January 29th, 2013

Citing Genealogy Resources, Does it Really Matter?

I remember when I was in school and preparing term papers, I was required to prepare a bibliography of my source materials. I also had to include footnotes and endnotes for individual references to facts or quotes. Little did I know at the time, but that was great training for my genealogy research! It is however the scholarly way to document research, as it provides details that the reader or subsequent researchers can use to retrace your work.

When you are collecting information for your genealogy research such as evidence, pictures, documents, or other materials, it is essential to record where you found them. Not only does this provide you with a record, but it helps other researchers to retrace your steps and find the material you used so that they can examine it personally. This helps them to locate important data that they may need for their own project, and provides you with a back-up system for verifying your data.

Everyone interprets data differently. The fact that you might be looking for different information influences the way you interpret the data you find along the way and how you apply it to your own family history. An ancestor’s name that may be insignificant to you could be the missing link another researcher is looking for in their own family history.

If you are not sure how to apply or format citations, you can easily find some listed in any historical book, especially biographies or books covering historical events. Genealogy citations follow the same format as books, journals, magazines, and other printed materials, so copying their format is acceptable. No matter what structure your citation follows, one thing that is extremely important is that it contains the essential data. As long as another researcher can use the information you have listed to locate a record or other data they need, they won’t care about the format it is presented in.

So that you can see how easy it is to include citations, I’ll demonstrate a few popular ones for you. Printed materials make up a sizable portion of what we may need to cite, so I’ll show a common method of citing a reference to a book. You may notice when you are reading some reference books that there are small numbers listed next to particular words or sentences. These designate that a citation is listed below. You can also use an asterisk or other symbols, but if you are citing many sources, numbers are generally the best way to go.

Reference Book Citation

Let’s say we are researching an ancestor and come across some information about them in a book called “History of Family Morgan.” The first thing you would do in your citation is write the name of author followed by the title of the book (in italics), the physical location of the material (where someone can find it), and then the name of the publishing company. It would look like this:

Morgan, Michael Lee, History of Family Morgan, Baltimore,MD: Family Research Publishing Co.

Newspaper Article (Printed) Citation 

If you are citing a printed newspaper article, you need to refer to the author of the article, the date it was published, the title of the article, the name of the newspaper, and the page it was located on. When you are referencing the page number, simply place p. before the number. If the article covers more than one page, you would use pp. If you are citing an Obituary, you put that in place of the article title.

Your citation would look as follows:

Smith, W.G. (2009, November 17). Obituaries – The Daily Telegram, p. 32.

If you are citing information from Online Obituaries or newspaper articles, you follow the same format; only include the internet address at the end so it looks like this:

Smith, W.G. (2009, November 17). Obituaries – The Boston Daily Telegram, p. 32. http://obituarieshelp.org/articles/where_to_find_obituaries_online.html

The amount of information you need to include varies with the different source materials you use, what information you found, and where it is physically located. It is best to learn about as many different citation formats as you can. This helps you to do a professional job, and is a major help to other researchers.

If you are looking for a great publication to help with that, Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifact to Cyberspace is an excellent publication. It explains the various types of citations very clearly, and can help you to present your work in a scholarly manner that you can be proud of, and other researchers will appreciate and respect!