Citing Genealogical Sources Correctly: How to Cite Your Sources

A Guide to Citing Genealogical Sources Right the First Time 

How to Cite Genealogical Sources Correctly

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This is the second post in a two-part series intended to improve how you cite your genealogical sources. Read the first post on why citing is crucial to your genealogy research

Every beginning and seasoned genealogist knows that genealogy research is more than a hobby. In fact, you know that genealogy research takes passion and dedication if you don’t want to wind up throwing in the towel after your first, long, unsuccessful hunt for an elusive ancestor. And when you do finally find those missing pieces of your family tree, it can be quite the rewarding experience. And sometimes, you can get so excited about your findings, that you forget to add source citations. You may think that it doesn’t matter because you can always go back to add it later, but it’s actually a big genealogy research mistake that can create flaws in your family history.

Citing genealogical sources is important for not only verifying that genealogical information is correct, but it also helps future generations of genealogists build upon your family’s story.

When Should You Cite Genealogical Sources?

Because source citations involve collections of records to draw conclusions, they make your genealogical findings more credible. They also allow you and other genealogists to locate information quickly, make it easier to evaluate the quality of the data, provide future generations with organized research, plus your family members will begin taking your genealogical pursuits more seriously if you have citations to back up your discoveries.

So when should you cite genealogical sources?

ALWAYS. 

Whether it’s an oral history interview, a military record, a photo or family heirloom, you must cite your sources. Get in the habit of recording a citation as soon as you find a piece of information so you can accurately add it to your family tree. This is essential to your research in case you forget the nitty-gritty details later on down the road (and ask any genealogy pro: you will forget!).

How to Cite Genealogical Sources Correctly

Accurately recording full citation data is essential to the genealogy research process. But how do you cite genealogical sources correctly the first time?

There are a lot of opinions on how to cite genealogical sources, as well as different variations of citing styles. The citation templates below are for some of the most common genealogical source types you’ll come across in your research. Use them as a guide to stay on top of this crucial step of your research.

Note: While these examples are meant to be used as a helpful guide, the truth is that you need to pick the citation style that is best suited for you. 

General Templates for Citing Genealogical Sources

There are specific ways to cite individual genealogical resources correctly, but if you don’t have the information handy, you can always keep these two fairly simple general citation formulas in mind while conducting research:

Use this citation formula for sources found offline: 

  • The name of the record source
  • The page number and publication date (if a book was the source)
  • The volume, catalog or identification number (if the source isn’t a book)
  • The location where you found the source
  • The type of source (especially useful when citing family heirlooms or gravestones)
  • Who the source belongs to (useful when the source is owned by a private owner)

Use this citation formula for sources found online: 

  • The name of the website where you found the information
  • The URL of the website
  • The date you accessed the website
  • The name of the source
  • The page number (if an online publication)
  • The original publication date

Templates for Citing Internet Sources for Genealogy

If you’re like a lot of beginning genealogists, you’ve likely sought out the power of the Internet to begin your genealogy research. It’s important to know that when you cite online materials, you should always note the accessibility of the data with a comment at the end of the citation (examples: information is from a subscriber-only website, or user access expires after [insert date]).

  • Abstracts Published Online
    Abstractor or compiler, “title of abstract,” transcription date if any, _Title of Website in italics_ (Online: Internet publisher, Internet published date) [Original author or compiler, original title of the abstracted source in italics, original publisher name, original published date, original pages cited], <URL of web page>, web page access date.
  • Articles or Newsletters Published Online
    Author, “article title,” title of Newsletter or Journal in italics, (newsletter date) (Online: site publisher, published date), <url of article>, web page access date.
  • Books Reprinted or Published Online
    Book author, “book database or page title,” _name of website in italics_ (Online: Online publisher, online published date) [Original published original publisher name, original publish date], page number cited, <URL of page>, web page access date.
  • Cemetery Records Online
    Creator of the data ([City], [State]), _name of website in italics_, card-file database ([URL]: accessed [date accessed]), entry for [Name of person], no. [number], citing section [number], lot [letter or number], space [number or letter].
  • Court Records Online 
    City or County of jurisdiction, State of jurisdiction, [Series] [case File number], [Case name], [court term], “[item of interest,]” [record date]; digital images, [Web page owner], [Web page title] (URL : accessed [date]).
  • Databases and Database Indexes Published Online
    Database developer or compiler, “Title of Database in quotes,” Title of Website in italics (Online: Internet publisher, Internet published date) [Original data publisher, original published date if applicable], <URL of database>, web page access date.
  • GEDCOM Data Online
    GEDCOM creator/author <email address>, “title of GEDCOM,” GEDCOM database, upload date, _name of website in italics” (Online: Sponsoring web site or publisher, published dated), <URL>, access date.
  • Genealogy Forums
    Author, <author email address>, “title or subject of posting,” Online posting, posting date, _name of forum in italics_ (Online: Publisher of forum), <URL of form message>, access date.
  • Land Records (BLM) Online
    Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” digital images, General Land Office Records (http://glorecords.blm.gov/PatentSearch : accessed [Date]), [Name of patentee] ([County], [State]), homestead patent no. [number].
    OR
    [Name of patentee] ([County], [State]), homestead patent no. [number]; “Land Patent Search,” digital images, General Land Office Records (http://glorecords.blm.gov/PatentSearch : accessed [Date])
  • Magazine Articles Published Online
    Author, article, magazine name, issue volume, issue date, available from [magazine website], note whether full or abbreviated edition, <URL of article>, web page access date.
  • Mailing Lists and List Serves
    Author’s name <or email if name is not given>, “subject line of list message,” Online Posting, date of post, name of hosting list group, <list message location online>, web page access date.
  • Newspaper Articles Published Online
    Author, “title of article,” _newspaper name in italics_, newspaper regional coverage place, day of publication, date of publication, news section, availability, <URL of article>, web page access date.
  • Personal Emails
    Email author <author email address>, “subject line,”email to recipient’s name, sent date.
  • Photos and Images Published Online
    Online presenter, “name of Image and description” type of image, _Name of Website in italics_ (Online: online publisher, online publish date), specific page number or citation within the website, <url or image>, (original publisher, original publish date), web page access date.
  • Printed Journal Articles Republished Online
    Author, “article title,” _publishing web site_, [originally published _journal name in italics_, journal volume, journal issue (journal publication date)], <publishing web site URL>, web page access date.
  • Search Engines
    _Name of Search Engine in Italics_ (Online: online publisher, online published date), <url of search engine>, examined for [scope of the search’, search engine access date.

Official Records in Genealogy Formats

While census records, marriage records, birth records and more can be conveniently found in printed, online or database form, this also means that the original data has been transcribed, reformatted and edited. Because of this, even official records you come across in your genealogy research could contain errors. To make the most of your source citations, try to locate the most original entries whenever possible.

  • Baptism Records (Microfilm)
    [Name of Church] ([City, County, State]), “[Title of Record],” book [number] : p. [number], [type of record] of [Name of person]; [film number], item [number].
  • Birth Records
    Type of record, name of individual, file or certificate number (book and page) name and location of office where filed (or repository where copy was found.
  • Cemetery Records
    [Compiler or author], [Title], vol. [number] ([Publication city], [Publication state]: [Publisher], [year published]), [page number], [Name of person]. [Comments or details describing the setup or contents of the publication].
  • Census Records (Microfilm)
    [Year] [State] state census, [County name] County, population schedule, [City, town, or township], p. [number], dwelling [number], family [number], for [Name of person]; [Film repository], [Film location], [film ID].
  • Certificates of Arrival
    [Name] [record type], ([year filed]), naturalization file no. [number], [Name of court]; [Record group title], Record Group [number]; [Repository], [Repository location].
  • Certificates of Naturalization
    [Artifact Title], [item type], [City], [State], citing [description of the article]; [Repository], privately held by [Name], [address for private use,] [City], [State]. [Statement of provenance].
  • Church Certificates
    [Item of interest] ([year] [type of certificate]); issued [year], [Name of Church], [City], State; privately held by [current or most recent owner]. [Add description and provenance of
  • Death Records
    Type of record, name of individual, file or certificate number (book and page) name and location of office where filed (or repository where copy was found.
  • Divorce Records
    [County], [State], [Court name] file [number], [Plaintiff] v. [Defendant], for [“Specific document,”] [date filed]; [Record repository], [Record Repository location].
  • Funeral Home Records
    [Name of Funeral Home], [City], Missouri to [recipient], letter, [date of letter], extracting data for [Name of deceased], buried [date]; [repository for letter], [Repository city], [Repository state]. [Any significant information. (Example – A copy of the funeral home record was included with the letter.)]
  • Land Records
    [County name] County, [State], [Title of record book] [book or volume number or letter]:[page(s)], [Grantor name(s) & [Grantee name(s)], [date filed]; [Record repository name], [Record repository location]. [Comments about the record].
  • Marriage Contracts
    [Jurisdiction], [State], [specific volume title,] [page], [item of interest] entry, [Record date]; [Film Location ID] microfilm [number], item [number]
  • Marriage Records
    [County], State, marriage certificate no. [license number] ([year of marriage]), [Full name of groom as listed on the record] and [Full name of bride as listed on the record]; [Name of record office], [County seat where record is kept].
  • Military Records
    • Civil War Pension File from National Archives
      Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, year(s); pension file names; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group number; National Archives, Washington, D.C., name of person, Pension File number(s). Comments.
    • Revolutionary War Pension Roll from National Archives
      National Archives, “U.S. Revolutionary War Rolls, year(s),” digital image, where the image was found (or website with date accessed), City, State, regiment number, date (month, year), page or image number(s), name of person, citing National Archives [microfilm roll number(s)]. Comments.
    • World War I Draft Registration Cards from National Archives
      U.S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, year(s), digital image, where the image was found (or website with date accessed), County, City, State, draft board number, name of person drafted, date (day, month, year), World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, year(s). Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. Microfilm roll number(s). Comments.
  • Naturalization Records
    [Name] [document] ([year]), naturalization file [number], [State], [Name of court], [Location of court]; volume [number or letter], page [number], [Courthouse], [City or town], [State]. [Comments].[Name] [document] ([year]), naturalization file number], [State], [Name of court], [Location of court]; vol. [number or letter], p. [number].
  • Probate Records
    [Compiler or author], [Title], vol. [number] ([Publication city], [Publication state]: [Publisher], [year published]), [page number], [Name of person]. [comments or details describing the setup or contents of the publication].

Formats for Citing Unpublished Sources for Genealogy

Citing your unpublished genealogical sources is often considered one of the most critical aspects of your genealogy research. Think about it: that family heirloom or recorded interview with Great Grandpa Joe could contain important information that future generations of researchers won’t be readily able to verify since it won’t appear in an online database, book or another file. This means your unpublished source citations need to be as specific as possible.

With that in mind, the citation should include the informant, the place, the date, and the information given, plus to whom it was given and where that information is stored. Leaving comments about how reliable the source is should also be recorded.

  • Family Heirlooms or Artifacts
    Item ID, artifact ID or Title, creation date; current or last known owner, address for private use, City, State, year owned. [Add description and provenance of artifact].
  • Letters
    Author, author’s residence, date, letter (or email) to Recipient, recipient’s residence or repository, page. Comment.
    *Tip: It’s helpful to quote a specific letter as a source instead of citing the individual who wrote the letter. 
  • Oral Interviews
    Interviewee, interview by Interviewer, description or type of interview, place of interview, date, page, where the interview is located, what medium the interview is recorded on (transcript, audio recording, etc.). Comments.
  • Photographs
    Where photograph was taken, month/year photograph was taken, City, State. Name of person who took photograph. Person who possesses the photo, location (City, State).

Use Your Genealogical Source Citation Knowledge

Now that you know how to cite your sources correctly, you should use the information to your utmost advantage! Citing your sources is crucial to discovering your family’s history and sharing an accurate family story. And while you may have skipped citations in the past, don’t let that deter you from beginning this process now. You can always go back and add citations to previous discoveries, as well.

Additional Genealogy Source Citation Resources

Do you have tips on citing genealogical sources? Let us know in the comments! Then add your family stories and citations to your Crestleaf Family Tree