Taking Back What Was Once Lost

Source Citation Tips and Taps

j0440428 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 2nd 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. Of course, Elizabeth Shown Mills is the recognized genealogy goddess in this area and her 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. Please chime in via comments any tips and tricks you use for source citation.


  1. November 15, 2009    

    Thanks so much for the source citation quick card shout out! I too learned about source citations the hard way – and my goal now is to make sure that new genealogists don’t suffer the same fate.

    • November 15, 2009    

      Thanks Thomas! Your website & email posts continue to educate me on all aspects of blogging & I’m happy to highlight you when I can. Robyn

  2. November 15, 2009    

    Thanks for the mention in your post. You share some great resources.

    Citing sources is a very important part of the research process and is one of the 5 steps of the Genealogical Proof Standard. I you like visualizations, check out the Genealogy Research Process map found at http://www.thinkgenealogy.com/map.

    Mark Tucker

  3. rkb191's Gravatar rkb191
    November 15, 2009    

    Great stuff, as usual. Thanks!

    • November 17, 2009    

      Thanks so very much;)

  4. November 17, 2009    

    You are so on point with the Source Citation post Robyn. I too learned this lesson early on!

    While it seems like a drag to have to be so anal about your research, down the Genearoad it becomes invaluable — both to you and those who have to pick up where you left off.

    Now, to go find that Source Citation Quick Card from Sir Thomas!:-)


  5. November 18, 2009    

    Luckie, as always, thanks for the love;)

  6. April 28, 2012    

    I’m still working on getting my research organized. I was the same way, spent the first few years happily researching, before I bothered to pick up a guide that suggested I cite my sources, lol. I took a family research trip to Georgia last month and I’m trying to get all of that documented.

  7. November 22, 2012    

    THANK YOU so much for information about the website – Fun Stuff for Genealogists! I have been making a conscious effort to cite all of my sources that I use in my research and these tools (stamp & post-it notes) will come in handy!

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About Me

I blog, teach, write and lecture about family history research and it's just as rewarding today as it was when I began 18 years ago. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my past and I've taken back--reclaimed- my kin and some of that lost memory.  

Post History

What I Talk About

Locations and Surnames

Hardin, Chester and Lawrence Counties, TN
Holt, Barnes, Harbour, Bradley Springer and Fendricks
Lawrence County, AL
Springer and Fendricks
Montgomery County, MD
Prather, Simpson
Somerset County, MD
Waters, Fountain, Curtis
Duval and Madison County, FL
Smith, Harris, Garner

Favorite Family History Quotes

"The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."
-William Faulkner

"Call it a clan, call it a network, all it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one"
- Jane Howard

"Friends are God's apologies for relations."
-Hugh Kingsmill

"No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?"
-Elbert Hubbard

"Families are like fudge; mostly sweet with a few nuts."

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you might as well make it dance!"

"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city;)"
-George Burns

"Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl. No superior alternative has yet been found."
-Winston Churchill

"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never ever introduce yourself to had life not done it for you."
-Kendall Hailey

"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all the generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people."
-Thich Nhat Hanh