Reference Centre, Genealogy 101

Cite your Sources

Citation of sources sounds to the non-academic and non-legalistic of us researchers as a process and tradition shrouded in mystery to which only a select few are privy to understanding and completing correctly.  Hopefully, through this short article I can provide the means and understanding for the many genealogical researchers that are also required to 'cite your sources'.

A "citation" is defined as being a quotation or reference given as an authority for facts, opinions, et cetera.  Sources, of course, are those documents and writings that we have relied upon to provide us with knowledge about the history and lineage of our families.  Citation of sources, then, is simply the writing down of the books, agencies, and records that we visited to obtain that knowledge concerning our family, in a predefined manner.  And, there is a correct manner and form in which to record your citations.  

The citation form follows the form of a footnote - a footnote being a note at the bottom of a page explaining some writing on that page.  A footnote can also be appended at the end or back of an article, essay or writing.  In either case, the footnote is intended to convey to your reader an explanation, reference or comment about a particular assertion that you have made in your research and from whence - what authority - you were able to draw your conclusion.

Documenting your evidence and drawing that documentation into a cohesive source list are the most important housekeeping tasks that you will perform throughout your research. All other housekeeping tasks, such as filling in research logs and adding to or amending your charts, can, and properly should, be done at home. The recording of sources, however, can only be done well if the information required for a citation is gathered as soon as you have a document in your hands.

Formal source citations differ from the citations that are added to your proof log in that the proof log only records an abbreviated reference to the documents that you are relying upon to prove each link of your ancestry.  However, in order to find that link it may have been necessary for you to cull references and documents from four, five, or six different sources.  The documents that are drawn from those sources, together with your ancestral proof documents become the subject of your formal citation of sources.

The preparation of your full source citations can be divided into two steps:

1.  Formal documentation is achieved by organizing all of your documentation into one cohesive list.  This function is best done at home.

2.  Informal documentation that should be completed at the time that you first receive or encounter a document.  Once compiled into a formal listing of all of your sources the list becomes known as your "source citations".  But you must get down on paper during your research field trip the source from which a document pertaining to your family or evidence of your ancestry issued.

Informal citations can be accomplished by one of two fairly quick means:

1.  by photocopying the entire page on which your entry appears;  AND,

by photocopying the pages which contain publication information or, in the case of a census, the enumeration district information page.  Also write the archive call number on the top of the first of those pages.  OR,

2.  by writing all of the above information on the back of your photocopy.  If you do not make a copy of the information but have extracted or abstracted the pertinent points from the source work into a notebook write the citation points immediately beneath the extract or abstract.

Develop the habit, now, of either taking the extra copies showing your source information or immediately writing down the information either on the back of your copy or beneath the extract or abstract in your notebook.  Then, when the time arrives to compile your formal source citations or update an existing list, you will discover that you have all of the pertinent information readily available to you.

You can arrange your formal source citation list either by family chronologically or by document type.  Number each citation entry and use those numbers as footnote numbers throughout your biographical essays and on your charts.  Figure 1 is an example of formal source citations that were prepared for the research into the Nutt family, who are the subject of Genealogy 101 article Organizing your Records.

How to write a Source Citation

A complete source citation includes:

1.  The name of the author, editor or compiler with that person's Christian name written first;

Example 1:  In preparing a citation from this article, because I am the author I would be listed as

Susan D. Young,

note the 'comma' appearing after my name.

Example 2:  Were I an editor or compiler of a work I would be listed as

Susan D. Young, ed.,  OR

Susan D. Young, comp.,

In the case of a birth, marriage or death certificate, the name of the issuing authority is used as the author.  The issuing authority may also be a church or other incorporated or unincorporated body.  Some examples:

Registrar General for Ontario,

Office of National Statistics, England,

Church of England,

2.  Next follows the title of the publication.  The titles of all published books or articles and the names of all ships must be shown in italics or, alternatively, underlined.   Do not underline or italize the name of unpublished diaries, journals, indices or databases.

Example 3:  A published book would be shown as follows:

Faversham Oyster Fishery through eleven centuries,  OR

Faversham Oyster Fishery through eleven centuries

A census title would include the year of the census along with the name of the country, county, state or province, enumeration district, sub-district and town or parish:

1851 census England, Kent, Faversham District, Faversham sub-district, parish of Faversham

In the case of a civil registration certificate, inasmuch as such certificates are not published, the title would simply be written as:

Birth Certificate of Mary Brown

3.  The name of the publisher, publisher's address, the year of publication written inside round brackets as follows:

Example 4:

(Kent, England: Arden Enterprises, Ashton Lodge, Church Road, Lyminge, Folkestone, 2002), 

Notice that a 'comma' follows the closing bracket.  Notice also that I have included the full address of this publisher.  This was done as this particular publisher, although assigned with ISBN identifiers is a relatively small and unknown enterprise.  The full address has simply been included for the convenience of my reader.

4.  The volume number, if the reference was found in a work that is spread over several volumes, as well as the page and/or folio number.  If your reference is taken from a book include the page number on which you found the reference.  In the case of certificates, the reference number that was assigned to the certificate and the date of issue of the certificate should be set out in your citation.

Example 5:  A single page reference -

p. 24.

A multiple page reference -

pp. 27-29.

A reference to a specific volume with page references -

vol. IV, pp. 357-369.

In the case of a census reference -

RG 0198/305, E.D. 56, p. 2.

In this last installment we have, first, the Registrar General's piece number reference, followed by the number of the enumeration district and page number.  If line numbers were assigned to each of the census return, such as those on Canadian and U.S. census, you may wish to include the relevant line numbers.  Including the line numbers can be useful if there is more than one family on a page bearing the same surname.

In the case of a certificate:

Certificate No. ABCD3785 dated 31 March 1912.

The date included above would be the date that the certificate was issued and not the date of the event recorded by the certificate.

Notice that a 'period' follows at the end of the reference in each instance.  This is the point at which a typical footnote would end.  However, the full citation of a source requires that more reference information be given to your reader.  Continuing on with the citation you would now include the following information:

5.  The repository where the reference work was found, including the physical address:

Example 6

Family History Library, 35 North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A..  OR

Centennial Library, 51 Church Street, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.

If you visited an individual to see documents in that person's possession you really must be careful to preserve that person's privacy.   The following example would be an acceptable form of reference:

Example 7:

Documents in the possession of Mrs. B. Lewis,   Ontario, Canada.

6.  The repository's call number for the work, which might be the Dewey classification number used by most public libraries,  the archive classification number or a microform call number.

7.  Next, record the date and/or year that the actual reference was made.  This will be particularly used when referring to census returns or other periodically prepared documents such as annual tax lists.  Furthermore, establishing, in writing, the date on which a particular piece of historical information was recorded will help in determining the overall reliability of that particular information.  For a discussion on the topic of reliability of documents please see the article in Genealogy 101 titled Proof: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and Preponderance.

8.  Lastly, you would include any other pertinent information required to properly identify and allow another researcher to find the original source record.  Here you should include the ISB number of a book, or the ISS number of a magazine or newspaper.  You may also wish to include comments or an extract or abstract of the information.

You might wish to revisit Figure 1 at this point.  I have added Figure 2 which sets out a formula for preparing a full formal source citation.  Please feel free to print the formula out for your future reference and keep it with your family records.  Figure 3 demonstrates several different full source citations for records such as birth, death and marriage certificates;  newspaper obituaries;  Wills and census records.  I have also added a Source Citation template in PDF format, which you can keep to use to draft your citations more easily.  This template can also be found on our CD-Rom Family Chart Worksheets CD.

Shortcuts and Abbreviations

Right about now you may be wondering if it is really necessary to write out such detail for every single certificate, census, church entry and newspaper announcement that you have examined.  After all, you quite likely have several hundred references for church entries of christenings, marriages and burials, dozens of civil registration certificates of births, marriages and deaths and several newspaper references culled from one newspaper.  If you are one of those researchers who is keeping a manual system of citations, the prospect of having to sit down and spend hours writing out full details for each entry can be daunting.  Well, there is some good news!

First, you must decide how you wish to maintain your citations.  Will it be in the manner of a chronological listing of references for each family line, or, will it be in the manner of a chronological listing by type of reference work?  Once this decision is made you can now make use of three types of shortcuts in recording the reference information.

The use of "ibid."

"Ibid." is a reference that you have probably encountered at some point in your academic past.  It is the shortform of the Latin word ibidem meaning "in that same place".  "Ibid." is used when noting an additional reference from the same work that is referred to in the citation or footnote immediately preceding it.  Because you are citing from the same work it is not necessary to rewrite the author's or publisher's name or details.  All that is required is the word "Ibid." in italics or underlined as it is a foreign language word and the page references, thusly:

ibid., pp. 31-37 OR

ibid., pp.31-37

The rule for the use of "ibid." is simply that it can only be used when an identical source is being cited immediately preceeding it.  Note the following usage:

Church of England, Canterbury Cathedral Library, Canterbury, Kent, England; Bishop's Transcripts, Faversham parish church; ( Utah, U.S.A.:  Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A. and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, n.d.);   Family History Library, 35 North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A. microfilm #1736720;  21 October 1770;  marriage of Thomas Nutt to Mary Herman.
ibid., 4 October 1772;  Christening of Thomas Nutt.

"Ibid." can be used in the above instance as every piece of reference information is identical to the source quoted immediately above it.  All that differs is the date, event and the subject person of the event.

The use of "op. cit."

If you wish to make reference to one work again and again, but those references are not in immediate succession to one another there is a way in which you can still shortcut your work.  The Latin term "op. cit." or opere citato, meaning "in the work cited", is used to refer your reader back to a work prepared by the same author that may have been cited several footnotes ahead of the current reference.

Hyde, Patricia and Harrington, Duncan;  Faversham Oyster Fishery through eleven centuries;  (Kent, England:  Arden Enterprises, Ashton Lodge, Church Road, Lyminge, Folkestone, CT18 8JA, 2002)  pp 237-238.  A list of the members of the Faversham Oyster Fishery Company as of 1791 citing Thomas Nutt, Sr., Thomas Nutt, Jr. and John Nutt as members at that time. ISBN 0-9530998-2-2.
Board of Guardians, Faversham Poor Law Union, Kent, England; Death Register;  (Utah, U.S.A.:  Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, n.d.); Family History Library, 35 North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A. microfilm #1656030;   22 November 1862;  Death of Matthew Nutt at age 84 years.
Hyde and Harrington, op. cit., p. 198.  Cites Matthew Nutt as one of a group of signatories ratifying original articles of agreement of the Faversham Oyster Fishery Company.

In the third citation, above, you can see that we have to include an abbreviated reference to the names of the authors, followed by "op. cit." and by the remainder of our reference information.  Again, as "op. cit." is a foreign language it must be either italicized or underlined.

This shortcut works well when you are using only one book or reference work produced by an author.  If, however, you are using two or more books or reference works produced by the same author "op. cit." cannot be used.  For instance, "op. cit." could not be used to refer to multiple census returns from different geographical areas - the author may be the same, but the title of each census work varies from enumeration district to enumeration district.  In such an instance there would be no method by which to adequately put across to your reader to which census return you were referring.  A solution to this situation can be seen in the example below:

Office of the Registrar General, London, England now Office of National Statistics, Kew, Surrey, England; 1851 census, Faversham District, Faversham Sub-District, Parish of Faversham  (Utah, U.S.A.:  Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, n.d.); Family History Library, 35 North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A., microfilm #0193527; RG11/0968, Folio 104, page 36; 30 March 1851; Ann Weeks Bunting;
Office of National Statistics, 1851 census, Parish of Faversham, Folio 106, page 38; .....

Note that the author has been shortened to reflect just the current entity.  The title of the work has also been shortened to reflect just the pertinent details, in this case, the year of the census and parish concerned. All other identical information has been omitted from the second citation.

The last rule that applies to the use of "op. cit." is to use one of the above two methods only.  Do not mix your methods.  Remain consistent throughout your citation lists.

Other Helpful Abbreviations

ch. chapter
comp. compiler; compiled by
ed. or eds. (plural) editor, edited by, or edition
n.d. no date of publication given
n.p. no place of publication given
p. or pp. (plural) page or pages
sec. section
ser. series
tr. or trans. translator, translated by, translation
vol. or vols. (plural) volume or volumes

Maintaining your Source Citations

Most of the computer data storage programs available today have a facility that allows you to input source references.  The output may not be exactly as noted above but there is little one can do to change the programmer's formula. 

Furthermore, before it is possible to enter a source or citation into several of these programs so that it displays in a proper fashion once printed, one has to have a fairly good grasp of the principles of composing a citation.  It is also necessary to understand how the program will handle multiple references to one title of work.

For example, in a genealogical search of English ancestry it is not uncommon and, in some cases, desirable, to be able to check multiple types of registers for one entry.  You may have to check the Bishop's Transcripts, the Archdeacon's Transcripts and the Parish Registers for one parish over a certain span of years in order to locate all of the information you are seeking.  In such a case, you would have several source titles that refer to Parish of ....  Regardless of where you are physically examining the records you will also likely find that you will have several different source call numbers associated with one type of register.  In such a case, you would eventually have a list of sources that cited the title Bishop's Transcripts, Parish of ... for each individual call number you examined.

In order to discover how your program will handle multiple title references you may have to resort to the trial and error method - entering the sources in several different manners and then making those sources into citations to see what the eventual printout would contain.

It has been my experience, however, with data storage programs that the best approach is to enter all of your sources first.  If your program permits multiple references using one source title, set up a new source for each title that required a difficult source call number.  This method could mean that you will end up with a dozen titles listed as Bishop's Transcripts, Parish of Godstone.  Once all of your sources are entered the process of making citations for each individual becomes a much more straight forward process.  Just be certain that you have selected the correct title/source call number combination before preparing your citation.

Personal Ancestral File (5.1.8) will permit multiple references to one title and will store the source call number with each individual reference.  Personal Ancestral File orders each title alphabetically by the first letter in the title.  The view window is large enough to see a title such as Bishop's Transcripts, Parish of Godstone but it is not large enough to determine which of the Bishop's Transcripts films you need.  The right-hand summary pane does not include the source call number, either.  So your only option is to select the first title reference and check the source call number in the next appearing window before entering your citation information.  If it is the incorrect source call number you have to close the citation window and return to the source list selection window to make another selection.  This quickly becomes frustrating if you have to repeat this process many times before you find the correct source call number.

Despite the fact that Family Tree Maker (8.0) requests a source call number while setting up a new source reference, the program will not permit more than one title to be entered.  Consequently, if you have viewed five volumes of Bishop's Transcripts for one parish, each of which appeared on different rolls of microfilm, you will have to manually edit the master source call number information on each occasion that you call that source.

Of these two programs, Personal Ancestral File compiles a more precise listing of master sources and citations.  This program does have a quirk, though.  One can print out, from the 'print reports-lists' menu, a very complete list of master sources that includes all source call numbers, author, title, publication details and comments.  But, it is not possible to print just a list of your full source citations.  The printout of citations takes the form of a list of individuals with their respective RIN numbers for which a particular source was used to compile a citation.  Full formal citations are, instead, appended to the family group sheets as footnotes.  In printing register type information, citations can be appended as footnotes throughout the register or as endnotes, at your choosing, at the very back of the register.  Unfortunately, once the register has been printed to an "rtf" (rich text format) file it is impossible to manually edit the footnotes or endnotes.

The printing of sources and citations in Family Tree Maker takes on a different hue altogether.  Family Tree Maker will print a full Bibliography compiled from your master source list.  Bibliographies, however, typically do not include repository addresses or page, volume or other call number references and this Bibliography is no different.  There seems to be no facility by which to print out a full list of your Master Sources.   Additionally, with respect to the printing or listing of citations it appears that neither the View-Reports-Documented Events option nor the family group or register type printouts include source call numbers as part of the citation.  Citations without their applicable call reference numbers are not acceptable.

Both programs have edit and delete functions that will allow you to correct any errors you find you have made in preparing your original citations.

If you decide to set up a manual system for preparing and maintaining your source citations, set it up as an inventory of documents separate and apart from any biographical material.  When working with a manual system I prefer to arrange the citations by family surname.  In that way, as new information is discovered and new sources searched I can always add to the bottom of my citation list and still maintain some form of cohesion.  I have a full list of sources and citations that refer to one family surname, in one place, rather than spread apart throughout many pages and many other family surnames being interjected.  In other words, keep a full source citation list at the very back of your biographical material for each family surname.  References to the source citations can be made throughout your writeups concerning that family by using a footnote numbering system.   Keep one copy of your source citations in the family file, one in your family book, and carry one with you as a working copy.

Are Source Citations really necessary?

You might be asking yourself why all of this recording of your sources is necessary.  There are several practical reasons for doing so.  Your documentation tells you what you have examined and that you likely have a copy, extract or abstract of the information.  Good documentation will also serve as a quick and concise repertoire of the documents that you have accumulated in support of your belief that a certain fact concerning your family's history is either true or false.

Your source citations can also serve as an inventory of your holdings and used as a prelude to exchanging information with another researcher.  It is far more economical and expedient to send a copy of an inventory through the mail or via email than it is to copy many documents for mailing to a correspondent when, in all probability, that correspondent already has some, if not all, of the same documentation.

Most importantly, solid documentation through copies, extracts and abstracts of information and the arrangement of that information in the form of source citations will increase the future opinion, value and likelihood of survival of your research efforts.

The other side to this last point will become obvious when it comes time for you to have to turn to compiled genealogies to help your research along.  If you have a choice between two or more works, such as Ancestral File or a published family book, to consult, which one would you choose?  The work that has source citations, or the one without?  Just remember, though, both works may be perfectly valid.  Both works are just as likely to contain flaws but a family historian who has properly documented a history along the way has taken the first step to dramatically reducing the instance of erroneous tree climbing.

Everyone who undertakes genealogical research will eventually ask themselves the question of what is to be done with their research in the future - to whom the research material is to be given, who will continue the research, and where and how the research will be made available to other people.  It is impossible for another researcher to make sense of mountains of information that have been collected without having some mention as to where that information was found or even for what purpose it was acquired.  Such a task could be compared to assembling a piece of furniture without the benefit of instructions and no idea as to what function the piece is to serve once assembled.  It is unlikely that an individual would invest the time required to sort out another's non-documented and unorganized research notes.  You will be spending many hours and significant effort researching your family.  Carefully maintained research logs and documented and organized information will help to ensurethat your research will be available for many years.

I once worked with a woman who had spent an incalculable number of years compiling her family's genealogy.  She could never embrace the idea of documenting her sources.  At the time that she passed away she had information that filled one dozen 2"-binders.  She had also submitted her information to the Genealogical Library at Salt Lake City for inclusion in Ancestral File.  Within days of the woman's death, her sister threw every piece of information away.  The sister's argument was that there was no documentation to substantiate the work that this woman had done and no way of telling if she had ever looked at an actual document at any time.  On the face of it, her sister had some very valid reasons for destroying this woman's work.  However, the sister could not, and never will be able to, remove the information from Ancestral File.  Consequently, every researcher who happens to share a common surname and who uses Ancestral File will forevermore stumble into this woman's genealogy and will have absolutely no recourse from which to verify or disprove the information except by retracing every step of research.  Would you do it?  Or, would you be content to let her research stand as being a correct representation of the family history?

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