5 Dos and 5 Don’ts of Writing Reason Statements

Reasons statements may seem burdensome and overwhelming at first. Having attempted to teach this to new users of FamilySearch, I know that it’s painstaking. However, it’s crucial to building one accurate family tree.

With that said, here are a few 5 Dos and 5 Don’ts for Writing a Reason Statement.

Do These Things When Writing Reason Statements

1. Give as much detail as you can, if this example is not achievable.

Example: “Peggy Lane told her son John Lane in perhaps 2001 that she had another husband. This record appears to be the marriage to the first husband given that Peggy’s parents are listed on this document at about the right place and time.”

2. Write in terms of what a record shows rather than what you believe.

Example: “The census record states that Jethro and Julian Peterhimer and their family, who lived in Howard County, Ohio in 1870, immigrated from Baden in 1860.

3. Mention what information is found on the record.

Example: “This marriage record provides the birth date, place, and marriage date for Thomas A Smith and Mary J Young.”

4. Indicate when you’ve discovered the first record for a previously unsourced name.

Example: “This birth record is the first record discovered supporting the relationship between Marybeth Martinshire to her daughter Annalise Martinshire Granger.”

5. Tie new records to previous records.

Example: “This 1880 US Census record lists the family of John and Ella Martinshire of Lycoming, Pennsylvania with three children. The birth dates, places, and children’s name support information previously discovered on the 1870 US Census record.”

Don’t Do These Things When Writing Reason Statements

1. Don’t write in incomplete sentences.

Complete the thought of a sentence such as “names father.”

Instead, write: “Birth record for Matilda Berkinshaw. The record provides birth date and place and the full name of her parents, Lewis Berkinshaw and Aloise Offinger.”

2. Don’t say, “My mother told me.”

Tell the name of who told you and when and demonstrated why they will know that information.

Instead, write: “Peggy (Mathias) Lane told her son John Gilbert Lane on 27 May 2001 during a telephone conversation that her first husband’s name was Michael Harrington.”

3. Don’t say, “The name is unusual.”

Truth be told, the name might not be unusual.

Instead, write: “Attaching death record for Street Planchard because of her unusual name on said record along with a birth date and location similar to information found on an earlier census record in the same place and the informant being her son Marshall Planchard.”

4. Don’t say, “Previous records were wrong.”

Explain what the incorrect information is and what the corrected information should be.

Instead, write: “Although previous research provided a death date of 21 May 1909, Thomas Myer’s death record from Houston County, Texas records the death as 12 May 1909. A transcription error seems to have occurred”

5. Don’t say, “Because I’m right” or “Because I Know.”

“Unless you were there when something happened (like, you giving birth to your child), you might not know and you might not be right.

Instead, write: “Although this Census says this daughter of Richard Stanley Quick is named Clara, no other record supports him having a child by this name. All previous and following census records state the girl of this age is named Ethalinda. All birth and death records indicate that Ethalinda was the name of Richard’s child born at this time. Thus, it’s believed Clara was a recorder error and is indeed Ethalinda.”

You Should Write Better Reason Statements on FamilySearch

Reason Statements don’t have to be scary or difficult. Follow these 10 principles and you will dramatically improve the FamilySearch experience and your genealogy research.

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

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