Source citations provide context for the information we gather. Was the death date from a tombstone, a newspaper obituary, a county history, a Bible record, or a death certificate? The best citations tell us that the tombstone was contemporary with the death, the Bible record was entered in the same hand and the same ink, the county history was written a hundred and fifty years later, and the death certificate was signed by an attending physician. The details provide background context that helps us evaluate the validity of the information and suggests other avenues for research. But this information only scratches the surface. A full evaluation of any record’s context requires that we explore the complete content of the document. We want to know the reason for the document’s existence; the social, legal, and geographical context behind its creation; and what ancillary documents were produced both before and after its creation.
Barbara Vines Little, CG, FNGS, FVGS, is a professional genealogist whose primary interests are Virginia research and brick wall problems. A former president of both the National Genealogical Society (NGS) and the Virginia Genealogical Society, she coordinated the Virginia track for Samford University’s Institute for Genealogy and Historical Research from 2007–2012. She has served as editor of the Magazine of Virginia Genealogy since 1996. Winner of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly Award for excellence in 2001, she has also written for the NGS Magazine, OnBoard: Newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly. She currently edits NGS’s Research in the States series and authored the West Virginia volume. She has published three volumes of Virginia court records and edited others for publication. She has lectured for the past twenty-five years on research methodology, Virginia and West Virginia resources, and writing and publishing.