A Magic Number

Some say you have to have at least three sources before you know a fact or statement is true. Like many “rules” in genealogy research, the suggestion is well-intentioned.

The reality is more nuanced.

Sources can be wrong or they can be correct. It’s the perceived reliability of a source about a certain piece of information that is key. Three different sources can agree even if they are incorrect–particularly if they actually have the same informant, either directly or indirectly. If Grandpa was wrong about where he was born and told that to his children, any record on which they were informants would be incorrect. The key would be to try and get sources that had independent informants with first hand knowledge of the event. For Grandpa’s birth, that likely would be birth certificates, baptismal records, or other materials created closer to Grandpa’s birth.

It’s easy to say that there’s no magic number when it comes to sourcing genealogical information and to throw out the statement. But it is important to remember the usual intent behind the statement: getting information from individuals whose knowledge of the event is independent of each other.

And sometimes that is easier than others.