Researching

The three prerequisites for an article are significance, sourcing and originality.

1) Significance: It helps if the person, event or phenomenon was mentioned in contemporaneous media (such as local histories or newspapers), although that’s not a requirement. What is a requirement is that the article make clear why the topic is worth inclusion in SangamonLink. Please think about questions like these: Does your topic contribute to knowledge of a broader social or economic development? Does it illustrate the growth of a community, neighborhood, church, business, industry, etc.? Does it show what brought an ethnic group to the county or how it assimilated? Was there an association with a prominent figure?

That charming story from your family history may or may not make the cut; if you’re not sure, contact the project director.

2) Sourcing: Here is how Wikipedia describes “reliable sources.”

These sources should … exercise some form of editorial control. Print sources (and web-based versions of those sources) tend to be the most reliable, though many web-only sources are also reliable. Some examples include (but are not limited to): books published by major publishing houses, newspapers, magazines, peer-reviewed scholarly journals, websites of any of the above, and other websites that meet the same basic requirements as any print-based source. In general, sources with NO editorial control are not generally reliable. These include (but are also not limited to): books published by vanity presses, self-published zines, blogs, web forums, usenet discussions, BBSes, fan sites, and the like. Basically, if anyone at all can post information without anyone else checking that information, it is probably not reliable.

For SangamonLink, think of sourcing as a hierarchy.

Best: Articles in a contemporaneous newspaper or book or entries in an early county history or government records — court or tax records or minutes of public meetings.

Next best:  Letters, diaries, family accounts, etc., written at the time, especially if supported by other contemporaneous or official sources. Genealogical compilations citing such material are nearly as good. Also, non-contemporaneous sources — books, magazine or journal articles, newspaper stories, etc. — that follow Wikipedia’s guidelines above.

Possible, but it depends: Family histories, written or oral, that are indirectly backed up by contemporaneous or official documents — say, census records that show a person living where the family account suggests they lived — are helpful, but not definitive. Discuss these sources with the project director.

Probably not useable — Stories, written or oral, handed down with no other verification. 

Note: There are many ways to identify sources within an entry: links (highly recommended for online material; see Links elsewhere on this page), direct attribution within text (“As so and so says …”),  or “More information” paragraphs at the end of the article. You may want to read a few existing articles to get a sense of sourcing techniques. Avoid footnotes; this is a popular history, not a scholarly one.

3) Originality: Simply put, an article should be your work, not someone else’s. You certainly can quote portions of someone else’s work, and you can summarize someone else’s findings. However, the source(s) you use must be clearly identified, and the bulk of the article should be your original writing.

Note: You can use non-copyrighted material more extensively in some cases. For an example,  see the existing entry titled Bank run of 1932, which was taken from a longer interview of George “Gib” Bunn. The bank-run section of the interview was relatively brief and self-contained, which made it practical to create an entry from an edited transcript of Bunn’s account. By contrast, however, SangamonLink includes only a few paragraphs from John T. Stuart’s lengthy reminiscence of 1828 Springfield and instead links to the speech itself.

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