Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How To Make a Source Citation For The Challenged

Okay, I don't actually think any of you are "challenged", but when I want to learn something that I think is difficult, I use google and type in something like "basket weaving for dummies" or "html for dummies."

In genealogy, learning how to make a source citation was and is the hardest thing I have ever learned. I have spent countless hours reading and studying the technique.  The GPS (Genealogical Proof Standard) states that citations of sources must "demonstrate the extent of the search and the quality of the sources and allow others to replicate the steps taken to reach the conclusion." ("Genealogical Proof Standard", Board for Certification of Genealogists, website, http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html : accessed 9 Mar 2015.)  The first time I read that, I said "huh?"

What is a source citation?  It is when you attach a type of explanation to your information.  Such as, you have stated that John Robert Smith was born on 3 July 1853 in Logan County, Ohio. Where did you get that information?  If you got it from John's death record, then where did you get the death record from?  Your source citation would tell the reader all the information they would need to find the exact record and get the same information.

Why do you need a source citation?  The easy answer is because no one will believe your work is accurate!  Ha, ha!  No, really, because you want others to trust that your information is indeed accurate.

If we were to use the example above and I found a BIRTH RECORD for John which said he was born on 3 Jul 1852, then I could see that your information came from a death record made after the person was dead and I would conclude that my birth date is likely more accurate.  Or, if I never found any record for John's birth date, I would see your source citation and know that the birth date can be seen on his death record that you found at (wherever you found it!).

So how do you write a source citation?  Okay, I am treading on very thin ice.  Here is the thing; there are some of us who are studying and working as professional genealogists and we are required and encouraged to follow the example of Elizabeth Shown-Mills in Evidence Explained.  I do that for my own work. But, I want to write to those of you who are not using ANY source citations at this time and I want to make it very basic.  This should not take the place of you learning the proper method, but help you to begin to learn the process and give you a place to start.

If you were to find a birth date on a tombstone picture at Findagrave, I would suggest that you write something like this for your source citation:  Name of person as it appears on the WEBSITE (not the tombstone), date of birth, cemetery name and place, and write www.findagrave.com.

Susan A. Dunham, date of birth on tombstone picture 15 May 1840, Pleasant Hill Cemetery, New Johnsonville, Tennessee, www.findagrave.com.

If you were to find a birth date using a birth record that you found on FamilySearch, I would suggest you write:  Name of the person just as it is written on the record (even if it is spelled incorrectly), date of birth, the database title (that is like "Ohio Births and Christenings, 1861-1952"), and www.familysearch.org.

Joyce Edwards, born 22 Mar 1901, Ohio Births and Christenings, 1861-1952, www.familysearch.org.

Let's talk personal knowledge.  Personal knowledge is when you didn't have to get a record because you were there when the event happened.  For example, you have written down that your son Tommy was born on 4 Sept 1977 in Piqua, Miami, Ohio.  You can write the source citation as "personal knowledge of the event."

Thomas May, born 21 Nov 1980, personal knowledge of mother Rebecca Taylor May.  

A lot of us use censuses.  They are among the longest of the source citations when done correctly.  I would suggest that you begin by listing which census year you are looking at, where the census was taken, the persons' family number and name, and where you viewed the census.  An example might look like this: 

1940 US Federal Census, Rose Hill, Lee County, Virginia, family 170, Joe Hensley, www.ancestry.com 

It might be helpful to see where you can find that "family number" I mentioned. Here is a picture to show you.

I hope this article will encourage you to start sourcing your information and realize that you don't have to start at a professional level.  Just begin with the most basic information, start the habit, and later you can improve your skills one citation at a time!

Think you might have a family line that is "finished?" Think again! Read here to find out what might be slipping by you: http://mykithnkin.blogspot.com/2015/10/finished-family-line-is-questioned.html


  1. Thank you so much for your information, This has been a big question of mine. Now I will make good use of a source. I am going through my whole tree and deleting all the mistakes I made when I began research in 2008. Such as adding others family trees, using family data collections, Milinium files and even international marriages. Thanks again. I will continue working on my VT brick wall. One generation left to prove my lineage to the Mayflower,

    1. You are welcome Judy! Good luck on getting through that brick wall, we'll be thinking of you!

  2. Thank you for this. I am trying to learn source citations and find it quite overwhelming. I am not a professional, so I think your approach here would work well for me.... at least to start.


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