How to Analyze Genealogy Sources

How to Analyze Genealogy Sources

As a genealogist, you want to uncover as much information about your ancestors as possible. To do this, you need to analyze genealogy sources with a critical eye. Sources can include family records, government documents, cemetery records, newspapers, and more. In this article, we will discuss some strategies for analyzing genealogy sources to ensure the accuracy and completeness of your family tree.

Start with Primary Sources

Primary sources are the original records of an event or person. These sources are created at the time the event took place or by someone who witnessed the event. Examples of primary sources in genealogy include birth certificates, marriage licenses, and census records. When analyzing these sources, it's important to verify their accuracy. Look for any discrepancies or errors in the records. For example, if a birth certificate lists a birthplace that doesn't match other known information, you may need to do more research to verify the correct location.

Examine Secondary Sources Carefully

Secondary sources are records or documents that were created after the event or by someone who didn't witness the event. Examples of secondary sources can include family histories, newspaper articles, and obituaries. When using secondary sources, it's important to evaluate their reliability. Look for any inconsistencies or biases in the information presented. Secondary sources can be a great starting point for research, but they should always be verified with primary sources.

Consider the Context

When analyzing genealogy sources, it's important to consider the context in which they were created. This can help you understand why certain information was recorded and what it might mean. For example, if a death certificate lists a cause of death as "consumption," you might not immediately know what that means. However, if you research the historical context, you'll discover that "consumption" was a common term for tuberculosis. Understanding the context can help you make sense of the information you uncover.

Look for Clues in Names

Names can provide valuable clues in genealogy research. For example, if you're researching a particular family and notice that all the children have the same middle name, it might indicate that the name was significant to the family. Similarly, if you find a family member with an unusual name, research that name to see if it had a special meaning. Names can provide insight into the cultural and historical context of a family.

Consider the Source's Creator

When analyzing genealogy sources, it's important to consider who created the record and why. For example, if you're using a family Bible as a source, consider who originally recorded the information and when. Similarly, if you're using a city directory, consider the purpose of the directory and who compiled it. Understanding the source's creator can help you evaluate its accuracy and reliability.

Evaluate the Source's Coverage

When analyzing genealogy sources, it's important to consider the source's coverage. This refers to what information the source includes and what it doesn't. For example, if you're using a census record, consider what questions were asked and what information was recorded. Similarly, if you're using a newspaper article, consider what event or topic the article covers. Understanding the source's coverage can help you determine if it's relevant to your research.

Fill in the Gaps

Inevitably, you will come across gaps in your research. When analyzing genealogy sources, look for clues to fill in these gaps. For example, if you can't find a birth certificate for an ancestor, look for other sources that might provide the information you're looking for. Maybe a census record lists the approximate age of your ancestor. By piecing together information from multiple sources, you can fill in gaps and create a more complete picture of your family tree.


Analyzing genealogy sources can be a challenging but rewarding process. By using the strategies outlined in this article, you can ensure the accuracy and completeness of your family tree. Remember to start with primary sources, examine secondary sources carefully, consider the context, look for clues in names, evaluate the source's creator and coverage, and fill in the gaps. With persistence and a critical eye, you will be able to uncover fascinating information about your ancestors and their lives.