canstockphoto16180022 downloaded 3 January 2015

I can hear your groans already! I bet writing source citations is not as much fun for you as the actual research. Right?

For many, source citations are a love/hate relationship, they hate to write them, but love what the citations can do.

Genealogists LOVE citations because they document the breadth and scope of the research while leading back to the source location.

You may think that you’re the only one who will ever want to read or review your research, so you won’t need to write full source citations.

If you think that, think again. Many brick walls are broken down by reviewing your sources and the information in them.

If you’d like to see what quality source citations look like, examine ANY article in the national genealogical periodicals. You will notice the source citations are thorough and lead you to the source. In fact, just reading the citations in an article can tell you the quality of the research, the location of sources you may be interested in examining, and give you ideas for your own research.

When you conduct your research, it’s very tempting to jump right into the record and forget to get the citation.  Be sure you have the source citation for each record.

What can you do to help foster this good practice?

Here’s what I do. I’m into bribes. Chocolate usually works for me but when I’m at the archives, I don’t think they’d take too kindly to me if I whipped out the chocolate in the middle of their collection.

So, I bribe myself by making sure I’ve noted the source citation BEFORE I can dig into the record.

  • For a microfilm, before I can examine the contents of a film, I take a photo of the film box number and film title page.
  • For a book, I take a photo of the title page and copyright info.
  • I also make sure my research plan has the full citation listed before I can examine the record and then add my research notes to my findings.

If you’re fuzzy on how to cite sources, the most comprehensive work on this topic is Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources From Artifacts to Cyberspace, Third Edition. I have used the Second Edition so much, I own two copies and one literally sits open on my desk all the time. If you’d like your own copy, the Third Edition was just released. You can order it from on my sidebar.

For more on research and reporting, Elizabeth Shown Mills shares her works, “Evidence Explained: Quick Lesson 20: Research Reports for Research Success,” and “Historic Pathways: Research Reports.”

Now, break out your bribe list and start writing. You won’t regret doing it right!