Monday, April 27, 2015

Citing and Organizing Genealogy Sources

Here is a summary of the presentation that I gave on Saturday, April 25, 2015.

Citing and Organizing Sources:

Methods and techniques to keep track of where you found all those great records

Nick Cimino

The best way to judge the quality of a family group sheet or an online family tree is to evaluate the source citations. Family trees at both and have methods for attaching sources. Both sites offer excellent source citations from their databases. Methods for gleaning source citations from these two sites will be discussed. Additional techniques for adding source information from books, computer databases, and internet sites will be discussed.

Why is citing sources important?  Elizabeth Shown Mills sees citation as more of an art than a science.  Learning certain basic rules helps to guide the process. “Historians use words to paint our interpretations of past societies.”  What kind of artist do you want to be?  We have a choice to express our art as either realistic or impressionistic but you do not want to be a blank canvas.

Purpose of citing sources- (see Mills “Evidence Explained” p. 43).  It is helpful for the future reference of ourselves and those reviewing our work to record the specific location of each piece of data we find.  This should include the author, title, publisher, volume and page number, and the date of the book or media.  It should also include the name and address of the repository and the date the source was accessed.  We should make note of any record details that affect the use or evaluation of that data.  We want to enable others to retrace our steps and take it further.

Family Trees in Cyberspace- Are They Reliable?  Many online trees can be considered “Junk Genealogy” because they contain no sources.  Always look first at the online trees with attached sources, documents and images.  This is a sign of a genealogist who is thorough and meticulous in their approach to their genealogy.  Do not attach trees without sources to your tree. 

Chicago Manual of Style- Humanities Style- This is Ms. Mills preferred method for composing genealogical articles and books. She recommends that we use full citations in footnotes or end notes.  She likes this method because it gives the author freedom to add unlimited comments relevant to the source. 

Nick Cimino Style- I started my genealogy research in 1989 using Personal Ancestral File as my main tool for organizing.  I found the Guidelines of the Silicon Valley PAF Users Group at an early stage and have used that method for over 20 years.  The notes field in PAF served as my Research Log where I would note my research goals, and the documents searched.  This is where I wrote my analysis of the results found.  Since converting to an online tree at, I have created Research Logs and Timelines as documents attached to the ancestor profiles. Especially now when genealogical material is readily available online, it is essential to keep a research log for each ancestor.  One of my tricks is to copy and paste material source citations found on the web into Notepad and then transfer it to a Word file containing the Research Log.  Another trick that one of attendees at my session shared is after you copy information from a web page paste by using Ctrl-Shift-V.  This will strip out the HTML and the formatting.

How to Cite Internet Sources-  Since I use and almost daily, I have come to rely on the citations that both of these sites provide for their records.  The citations from are synchronized into my Family Tree Maker software and can also be viewed in online trees that I prepare for myself and my clients.   I use the Family Tree at as my backup online tree.  I have started to duplicate the sourcing using the new Record Attachment tool at Family Search.  I have also started adding my ancestor profiles at as sources to attach to my backup tree.  My talk will demonstrate my technique for copy and paste of source text from these two sites into research logs.

For specific advice on how to cite online sources beyond and see Ms. Mills book Evidence Explained.

Some of  the other sites that I visit online include federal, state and local archives, libraries, historical societies, Wikipedia, state online historical encyclopedias, US Genweb and US Genweb Archives, etc, etc, etc.  If you look carefully on these sites you will usually see guidance on how to cite the online article or record.  One example that I like is the Handbook of Texas Online.  It gives very specific guidance on how to cite their articles.

How to Cite Hard Copy Sources-  One of my standard procedures when I visit a genealogical library is to copy title, publisher and content pages and staple them together before I leave the library.  Some libraries allow you to scan to a USB device.   I have also started using my camera phone to accomplish the same thing.  I assemble the images into a PDF document that can be uploaded to ancestor profiles at Ancestry and Family Search.  I use the same procedure with microfilm.  I scan my handwritten notes pages and attach them to the saved images.  Citations can be gleaned from library catalogs too.

Organizing Your Sources- The best vehicle I have found for organizing my sources is to include them in digital Research Logs for each individual ancestor.  There are lots of paper forms that you can use, but I prefer the freedom of a Word document or a text file.   I do not use spreadsheets very often but I have on occasion. I often use chronologies or timelines referencing facts from the source documents to help to evaluate what I know about my ancestors and their families.  This helps me to see the gaps in the chronology and to identify additional records to search.  I have recently been reviewing the Beta version of the New Ancestor Profiles on  This new view will put your ancestor in the context of a story.  It is very similar to the current “Story View”.  This is a very useful way of viewing the chronology of an ancestor’s life.

Sourcing in Genealogy Software – Many genealogy software programs provide a data entry tool for entering sources.  Choosing software that is compatible with either Family Search or will save a lot of unnecessary double entry.

Check out the following websites for several examples of ways to maximize your productivity while citing and organizing sources.

Useful Links for Citing Sources

Family Search Wiki

Other Links

The following sites have tools that assist in the automatic creation of source citations:

See also the links in the bibliography below.


Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2007.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. QuickSheet: Citing Online Historical Resources: Evidence! Style*,2nd rev. ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2007.

Silicon Valley PAF Users Group: Family History Documentation Guidelines, 2nd ed. San Jose, Calif.: SVPUG, 2000-2003.

University of ChicagoPress. The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. 

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