willCiting your sources is important if you want to share your family history with others, so that they can trust what you have found and so that they can take a look at the records themselves. It is important for your own research for the same reasons. A source citation also makes it easier for you to take a second (or third) look at a source because, let’s face it, we rarely understand a source fully the first time we look at it. How many times have you copied a page from a source, then realised you needed the page before or after it? How many times have you transcribed a handwritten document or taken notes from a source, then gone back to your notes later and found that they no longer make sense?

If you do not cite your sources because you do not know how or it takes too much effort, then here are my tips:

  • If you use family history software, learn to use the source citation features.
  • Unless you are writing for a publication, do not worry too much about whether it complies with APA, Chicago, Harvard or other formatting styles – you just need a citation that you and others can understand!
  • The general rule is that a citation has four main elements – Who, What, Where and When. Analyse each source with these questions and note down your answers. The order doesn’t matter very much, but the author usually goes first and the date usually goes last.

Who wrote it or created it? Who published it? What is the title? What format is it (a book, a certificate, a microfiche etc)? Where was it published? Where is it stored? When was it written? When was it published?

  • Include as much information in the citation as you would need if you wanted to find it again. More is better….
  • Many online repositories and websites, such as Ancestry and NSW State Archives, provide suggested citations or guidelines on how to cite their sources.
  • If it is a source that is often found in libraries, consult a library catalogue and copy their citation.
  • If you want a handy guide with examples of the main types of sources, try Noeline Kyle’s Citing Historical Sources: A Manual for Family Historians (available for purchase at

History revealed by an illuminated address

Illuminated addresses are hand-illustrated manuscripts presented to a person to mark an event or to celebrate a person’s achievements. Typically contained in a leather-bound gold-embossed folder faced with red silk, they contain hand-written text surrounded by a wide decorative border, illustrations, a statement of appreciation and signatures of the presenters. The term ‘illuminated’ derives from the use of gilt, but many addresses use gold or bronze paint rather than gilt. Illuminated addresses were popular in Britain and Australia from the 1850s to the 1930s, with a peak in popularity in the 1880s and 1890s.

General consensus appears to be that illuminated addresses were derived from illuminated books and manuscripts in medieval Europe. Australian examples commonly contain native flora and fauna – a trend which was also evident in art and buildings at that time.

Illuminated addresses were presented in a ceremony and were often accompanied by a purse of sovereigns and an announcement in the local newspapers. They had an important symbolic role, creating and reinforcing social links, and generating expectations of reciprocity.

Bean addressThis illuminated address is in the collections of the Society of Australian Genealogists. It was presented to Dr J. W. B. Bean Esq. M. D. of South Kensington by members of the Medical Magazine Club in Waverley New South Wales on 14 May 1914.

In later posts I will be exploring the details of this object and the life of Dr Bean, to demonstrate how objects can contribute to family history.

Vaucluse House

Few of us will have ancestors who lived as grandly as the occupants of Vaucluse House, but visiting it always sends my mind back in time to imagine what life was like back then.GenerationsGenealogy_SydneyVaucluseHouse1

The imagination is stirred by the heat of the kitchen fire and the smell of basil leaves burning; by the damp and cold as you enter the larder; by the games on the table waiting for their players; and the clothes lying on the bed ready for the children after their baths.

GenerationsGenealogyStove Vaucluse House

Vaucluse House is situated on Wentworth Road, Vaucluse, New South Wales, Australia. A small cottage was built in 1803 by Irish convict Sir Henry Browne Hayes. The cottage was extended by William Charles Wentworth after he acquired the property in 1827. If you know your Australian history you will probably recognise the name. The house is managed by Sydney Living Museums, which is part of the NSW government.

When I used to visit museums as a child, there were signs everywhere telling you the history of the place and describing the lives of the people. They told us why the places were important, what the object were and when they were made. There is almost a complete absence of signage at Vaucluse House now. The curators prefer to let the visitors interpret things for themselves. I found that confronting at first – I like to read information about the places I visit. However, it does make it easier to let your imagination flow. If you want the information, the guides are happy to talk to you or you can buy books in the gift shop or browse the stories online.

If you are in Sydney, I recommend a visit.

Are you just starting your family tree?

There are a lot of websites with guides on how to start your family tree, but let’s be honest. Most people do not start researching by reading guides – we choose a name of a relative and we Google it. Or we type our surname into the search box of a genealogy website. If we are lucky, we may get a piece of information that is clearly our family but usually we get a massive amount of information that makes little sense and we do not know what to do with it. The internet has made outstanding contributions to genealogical research but it has also had the downside of increasing our expectations of instant results and increasing the usage of inaccurate information.

So, if you are just starting out, can I suggest a little preparation before you jump on the internet? Grab an A4 piece of paper and use this image to draw a basic family tree.

family tree

Next, add in siblings – yours, your parents and your grandparents’ siblings. Then, between each couple, write the date of their marriage. Finally, add the location for each date (e.g. born 22/3/1985 Dubbo Australia).

family tree2

If you do not know any of these facts, add a ?  If there is any doubt about the information, add a ? next to it. For example, if you haven’t seen your birth certificate then there is doubt about your birthdate. Do not be surprised or worried if you have a ? next to every bit of information.

Before you start trying to trace your line back to the distant past, you must have a solid foundation. Your first goal is to fill in any gaps and collect evidence to remove any doubts about the information. Start by talking to members of your family. As you find evidence to support the information, you can remove the ? from the diagram.