Citing Genealogy Sources Correctly

One of the most difficult things to do when researching and tracking your ancestry, is correctly citing your sources.  I admit, that I frequently skipped this step in my early days and then stepped up and cited my sources, but incorrectly.

When I decided to write my family history book last year, I knew I needed correctly sourced material.  I did some research and found that the ‘bible’ of citing resources by genealogists is Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace 2nd Edition by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I ordered the book and can honestly say I am happy I did. This is a reference book. Although I took the time to read the first two chapters (recommended), I refer to examples as needed.

There are several different Citation Style Choices.  I’ve listed the styles below if you’d like more information on styles.  Evidence Explained is rooted in the The Chicago Manual of Style.

Why Correctly Citing Sources is Important?

The purpose of correctly citing your ‘evidence’ is so that you and/or someone else can know exactly what and where the source is. Keeping in mind that not all sources are created equal.  Some are more reliable than others. Knowing the source allows anyone reviewing your work to know exactly where the information came from and the strength or weakness of that source.

Some of the information provided on family trees is incorrect.  Mostly newbies, but even more experienced users, will frequently copy information from other trees assuming it’s correct or planning to verify it later. I myself am guilty of this transgression in my early days of genealogy research. Consequently, this propagates errors and it goes on and on and on… By correctly citing your sources, your work becomes credible. By all means look at those other trees, they may have really valuable information and leads, but hold back on copying the information until you have ‘proven’ it’s correct.




I want to again mention Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Research Log that he provides for FREE. It is in spreadsheet format and one of the ‘sheets’ is titled Citation Formats.  He provides over 40 common source templates. The templates are correctly formatted and all you have to do is replace the bracketed information with the information from your document.  An easy to use cut and paste process. He also encourages you to add your own templates.  Nobody is expected to memorize these formats. Using a simple ‘cheat sheet’ like this makes total sense and will save you a lot of time.  Thank You, Thomas!

Although Thomas MacEntee includes many frequently used templates in his Genealogy Research Log, I still refer to Evidence Explained frequently, like when I need to ‘source’ an obscure document (like a post card or telegram).

Another great resource is the Evidence Explained Web Site!  This site has a world of great information.

These are just a few apps that can assist you in creating your source citations.

Citation Style Choices (Evidence Explained is rooted in Chicago Style):

  • Associated Press Stylebook
  • The Bluebook
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • MLA Handbook
  • Turabian’s Manual

Note: the link to Amazon is an affiliate link. If you make a purchase using this link, I will get a small commission with no increase in your price. Thank You.


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