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3 Steps to Genealogy Source Citations for Beginners

By Diane Haddad Premium

Q. I know how to fill out a family tree chart, but how do you cite your sources?

A. Source citation is just recording where you found each piece of information so you—or anyone else—can go back to the original. In this post, we’ll show you how to do it in three steps.

Before we get started, here’s one quick tip from Shannon Combs-Bennett, and it’s one we can’t stress enough!

How to Create a Genealogy Source Citation

1. Gather source information.

Different kinds of sources require different types of information. Refer to the genealogy source citation Bible, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Genealogical Publishing Co.), and download our free source citation cheat sheet to help you collect all the information you’ll need.

Read: 5 Essential Elements of a Genealogy Source Citation

For books, for example, record the title, author, publisher and location, year of publication, where you found the book, library call number (if applicable), and the pertinent page numbers.

To find the source information, check the title page of a book, first page of a roll of microfilm, the library catalog entry for a book or microfilm, and/or the search page of the online database you used.

For census records, you want the name of the census, dwelling and family numbers, household name, city or township, county, state, microfilm number and holding repository (if found on microfilm), website URL and date accessed (if found online), and author of the original source (so, the National Archives for census microfilm or online census records digitized from microfilm).It’s also important to note whether you’ve found an image of the original record, or an index entry or an abstract transcribed from the original record.

2. Standardize it.

Once you’ve collected source information, you can put it into a standard format—a formal source citation—to make it easier for any genealogist to understand. Here’s an example of a source citation for a book:

Carmack, Sharon DeBartolo and Erin Nevius, eds., The Family Tree Resource Book for Genealogists (Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2004), 219-220.

This citation for a census record shows another comprehensive template:

1870 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule), Cincinnati 9th Ward, Hamilton County, Ohio, Dwelling 112, Family 565, George Depenbrock household, jpeg image, (Online: Ancestry.com, 2009) [Digital scan of original records in the National Archives, Washington, DC, microfilm publication M593], subscription database, <http://www.ancestry.com>, accessed 24 March 2012

EasyBib is a Web tool that automatically formats citations based on what you type in about the source.

3. Organize it.

Keeping track of your source information and citations is the other half of the battle. Most genealogy software and family tree sites let you type in source details and attach digitized records to facts and events in your tree. Your software might even use those details to generate a formal source citation.

If you keep records in digital form, you can include a source number in each file name and keep a spreadsheet of the corresponding source citations. You can use some photo-editing programs to add a source citation to a record image (see a demo here from the Legal Genealogist), and newer versions of the free Adobe Reader will let you add text to a PDF if the PDF creator enabled the Typewriter tool.

If you’re using paper, number all your photocopied records and add those numbers next to names on your family group sheets. Some genealogists include a full citation on the front side of every photocopied record so the citation doesn’t get separated from the data.

Article updated in October 2019 from an earlier Q&A from 2014.

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