Citing Genealogical Sources Correctly: Why It’s Crucial to Your Research

Your Family History May Be Incorrect, And Here’s Why

Tips for Citing Genealogical Sources Correctly

Photo Credit: jasonpearce via Compfight cc

This is the first post in a two-part series intended to improve how you cite your genealogical sources. 

Researching your family history can be quite the eye-opening and rewarding experience. And it isn’t for the faint of heart, either! Whether you’re new to genealogy research or a seasoned family historian, you know how much time and dedication is needed to uncover the hidden mysteries of your family and fill in the branches of your family tree.

But if someone were to ask you where you found each piece of your thoughtfully-researched information, would you be able to tell them?

If you find yourself stumbling over your answer, then you might have missed a crucial step to your genealogy research: citing genealogical sources. Citing sources is important for not only verifying that genealogical information is correct, but for other situations you’ll come across down the road.

Genealogy Source Citations: What Are They?

To put it simply, a source citation is a reminder of where you found a piece of genealogical information.

While the genealogical research process involves the collection of records (the source) to draw conclusions, the citation is the link that connects a record to the conclusion you’ve made and added to your family’s history. In other words, an accurate citation makes your information more credible.

Why It’s Crucial to Cite Genealogical Sources Correctly

1.) It Will Help You Locate Information Quickly

Sometimes we get so excited about our genealogical findings that we add the fascinating facts to our family trees but forget to add citations. And if you’re a seasoned researcher, this likely happened to you during your early research days. But would you make the same mistake again?

Of course you wouldn’t, because you know how important this step is when you have to go back and find sources later.

This is especially crucial when you find conflicting information in your research. So, even if your Cousin Larry provides you with your great-grandfather’s birth information and not an actual birth certificate, record that Larry is the source of those facts. Then, if you find conflicting records later, you can go back and see that Larry may have given you some invalid information that you’ll have to adjust. Perhaps Larry even has the actual birth certificate on hand!

2.) It Makes it Easier to Evaluate Information Quality

While you gather your source information from marriage certificates, land records, obituaries, newspaper clippings, oral history interviews and everything in between, accurate citations should be made to ensure high-quality information is recorded.

Accurate evidence is crucial when it comes to your family history and genealogy research because if you make one mistake, it can end up costing you some valuable time later. And while quite a few researchers think that listing a source as “birth certificate” or “census record” is enough, a correct citation won’t require you or other genealogists to go back and find missing information in the future.

3.) It Will Provide Future Generations with Organized Research

Leaving a thoughtfully-organized roadmap of your genealogical research for future generations to discover and expand upon should be in the back of your mind each time you find a new piece of information.

Citing your sources correctly will provide accuracy for your younger family members and future genealogists. And just as they help you with your research, the citations will allow these family members to go back and re-trace your steps quicker and easier so they can verify or disprove your own conclusions, plus add more information to your family tree. You’ll also be a stellar example of good genealogy research habits that beginning genealogists will want to emulate!

4.) Your Family Will Finally Take Your Research Seriously

Do you truly want to get your family involved with your genealogy and family history projects? Organizing your research can help your cause — and citing your sources is just the beginning. In fact, there are many ways you can organize those piles of records, newspapers and family photos.

Plus, once your family sees the shining genealogy star you really are and they decide to get on board, your family history will inch closer and closer to not only being complete — but accurate! And who knows what else you might do. Perhaps you’ll publish your family history with accurate citations and be taken seriously in the professional genealogical world, too.

Tips for Beginners: How to Cite Genealogical Sources

As you can see, accurately recording full citation data from a source as soon as you find a piece of information is an essential part of the research process.

The following tips will help ensure that you’re citing your genealogical sources correctly the first time.  

  • Get in the habit of writing down what you’ve found as soon as you find it.

While you’re conducting research, always make it a point to write down what record was used to find information. If you do this, you’ll always have each source on hand once you write a formal research document and can add it to your family tree later.

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

And don’t stress if the website or online publication is taken down later. It will more than likely exist offline somewhere, and having this information on hand can help you find the offline source, too.

In the next article of this blog post series, we will discuss in-depth tips for citing each individual resource correctly. Stay tuned..

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