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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

Avoid Plagiarism While Crafting Engaging Family Histories


Plagiarism, even in published genealogies, is unequivocally wrong. If accused of plagiarizing the family histories you write, paralyzes you, and prevents you from telling your ancestor's stories, then help is available.


In this article, explore the simple ways to avoid plagiarism and ensure your family history writing is captivating and original.

What is Plagiarism?


Before we delve into the strategies to avoid plagiarism, it is crucial to grasp its meaning.


According to the Copyright Alliance, "plagiarism occurs when one party attempts to pass off another person's work or ideas as their own without appropriately acknowledging the original source."


Although not illegal, plagiarism is an ethical construct that academic institutions enforce. While plagiarism holds grave consequences for students, academics, journalists, and mainstream authors, we must prioritize ethical writing in our genealogical endeavors.

As family historians, we are already mindful of citing our sources, aiming to validate our research rather than propagate false histories.

To see examples of how easy it is to avoid plagiarism while writing family histories, watch this video:


Leveraging Facts: Your Shield Against Plagiarism

Here's an intriguing fact: there are certain elements every writer can share without incurring accusations of plagiarism.

Facts, by their very nature, belong to everyone.


As genealogists, we employ facts relevant to our ancestors to substantiate our research. These facts, such as temperature, rainfall, snowfall, wind speed, casualty numbers, or historical prices, cannot be plagiarized.


Utilizing these factual data points to add context to our stories ensures originality while avoiding ethical dilemmas.

Navigating Historical Context: What to Use and How to Avoid Plagiarism

When incorporating historical context into our narratives, the key lies in understanding what we can use while sidestepping the trap of stealing someone else's words. Let's explore some examples of proper usage:

  1. Factual Information: Details like prices of homes at a specific time, marriage dates, or death dates fall into the realm of indisputable facts that cannot be plagiarized. Extracting such information from social history sources and seamlessly integrating them into your story is acceptable and encouraged. However, remember to cite your sources diligently to maintain good genealogical practice.

  2. Direct Quotation: When you stumble upon a paragraph beautifully capturing the language and essence of your ancestors' time and community, it's best to employ direct quotes. Be sure to indicate the source, citing it as an option one. Quoting sources like newspaper articles, pamphlets, or County histories helps infuse authenticity into your storytelling.

  3. Indirect Quotation: If you wish to avoid direct quotes while maintaining a smooth narrative flow, opt for indirect quotes or inference.

  4. Narrative Weaving: Rearranging facts from various sources and merging them with your storytelling allows a plagiarism-free approach. For instance, creatively combining details from different sources can enhance your tale without infringing on someone else's work.


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Strategies to Avoid Plagiarism: Best Practices for Family Historians

Beyond incorporating facts and historical context, here are a few additional steps you can take to ensure your family stories remain original and free from plagiarism:

  1. Source Citation: Create a citation for any external material you wish to incorporate into your story. This helps maintain transparency and acknowledges the origins of your information.

  2. Quoting and Footnotes: Introduce and end a direct quote with quotation marks. Then add an appropriate citation and insert a footnote to credit the original source. This practice preserves authenticity and safeguards against any potential plagiarism concerns.

  3. Paraphrasing and Indirect Quotes: Restating details in your own words, along with proper sourcing and attribution, qualifies as an indirect quote or inference. This approach ensures originality while upholding ethical writing standards.

  4. Narrative Integration: To create a cohesive narrative, consider weaving historical details into your story as it progresses. Extract insights from sources that describe the time, place, fashion, food, or customs, and seamlessly integrate them into your own words, attributing the inspiration to those sources.

Protect Your Genealogical Reputation While Writing

Writing a family history is an enriching endeavor. Still, it requires diligence and integrity to ensure a compelling and ethically sound outcome. By avoiding plagiarism and implementing proper sourcing techniques, you protect your reputation as a respected genealogist.


Remember, leveraging facts, quoting responsibly, and integrating historical context can transform your family stories into captivating narratives. So take time to write, cite, and create a lasting legacy for your ancestors while upholding the highest standards of genealogical practice.


More Family History Writing Inspiration

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