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. Here’s how to do it:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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), and newer versions of the free Adobe Reader will let you add text to a PDF if the PDF creator enabled the Typewriter tool.
Q: Why is it necessary to cite my sources?
A good source citation will tell you the answers to these questions: