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Cite Your Sources, Now!

In genealogy, citing your sources sounds about as exciting as having a few teeth extracted. However, citing sources is vital to the work we do. Without citing the documents/resources that you have found for your ancestor, any information you provide about that ancestor is simply hearsay.


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Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Gena Philibert-Ortega
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In genealogy, citing your sources sounds about as exciting as having a few teeth extracted. I think we as genealogists like the rush we feel when we find an ancestor, the excitement at getting hits on a genealogy subscription site, and the awe at seeing an ancestor's photographic image for the first time.

But citing sources, is not so exciting.

However, citing sources is vital to the work we do. Without citing the documents and resources that you have found for your ancestor, any information you provide about that ancestor is simply hearsay. It's not proven. One of the regrets I hear over and over again from genealogists is that they wish they had started citing their sources when they began their research. It's a lot easier to begin citing sources when you have 100 people in your genealogy software program than when you have a couple thousand.

There are some important reasons why you should cite your sources, they include:

• So you can tell another researcher where to find a fact. There's nothing worse then telling someone that you know the date your great-grandmother died but you have no idea where you found that information. At the very least that means that you and the other researcher have to start over and find where the information came from. It's not just documenting the information but also analyzing the quality of that information. Finding a birth date on a birth certificate is different than finding it in a newspaper.

• To refer back to the original. By citing your sources, you can more easily find what document you used for which fact about your ancestor.

• To help you find additional sources that will help prove a fact. Sources lead you to additional sources. An index leads you to the original document. A book may lead you to additional books and articles to check out. Knowing where an item came from will help you find more information.

• To avoid plagiarism. Sometimes we may copy information from the Internet or a book to add to our research. Anytime you use that information in a post on the internet or in a family history book where you do not cite the original author you are plagiarizing. Give other people credit for the hard work they did by citing where you found pieces of information.

• To keep track of your research. It's kind of like the saying that you don't know where you are headed if you don't know where you have been. You can't do long-term research if you don't know where you found your information. This disorganization sets you up for looking at the same sources again and again. By citing your sources you can effectively see what you have researched and what you have missed.

Luckily for us, citing your sources does not have to be a difficult task. Genealogy software programs (RootsMagic, Legacy, Ancestral Quest, PAF and others) have options that allow you to not only cite your sources but the program formats them for you. Typically, you can type the information from the source in the program and it will format it for you. In some cases, the program will even allow you to choose what type of source it is (Family Bible, Journal Article, Book, etc). Or you also have the option to format the source in the way that you prefer. Whatever you decide to do, just be consistent in how you format each type of source. This makes it easier for those looking at your sources and even for you.

If you do not use a software program then there are still easy ways to cite your sources. Online programs allow you to cut and paste information, which the website then formats. Easy Bib helps you cite everything from books to newspapers, websites, databases and journals. Library catalog website WorldCat allows you to look for a book and then provides the citation for you that you can then cut and paste into your timeline, word processing document or excel spreadsheet.

Want to learn more about source citation? Check out these articles and books.


How to Cite Sources by John Wylie

Cyndi's List on Citing Sources

Documenting your Research

Internet Citation Guide for Genealogists with Cut and Past Stylesheet

5 Tips for Citing Sources


Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. 2nd Edition by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Genealogical Publishing Company. 2009.

Cite Right: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles—MLA, APA, Chicago, the Sciences, Professions, and More by Charles Lipson. University of Chicago Press. 2006.

Cite Your Sources: A Manual for Documenting Family Histories and Genealogical Records by Richard S. Lackey and Winston DeVille. University of Mississippi Press, 1986.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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