8 Simple Tips for Genealogy Source Citations

8 Simple Tips for Genealogy Source Citations

Citing sources of genealogy information can be a confusing process: How do you know what information to cite, what details to include in the citation, and where to keep all your citations so they'll stay paired with the fact you're citing and the record where you found that fact? So...

Citing sources of genealogy information can be a confusing process: How do you know what information to cite, what details to include in the citation, and where to keep all your citations so they’ll stay paired with the fact you’re citing and the record where you found that fact?

So during Family Tree University’s Virtual Conference a couple of weekends ago, I was looking forward to the Source Citations Made Easy live chat. It did not disappoint. Moderator Shannon Combs-Bennett and our participants shared source citation tips I found especially helpful—so I wanted to pass them on to with you.

  • Cite any piece of information or fact you use in your research, whether it’s in the form of a family tree, story, book, etc. Each name, date, place and relationship should be labeled with where you learned that information.
  • Several participants fessed up to gathering source details about a newly discovered record, then crafting a citation later, when time allows. Here’s one way to speed up the citation-writing process: Make a list of sources you use most frequently, such as a particular microfilm or online record collection. Take a piece of information (such as an ancestor’s birthdate) you found in each source and write a citation for it. Copy these citations into a document to use as templates for your future research. Our Genealogy Source Citation Cheat Sheet has a bunch of ready-made templates you can use.
  • You can link your citation to the accompanying record in several ways. Many of our chat participants use more than one of these methods:
    • the source citation system of your genealogy software and/or online family tree (look for the May/June 2015 Family Tree Magazine, which will include a helpful article with steps for citing sources in genealogy software)
    • a sources or research log spreadsheet (you can include a column for a link to the document image file on your computer)
    • in your online tree, in the image notes when you attach a document image to a person
    • in Evernote (upload the image file as a note, and add the citation in the note text)
    • on the document itself. If it’s a digital image, you could use photo-editing software, the “Add a text box” feature in Adobe Reader (for a PDF), or an app for adding text to photos (here’s a list of apps for adding text to photos, though haven’t tried them)
  • You can note the reliability and provenance of a source when you create a citation in your genealogy software, and/or set up a column for this in your source citations spreadsheet. In a family history narrative, when you cite information, the citation can include a description of the source and its provenance.
  • It’s fine to start with the citations automatically provided on many genealogical websites, but check that they contain all the necessary information about the source. If one website obtained its index or digitized record images created by another website, your citation will reflect that.
  • In addition to Evidence Explained, gather these resources for using and citing genealogy sources:
    • Genealogy Standards, 50th Anniversary Edition, by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (Turner Publishing)
    • Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W Jones (National Genealogical Society)
    • “General Information Leaflet 17: Citing Records in the National Archives of the United States” by the National Archives and Records Administration (download from here)
  • If you haven’t been great about citing sources, start now. Make a goal to review your earlier research a little at a time, creating citations as you go. The more you work with genealogy source citations, the more natural it becomes.

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