Friday, October 29, 2010

Just Cite It! - 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy Challenge #43

One of the questions I am asked when approached by a newbie is "What one thing have I learned that I wish I would have known when I started my family history?"
Answer: How to properly cite my sources. Anyone, including me, should be able to read my source citation and locate the exact record I have cited.

Why? Why should one bother to record from where they got their information? "Nobody" does it on those public trees that are available on the Internet.  Also, I already have a book that was written by a cousin about my family. That's good enough, isn't it?
No, it is not.

Here are my reasons why I cite my sources:
1) Yes, I CAN prove it! Yes, I can prove that I am descended from poor agricultural labourers who lived, worked and died in England and Wales because I recorded where I found my sources. And no doubt about, I am not descended from royalty!
2) I don't like to waste my time.  About eight years ago, I had ordered in a roll of microfilm of the 1891 England Census to my local Family History Centre.  As I was scrolling through the microfilm, I had a sense of déjà vu.  When I found the entry I was looking for, I was greatly disappointed to realize that I had already found this census entry once before.  I had not bothered to cite my source the first time; now I had wasted two hours of time and spent wasted another six dollars for nothing.
3) Oh, I know how tedious it can be to cite a source, especially census records.  You do need to cite the source for everyone in the household - the father, the mother and all twenty-seven children.  Soon you begin to wonder if you will ever finish.  'C'mon already', you think to yourself.  'I've got more records to research. This is taking too long.' Finally, you finish that last citation.  Your eyes go back to the top of the page and skim down to the bottom.  You start to feel pretty good now because you know you can prove it, and you know where you got it from.

Alright then, how did I learn to cite my sources?  I learned from reading a book titled Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I read the source citations in genealogy articles and genealogy journals.

Although there is a recommended structure on how to cite sources, don't get too hung up or stressed out about this. First, decide if you are going to write your citation from general information to specific details or vice versa.  Include the location, repository, author, publisher, year, or microfilm number. Next include the details about the particular entry such as folio number, page number and for whom the entry is about. Thomas MacEntee has a very good Genealogy Source Citations Quick Reference on the Geneabloggers website.

Be consistent. Once you decide how you want to cite your sources, always do it that way. Citing sources does become easier with practice and repetition.

Here is an example of how I write my source citations: “Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1936 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947,” database on-line. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010. ( : accessed 23 July 2010). Citing entry for Catherine Cross death registration no. 002292; microfilm MS 935, roll 2, County: Essex, Division: Windsor, page 316, Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Did I cite my source well enough for you to find the record?  Leave me a comment and let me know if you found Catherine Cross' death registration. Tell me what was her cause of death.

Copyright by Kathryn Lake, 2008-2010.