Realtors have an axiom location, location, and location. The genealogical
corollary to that is documentation, documentation, and documentation.
Family group sheets, GEDCOM files and any other form used to share genealogical
information should be as fully documented as formal manuscripts. Even
those who have no intention of submitting their work to a journal or of
publishing a book will swap information with "genealogy cousins." Thus,
it is essential that the software you use to record your work handles source
Experienced genealogists agree that accurately recording the full citation
data from a source the first time is essential. You may vividly remember
those first few finds; but, as more and more information is gathered,
details blur, contradictory data is found and memory is not sufficient.
Nor is it sufficient to declare, "I wouldn't have written it down if it
weren't true." Whether the source is a probate court record, a yellowed
newspaper clipping, grandfather's diary, or a conversation with your father,
cite your sources. Whether you take notes on a computer, hand-write them,
make copies on a copier or dictate them into a tape recorder, practicality,
credibility, and ethics require careful source citations. Most of us must
also admit that we've occasionally neglected to do that and had to backtrack
time and effort we'd rather have spent seeking new information.
Make every effort to note all of the elements of a source while it is
still in your hands.
Sources Versus Citations
Before we get into the details of how to cite sources, let's take a brief
look at genealogy. The genealogical research process involves finding our
ancestors by collecting sources that, when combined with our own knowledge,
skills, and intuition, result in evidence from which we draw conclusions.
The most important cited conclusions are parent-to-child links. To be of
value to others, and later on, to ourselves, the process must be thorough,
disciplined, recorded, and reported.
A source is the record, however obscure or informal, from which
we get our information. A citation is the link that connects a
source to our conclusion. Genealogy is not a creative art, where we let
our imaginations run wild. We can do that when we're trying to understand
why an ancestor did something, but not when we're recording what was done.
Citations may be embedded in parentheses within the text, shown as footnotes
(at the bottom of each page) or as endnotes (same as footnotes but at
the end of a chapter or at the end of the work), I like to use embedded
footnotes in my research notebook, or in brief reports that I send to
fellow researchers. Otherwise, I prefer my citations to be shown as endnotes.
Sources can also be listed in a Bibliography (or reference) section in
bibliographic style. Entries in the Bibliography do not contain locators
(page numbers) and are not linked to specific information and thus are
not substitutes for citations.
Citations are links between a recorded event and one of the sources used
as evidence to support our recorded conclusions about that event. To be
effective, citations must be complete and consistent. While you don't
have to use one of the accepted forms for citations, a decision to use
your "own" style is likely to communicate a lack of discipline or lack
of understanding, either of which may cause readers to discount the validity
of your work. Some of the more respected style guides are listed in the
resources section at the end of this article. The citation forms used
in this article are taken mostly from The Chicago Manual of Style
(for traditional sources) and the Modern Language Associates (MLA) style
guides found online.
How Are Sources Cited?
The Basic Format
Here is the basic format for traditional citations. It has four descriptors
in the following order:
Author, Title, Publisher, Locator.Or in greater detail: Author(s), Article Title, Publication title,
(Publisher place, Publisher name, Year published), Page number(s).
Let's take this part by part:
- Author: List up to three authors in the order their names appear
on the title page of the work. For works with more than three authors,
list only the first author and add "et al" [without the quotation marks].
In a work comprised of a collection of chapters by separate authors,
such as The Source, use the form for periodicals.
- Title: For a periodical or collection of works, first list
the article's title then the publication's title. Article titles are
shown in quotations and publication titles in italics.
- Publisher: List the city, state, and country (the state is
optional if the city is obvious and country is optional if your work
is to be shared within one country), followed by the publisher's business
name. These are almost always shown on the title page or the reverse
of the title page of a book. If the publisher is not shown, list the
place information (if known) and say "published by author" (as is often
the case with family histories). For works published by the author,
include the postal address if it is listed in the work.
- Locator: This is usually page number(s), but in legal and reference
works, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, it may be paragraph
- Annotations: These are optional comments by you about the source.
Place them in square brackets (the nearly universal symbol for author
comments). They may address the credibility and reliability of the source,
your rationale for the conclusion(s) made from the source(s) or some
other comment of value to the reader or later to yourself. I annotate
almost all citations. I do this with software that allows me to selectively
exclude the annotations in any report. While I could use research notes
for these annotations, I find it more productive and easier to simply
use the citation feature of my software.
- Missing data: Indicate missing data using the following abbreviations:
for no date, use "n.d."; for no publisher, use "n.p."; for no author
use "__________" [10 underlines].
Some of the formats and styles that have become traditional were based
on efforts to save time and effort in retyping drafts and in telling the
Linotype operator what fonts and formats to use. The personal computer
has changed this. For example, we need not use abbreviations as much (or
at all) because the better genealogical software applications allow us
to type information on a source only once and then use it as many times
as we need it. Avoiding abbreviations not only makes our work much more
readable, it reduces the opportunities for misunderstanding and miscommunication.
First, list the author; second, list the title; then, the publisher and
publication date. Last, list page numbers, and if you choose to make an
author annotation, place this in brackets. List multiple authors in the
same order as shown on the title page unless there are more than three
authors, in which case, show only the first author and add "et al" [without
the quotation marks].
Single Author Book
Helen Kelly Brink, Some of the Descendants of Asa Phillips (1793-1844);
Who were Born in Vermont and Who Settled in Steuben County, New York
in 1802, (Marco Island, Florida, By the Author, 1992) p.34.
Single Author Article
Fannie Clifton, "Some Brixey and Clifton History." The Brixey
Bulletin (Garland, Texas, Brixey-Wylie Press), 2:4 (Fall 1992),
Charles G. Ferris obituary, Van Wert, Ohio, Van Wert Weekly Bulletin,
21 September 1888, p. 4, col. 3.
Citing unpublished sources is equally important; and because follow researchers
cannot pull a book from the shelf to verify your data, it is even more
critical that your citation be specific. Each citation should identify
the informant, the place, the date, and the information given, plus
to whom it was given and where that information is stored. Comments describing
the informant's reliability may be added. The elderly gentleman in the
example below was described as "still alert and active," because some
his age are not. Note that, since the cited letter belongs to someone
else, permission to use it was requested, granted, and stated.
Herbert E. Wylie, Letter to James Wylie, 15 May 1958. [The
original handwritten letter is in the possession of James Wylie, Laingsburg,
Michigan. Letter used with permission. Herbert was living in the Methodist
Retirement Home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when the letter was written.
He was 84 years old, alert and physically active.]
Laurence V. Wylie, William C. Wylie and Gladys (Pomeroy) Wylie.
Oral interview, 1 January 1982, by John V. Wylie at Laurence's home in
Destin, Florida. Tape recording and partial transcription in the possession
of John Wylie, Garland, Texas.
Photograph of Wylie Reunion, 1958, Lumberjack State Park, Michigan.
Taken by Laurence V. Wylie, July 1958. Copy in possession of John Wylie,
"Hon. Henry C. Wylie, Citizen Extraordinare," undated clipping
from an unidentified newspaper, in family papers of William Calvin Wylie
of Holton, Michigan; inherited 1988 by his son James Calvin Wylie of Laingsburg,
Michigan; in possession of James Wylie. [References to Henry C. Wylie
indicate this article was probably written in the 1920s, as he was not
appointed to the Bench until 1921 and resigned in 1933.]
Death Certificate for Jacob F. Rost, 24 September 1924, File
No. 28093, Missouri State Board of Health. Certified copy in possession
Certificate of Marriage, Edward H. Wigal to Velma G. King, 12 June
1912, Wood County, West Virginia. County Recorder's Office, Parkersburg,
West Virginia. Copy in possession of Kelly Collier, Arlington, Texas.
1850 United State Census (Free Schedule), Pitt Township, Wyandot
County, Ohio; p. 233, family 86, dwelling 79, lines 967-977; June 1, 1850;
National Archives Microfilm M-19, Roll 719. [This was a particularly readable
Deed of Sale from William Brixey and wife to Thomas Brixey,
9 January 1869 (filed 14 June 1869), Webster County, Missouri, Deed Book
D, page 703. County Recorder's Office, Marshfield, Missouri.
Citing online or other technology sources is a special case, although
the basics still apply. Remember that the implied factors for traditional
source citations do not apply and we must be literal to help others find
Digital sources differ from hard copy sources only in that citations
to them must include instructions for others to find the cited file. For
Ancestral File Extract
Moses Wylie-Mary Clark family group sheet (undocumented); ancestral
file number B8RM-MT and B8RM-RT, Ancestral File, version 4.13 (1994),
Family History Library, Salt Lake City. [All information on Moses WYLIE
in this file was consistent with that proven by other sources.]
Scanned Image File
Birth Certificate of John Smith, Greyson County, Alabama Birth
Book 19, Certificate #12345. Image file "smith123.tif" scanned at Greyson,
Alabama, 7 September 1994 by William Lincoln [<firstname.lastname@example.org> and
5678 High Street, Lincoln, Nebraska 67890.] [Image has been digitally
retouched by William Tell of Tacoma, Washington <email@example.com>
in July 1995 to remove artifacts. Data not known to have been changed.
File provided to author by Mr. Tell in July 1995.]
William Shakespeare, [<firstname.lastname@example.org> or c/o
Globe Theater, London, England], "Birth of John Smith," Message to author,
12 September 1993 [This message cites Shakespeare's personal files and
states that he has in his possession a photocopy of the birth certificate
of John Smith.]
Bill Clinton [<email@example.com> or 1600 Pennsylvania
Avenue, Washington, DC 20022]. "Smith, John. 1929-VA, CA, NY." on <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
18 October 1995. [Copy available at <www.smartlink.net/~xx/roots-l.html>.]
Web Site File
Ted Kennedy [<email@example.com> or 2345 Any Street,
Anytown, Maryland, 12345]. "My Smith Genealogy." <www.cityview.com/mygeno/jones.htm>
August 1996. [This file contains numerous hyper-links, with three in the
Smith section. On 21 December 1996, these three were checked and found
to be active but with no additional Smith data.]
Extract from CD-ROM File
William Wylie <firstname.lastname@example.org> and 235 Evergreen
Lane, Anytown, Maryland, 12345]. "My New York Smiths" in soc.genealogy.methods,
12 July 1995.
Genealogy.com CD-ROM #319, Ed. 1, Census Index: U.S. Selected
State/Counties, 1870, Date of Import: 11 January 1996. Individual: Longcor,
Lucinda. County/State: Wabasha County, Minnesota: Lake City. Page #: 030.
Whenever material in a citation is not obvious, an explanation in the
annotation is appropriate. In some cases I have provided both an email
address and an URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Also a postal address is
included when available, as email addresses tend to change more often.
As one of the most knowledgeable genealogists
in America, Helen Leary, says, sharing your genealogy without citing sources
is like sending it into the world naked. Unless you tell others where
you obtained your material, your work is only opinion and weak opinion
at that. The hundreds or thousands of hours you spent putting your family
history together won't be respected unless you show your sources. No genealogical
work should rest solely on the reputation of the author.
Sources establish credibility. That is, if we fail to cite sources, our
friends and relatives may be charitably interested, but others will consider
our work a waste of time or, at best, a clue. Citing sources is no longer
important, it is essential.
One Last Point Use YOUR Sources
A citation must cite the source you used, not the one that someone told
you existed in their citation. Another person's research, even cited,
is hearsay you until you see the source for yourself. For example, if
a cousin tells you that she extracted your grandfather's birth information
from his birth certificate, then your cousin is your source for the information,
unless she provided you a photocopy, a scanned copy, or you actually saw
her copy of the certificate. This is perhaps one of the most difficult
concepts of genealogical research for many to accept.
Family history research is maturing as a discipline. We must learn to
be more thorough in our publishing and sharing. Documentation is as essential
to genealogy as it is to any other publishing endeavor. It is never to
late to start citing sources. It's not difficult, do it now!
__________, The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition, The University
of Chicago, 1993. [This is "The" authoritative source, known as "CMS",
for guidance on citing sources, including many recently developed sources.
While this edition doesn't go as far in dealing with new technologies
as one would hope, it is as current as one can get without using technical
writing guides. When you cite CMS, you know you're safe. See Chapter 15
for detailed discussions of endnotes and footnotes.]
Hatcher, Patricia Law, Producing a Quality Family History, Ancestry,
Inc., Salt Lake City, 1996. [This work is well on its way to becoming
a classic and is an essential reference for those writing a family history,
whether a brief article or a full-blown book.]
Lackey, Richard S., Cite Your Sources A Manual for Documenting
Family Histories and Genealogical Records, University of Mississippi,
Jackson, Mississippi, 1980. [This is the basic and most accepted guide
for documenting sources in genealogy. It is very useful, though technological
advances since 1980 are not addressed. While the form of citation is correct,
it was written before word processors were used and the font styles are
no longer in use.]
Mills, Elizabeth Shown, Evidence, Citation, and Analysis for the Family
Historian, Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, Maryland, n.d.
[This soon-to-be-published work by the editor of The National Genealogical
Society's Quarterly is expected to become the "new Lackey" for genealogists
Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Leubking, The Source:
A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Ancestry, Inc., Salt Lake City,
1997. [The first chapter of this updated classic should be required reading
for all genealogists, new and old. It details basic principals of genealogical
research including a well stated argument for thorough source citation.]
Stevenson, Noel C., Genealogical Evidence, Revised Edition, Agean
Park Press, Laguna Hills, CA 1989. [This excellent discussion by an acclaimed
attorney and Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists forms the
basis for evaluating genealogical evidence. Stevenson outlines healthy
skepticism and points out many of the pitfalls to avoid when evaluating
Turabian, Kate L., A Manual for Writers, 5th Ed., The University
of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1987. [Turabian's guide has been a standard
in both undergraduate and graduate schools for more than 30 years. It
remains useful, but is getting less so as technology sources become more
commonplace. It is particularly helpful for sources not listed by Lackey
or the CMS.]