Learn Genealogy – Fact or Fiction… Facts vs. Evidence vs. Sources

Let’s face facts! It’s Fact from Fiction.  Okay the puns are endless here.

Let’s get it straight… the terminology that is Fact from Fiction.

As genealogists we’re part reporter, part historian, and part detective.  So it’s logical that we use the same terms used in law enforcement, journalism and historical authors.


The Fact is information found within Evidence.  Like a birth date on a birth certificate.

The Evidence is the item found, such as the birth certificate itself.

The Source is where you found the Evidence.  For example, the birth certificate may have come from the county courthouse.  So you would want to detail where you found the Evidence to the point that another person could find it based on your Source Citation.

So without Evidence, do you have a Fact or is it Fiction?

Fact from Fiction

Be careful about what you call a “Fact.”  “Facts” need to be proven to truly call them factual.   Family lore is likely not fact, until proven. However, a person’s testimony is Evidence, but not always factual. Thus, if grandpa said something, you’ll need to support that with the Facts found in other Evidence.

So what do you do with the data you’ve found, that is not yet proven?  You can use language of probabilities in your reporting.  For example, “Jane Doe was likely born in West Virginia, possibly before 1800, as she was not listed with her parents in the xyz county of West Virginia in the 1800 census.”  Thus, you’re not stating her birth place or potential birth date as fact, but you are asserting your assessment of the Evidence you’ve found in the 1800 Census. Of course, you’re going to cite your Source (where you found that 1800 census).  From your assessment will lead to a good research question for your next task.  More on research questions in a later post.

Got it?

Facts are typically found in Evidence.  The Evidence is the item stating the Facts…  and the Source is where you found the Evidence.  You’ll want to ask yourself, is it Fact or Fiction?

To learn to write good source citations, you’ll need Elizabeth Shown Mills book Evidence Explained.

Full disclosure, this is an affiliate marketing link for which I could get a tiny commission.  However, I will never-ever recommend a book that I don’t believe in wholeheartedly. This link will not cost you any extra, but does help to support this website and the YouTube channels.  Thanks for your support.

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