The great importance of “little” source citations

By Gregory Kontos

A source citation is a little note of a relatively standard format which indicates where a piece of information was found: the archive, the collection, the folder, the subfolder. Such notes are internationally considered a primary standard in research and are the first thing you should learn to do as an amateur or a professional genealogy researcher. As more and more Greek records are revealed from different sources and become available in various ways, this topic is most relevant than ever. Source citations are so important – but why? This article will explain why it is in your best interest to always have and keep your sources’ citations.

Is the information valid?

Nowadays, more and more Greek genealogy platforms and forums pop-up on the Internet. People are always so willing to help and offer their knowledge, while researchers display their work and send records online. All this is so amazing! You will receive messages like: “your family is from Sparta”, “your great-grandfather appears in this record!”, “your surname was not Kostakos, but Kostakis” and then someone might say “my Kostakis family came from Crete!”. But, how can you know which parts of all this information are accurate? There is a question of validity for any information you do not find on your own, see with your own eyes or hear with your own ears… So, ask how they know! Is it oral history? Have they found a relevant record? If such a record exists, you definitely want to know where it came from!

Concrete background for continued research…

Time passes. At some point you might not have the energy to continue your family history research any further. Then, you might consider passing all this information to the next generation, your children or grandchildren, your nieces or nephews. You will give them a ton of information you have been collecting for years. If they want to continue your research, don’t they need a solid basis to build on? They will start looking for more Greek records and contacting distant relatives. But if your sources have not been cited, they won’t know where you have already searched through. They may end up duplicating your research or neglecting info you have already found, because they are unable to confirm it. A systematic source citation from your part will prevent all this from happening.

How to cite?

The source citation of any record needs to start with the archival repository where the record is kept, followed by the specific collection, folder and subfolder: e.g. “GAK, Central Service, Ladas Collection, Election Material, Folder 22.1”. Include as much of this info as possible. You may also want to include a link to the record, if found online, or cite the record’s provider, as well. If you found a record through Greek Ancestry, you can cite it by its Record ID: e.g. “Greek Ancestry, VL11821”. Remember the record provider is not necessarily the source itself.

Note: All records provided by Greek Ancestry are accompanied by a full source citation.

The history of the record is part of your family history!

Recently Greek Ancestry hosted a series of Greek genealogy webinars, in the context of its educational initiative. The purpose of those webinars was not just to inform people of the different kinds of Greek genealogy records out there. Most importantly, it was about helping people understand what each type of record really is: what is the story behind it? When, where, why was it created and by whom? Who has preserved it and under what conditions? The importance of all this information is paramount. By knowing the story behind voter lists, for instance, you will understand why voter lists exist for some areas and not for others. Why they were created in that year, and not in a different one. Why they include this information and not some other. How the historical context within which they were created shaped them, and what can that mean for your family history? If you know how they were preserved, it makes sense why many have been lost. Accordingly, knowing about the record you can also evaluate its accuracy. A full source citation will help you discover all this! Instead, if you’re just given the information or the record without a full citation, then, everything in this record is put our of context, which leads us back to the validity and accuracy question.

Your “little great contribution” to sources preservation

Everyone in the field of Greek family history research is aware of the difficulty to find and access Greek records. Many of us have seen records deteriorating in humid basements, stored in warehouses, thrown away into trash bins. We know of archival repositories unable to preserve their collections, unable to digitize them, unable to make them widely accessible. What do source citations have to do with that? On the one hand, source citations spread the word! Every time you find or receive a record accompanied by full source citation, you get to know about archival organizations and collections you had not heard of in the past. You may want to contact those organizations for further research, offer to volunteer, donate material from your own family collection or provide them with supplies necessary for any archival work. On the other hand, and perhaps most importantly, every time you cite your sources, you create points of future reference. It is possible that the records available to us today may not be available in 50, 100 or 150 years. Records may get lost, repositories may close, collections may end up in inaccessible private collections. Whoever continues your research in the future will know that all the sources you used did exist in the past. They will know where they were kept and by whom, how they were organized and what sorts of records they consisted of. This knowledge is a great advantage for any researcher and historian and is your “little great contribution” to the field of Greek family history and our Greek heritage.

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