You want to take all the joy out of a genealogist’s day, just bring up the subject of source citations. I have seen faces go from glitter to gloom when you bring it up…LOL. Nevertheless, it’s one of my 10 Key Genealogical Principles, and sooner or later, if you want any of your research to be taken seriously, you’ll have to get around to doing it.
I speak from experience, as I spent the first few years of my genealogical journey happily having no knowledge or understanding of this concept. And today, because if that, I have some very critical pieces of my research that I have no idea where I got them from. You kinda think that’s never gonna happen to you. Ahh, such sweet deception.
The uptick is, it’s not at all as difficult as it appears and once you get the swing of it, it becomes second nature. You become a stronger researcher because you tend to zoom in on source citations for everything you read. I thought I’d at least point you to a few resources online on this subject you don’t want to miss:
- 1. Elizabeth Shown Mills’ colossus Evidence Explained! is a must have for all genealogists, period. I also recommend purchasing the PDF file of this book –it is immensely useful when you are on the road and trying to reduce weight. You can get it here from Legacy or from Footnote.com. Let me note that Ms. Mills has excellent explanations for each type of source and you should take some time to actually read the sections of this book (over time of course!).
- 2. The Board for Certification website has some of Ms. Mills articles which succinctly explain why we need to all be correctly and diligently citing our sources. No one explains it better than she does. Click on the left link marked “Skillbuilding” to access the other articles.
- 3. All of the major genealogy software packages do source citations now. I’m a Rootsmagic fan, so of course I’ll say I like theirs the best. They incorporate all of the templates from Evidence Explained!. There are also lots of good websites that will do automatic source citations for you. I like EasyBib-it will freely create MLA style citations. Citation Machine is useful too. A good list of citation software can be found here.
- 4. My favorite free online citation guides are the Quick Reference Card Thomas MacEntee created at Geneabloggers and the website over at Progenealogists.
- 5. Other nifty stuff: I like the “Cite Your Sources” sticky notes available from Fun Stuff for Genealogists. You slap one on a copy you’ve made, and it’s got all the data you need to remember to fill in for the citation. They also have “Cite Your Sources” stamps.
- 6. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to Mark Tucker’s excellent video post on “A Better Way to Cite Online Sources” over at ThinkGenealogy. Check it out.
I usually pick a day where I devote a few hours to updating my source citations, either in my genealogy software or in my notebooks. I have white 3-ring binders for each family line & most of my sources (census, vitals, deeds, etc.) are printed out in each binder.
Then I buy those neon-colored envelope labels, type up a page at a time and put a colored label on each source in the binder containing the correct source citation. It may sound like a lot of work, but consider that the great bulk of your citations are the same 4 or 5 times, be they census, vitals, deeds, probate, social security, world war I drafts, etc. Then you pretty much ‘cut and paste” and change the specifics.
Here’s hoping you are all remembering to cite your sources, and that some of the points above have contribute to making that a little easier. Most of all , that you understand the value in doing so. Please chime in via comments any tips and tricks you use for source citation.
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.