Writing Better Reason Statements on FamilySearch About What You Know
Updated 25 January 2021
FamilySearch family tree is a platform that constantly prompts users to explain why they are changing details on an Ancestor Profile Page. Whether you correct your ancestor's name, add a death date, or add a source, you'll see a box that says "Reason to. " What do you write in these boxes for family history information you know first hand?
What are Reason Statements on FamilySearch?
Whenever you see a box that looks like the image below, you should explain why you are changing the FamilySearch online family tree. Experienced genealogists know that leaving such notes helps themselves and others do better family history research.
What you write in these "Research This Information Is Correct" boxes while building your family tree are called reason statements.
Examples of Bad Reason Statements for FamilySearch
Since 2012, I have used the FamilySearch collaborative family tree to trace my family history. Not every genealogist will fill out the prompts while researching their ancestry. Thankfully others try to explain their decisions, but their notes do not qualify as soundly written conclusions.
Many of the insufficient reasonings pertain to the area of personal knowledge. I noticed an unhelpful pattern in such cases. Have you read a reason statement like the following?
“Because I know.”
“This is my grandmother.”
“My Aunt Ethel, the genealogist, said this is right.”
If you leave a brief “Because I know” sentence such as these, you may have valid genealogy evidence. Your information may trump a primary document or the lack thereof. However, these sentences do not convey the reliability of your knowledge. For serious genealogists, your knowledge will be discounted until you improve your reason statements.
Before we talk about writing better explanations, let's review some instances when personal knowledge or second-hand information is sufficient in genealogy research.
Examples of Evidence From Personal Knowledge
There are times when you are the source of information, sometimes information that can not be substantiated elsewhere. The following are a few examples of times when you know something happened.
When I was a child, my mother told me she had a stillborn child in 1934 whom she wanted to name Ella. Ella is the big sister I never had.
If you personally attended the funeral and burial services for Elmer Klopfenstein in June 1975. He was buried in Leo Memorial Park in Leo-Cedarville, Indiana.
I witnessed Rosemary Harvey take her last breath on 2 Aug 2010 in Cedar Rapids, Linn County, Iowa.
If you witnessed an event, instances #2 and #3, then you are a valid source for the facts.
For the first scenario, you may be the only source for second-hand information that a civil authority or family never recorded. Your knowledge may still be inaccurate. Perhaps the stillborn child was born in 1935 and not 1934. However, your testimony from your mother is worth recording.
All of this evidence is worth recording in the FamilySearch family tree, but a few more details are needed to write a good reason statement.
Some Facts Have No Genealogical Documentary Evidence
In some parts of the world, oral tradition is the only source of genealogical information. These cultures and countries do not have written documentation of their birth, marriages, and burials. Thus, "I was told by Tia Claudia" would be an acceptable reason statement, so long as the cultural explanation is included.
In some countries, documents were destroyed when political power changed hands and individuals and families went into exile. When people migrated from one place to another, they may have had to falsify records for protection or to receive admittance into a country.
If any of these situations and others pertain to your family, you will want to add those details to your reason statements.
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How to Write a Reason Statement for Personal Knowledge
Writing reason statements for birth indexes and marriage records are fairly straight forward. Sometimes, reason statements can get complex. But, an explanation of evidence from personal knowledge has unique challenges.
Rather than write, "Because I know," we need to leave a strong explanation so other researchers can evaluate the evidence we present. Remember to explain the I, the why, and why trust.
Identify the “I.”
Instead of saying, “I know” or “I was told,” put an actual name in the explanation.
“Devon Lee knows that Penny Geiszler was buried on December 14, 2012, in Houston, Harris County, Texas.”
“Margie Geiszler Wasson told Devon Lee that her husband Harry Dale Wasson was a member of the Sea Bees during World War II.”
These sentences identify who ‘knows’ the information.
It may feel awkward to write about yourself in the third person. Yes, my name is Devon Lee, and it felt weird to say, "Devon Lee knows..." But write in such a way that another researcher knows who the "I" in your evidence is.
Identify the “Why.”
After you state who is providing the information in your reason statement, explain why they know. Is it from witnessing the event or from an oral tradition?
This example explains why I know the burial date of my mother.
“Devon Lee was in attendance of the funeral and subsequent burial of her mother Penny Geiszler on December 14, 2012, in Houston, Harris County, Texas. The funeral was on Thursday evening, December 13, and the burial was the morning of the 14th in a private ceremony.”
This “I know” reason statement explains that I personally witnessed the funeral and my relationship with Penny.
Here's an example of how to explain why someone who shared information with me knows the evidence to be factual.
“Margie Geiszler Wasson told Devon Lee, via a tape recording in 2008, that her husband Harry Dale Wasson was a member of the Sea Bees during World War II. The voice recording was sent to Devon in response to questions about Margie’s life. Devon Lee later transcribed the recording.”
By being this thorough, a fellow researcher can know 'who to blame' if the information is incorrect.
Identify the “Why Trust.”
Finally, it's important to share why you believe the information and the person sharing it is valid. For instance,
The nation of Samoa relies on oral tradition for genealogy relationships. Talia learned the names of her grandfather from the village historian.
Aunt Shelley kept a family calendar with all the birth and marriage dates for her extended family.
Mention consulted documents that you viewed that support your first-hand knowledge.
“Devon Lee was in attendance of the funeral and subsequent burial of her mother Penny Geiszler on December 14, 2012, in Houston, Harris County, Texas. The funeral was on Thursday evening, December 13, and the burial was the morning of the 14th in a private ceremony. Devon arranged for the two services and has a program from the event.”
Why should you trust Devon’s witness?
She made the funeral arrangements and has a document (which she created) in her possession.
“Margie Geiszler Wasson told Devon Lee, via a tape recording in 2008, that her husband Harry Dale Wasson was a member of the Sea Bees during World War II. The voice recording was set to Devon in response to questions about Margie’s life. Devon Lee later transcribed the recording. Margie knew of Harry’s service as she exchanged letters with him throughout his service and married him upon his return from service.”
This second one takes the extra step to say why Devon Lee knows the information (it was in a voice recording from Margie) but why Margie knows the details. Margie was Harry’s spouse. She exchanged letters with him during the war.
Write More Than “I Know” for Your Reason Statement on FamilySearch
To sum up, “I know” statements aren’t always weak in terms of validity. Such explanations improve when they are explained. However, if you take the time to explain the source of the knowledge, then other researchers can judge the evidence more accurately.
Take time to:
Explain the “I.”
Explain the “Why.”
Explain the “Why Trust.”
You might think, “Do I really have to write all of that?”
The simple answer is, “Yes, please.”
For more on writing better FamilySearch Reason Statements, check out the following: