How Do I Cite My Sources?

By | April 2, 2018

While exploring our heritage for the first time we are all too new to the practices of a good genealogist. Recording your sources is important but how do I cite my sources?

As we begin our ancestry journey citing sources is something that we are not too familiar with. It is one of the most important tasks that you need to do when researching your family tree.

So, in this post I will explain to you all of this to help you on your way.

Cite My Sources

Besides citing your sources during your research it is also important to cite any sources if you are publishing your very own family history book.

I have written my own book, (albeit just printed out and bound for my family, not published), and I have put in citations where appropriate. I will explain this process later on.

Topics discussed in this post:

Beginning Your Family History Journey

When you begin your family history journey you are so excited to add names, dates and details to your family tree. You want to go as far back as you can and fill in all the blanks.

You probably will get that rush when you discover something new and feel the desire to add it to your tree. Does every family historian?

The Neverending Journey

Well I know the feeling!

I too was so excited to add a new name to my family tree and add any facts to that ancestor of mine that I had found along the way. But you do have to be cautious about what you enter.

I do have a logical mind and I know how to join the dots and not take every piece of information for granted. I realized when I first began to trace my family history not everything would be accurate.

And so I would need to verify these facts before I added them to my family tree.

Why is verifying information important?

There is no point entering all the information that you find about your ancestors into your genealogy software.


Because not everything that you find will be correct. Hard to believe but not everything online is the truth. Oh no, shock, horror!

You will be amazed at how many family trees that I have found on the Ancestry  website that contain quite obvious mistakes.

These Ancestry members added information willy nilly before actually looking deeper into the facts. They took what information they found from multiple census records, (or other sources), and assumed that the person they had found was their ancestor.

Credit:   Ancestry

Yes, they had found a person with the same name as their ancestor, but they were not their ancestor. This was despite the fact that this ‘ancestor’ was in a different county and with a different family completely.

An obvious glaring mistake but you will be surprised to find many Ancestry family trees this these mistakes.

These trees on Ancestry were a valuable resource for me. But I would urge you to be sensible and document your sources if you do decide to use these trees.

Reasons Why Citing Your Sources Is Important

Verifying information is an important task to complete as I have pointed out in the previous section. You do not want to add everything that you find about your ancestor into your genealogy software program.

What if that information is incorrect? When you check back your research how would you know where you found the information that you have recorded.

Billions of Records

Well, you have just wasted your time and so will need to spend more time to fix up this mistake.

I though must confess that I did make this mistake with one family member. I was sure that I had found the right person. I had even gone back a few generations.

Unfortunately I had found the wrong person. Yep, they shared the same name, were from the same county but some family members were different.

I soon realized my mistake and eventually found the right person.

Luckily for me I didn’t waste too much time but it was time that I could better have spent. Also, fortunately I didn’t enter this incorrect family tree member into my family tree.

Why is citing my sources important?

Citing your sources is one of the most important tasks that you will need to complete as you find new ancestors and new pieces of information. It can help you immensely with your research as I will point out.

3 main reasons why you should cite your sources!

1. Help other people check your sources – Other people will want to carry on with your family history resource. Whether they are other family members, maybe even your descendants, or they maybe members of your local family history society who are interested in your work.

They will rely on what sources of information you have found and also where in the source that they can find the information that you have used.

2. It shows your level of research – It will show to other researchers that you have been thorough with your family history research. It will give them the confidence that the work that you have completed is correct.

Although to be a competent researcher they will obviously need to verify your work. So, please make it easier for them.

3. Give credit to others and sources – If you have found information for records then you will obviously need to cite these. The same can be said for other people’s work, (for example Ancestry family trees), or books.

It is also a good idea to do this avoid plagiarism. That’s one thing that you want to avoid.

What Details Need To Be Cited

I have just covered why citing your sources of information is important. I will now cover what details that you need to enter to properly cite your sources.

Documents and Records

There are just a few key details that you will need to enter when citing your sources. This process does not need to be complicated and over time it will become second nature to you.

You will find that entering citations will come naturally as you research new family members and lines of your family tree.

The details that need to be cited include:

  • Title – The type of record. So it could be a parish record record, a certificate or document such as a census. Please though put in as much information as you can, such as the name of the parish, the type of certificate or the year of the census.
  • Date – The date that the information was collected in the source that is referred to. Adding the day and month is also important as the year as well. So if citing a census be sure to add these too.
  • Collection – Certain records maybe compiled with a collection. It is therefore important to add the collection name for this source.
  • Page and Volume – If you are referring to a collection then you will have to enter the page and volume of the collection as well. This is important as it will help other researchers to easily find the information that you have used.

Another piece of information that you can add when citing a source is to add your own personal comments. This can be your own observations that you have made when you have discovered a particular record, document, letter, etc.

These comments could state maybe that a sibling’s details have been omitted, or maybe your ancestor’s birth year or place of birth is different from what you expected.

How Do I Cite Other People’s Work

You may need to cite other people’s publication when tracing your family tree or when you write your own family history book. You will obviously have to do this to avoid copyright issues.

If you are publishing your own book then you will need to ask permission from the author or publisher to include anything from their book or work.

Create A Family History Book

If you are quoting, paraphrasing or summarizing someone else’s work then these will need to be cited. You can cite the source within a parenthesis, a footnote or maybe an endnote at the end of a chapter of your book.

If you are using a parenthetical citation then you will include the author’s name, the book and page that the citation can be found.

A bibliography of citations can also be added to the end of the book that you are writing.

My Final Thoughts

Citing your sources is an important task as I have outlined in this post. It does not have to be a complicated task for you and once you have done this a few times then it will become second nature to you.

By doing this it will help you when you return to research an ancestor of yours. It may also help other people who are tracing your family tree. These could be relatives or members of a local history society as I have said in this post.

It could also be a distant cousin that you have discovered whilst on your family history journey. If you are interested in sharing any information that you have found you will need to show where you have found certain pieces of information with your ancestor.

This will make it easy for other people to carry on your research. I hope in time that my descendants and my brothers descendants will carry on the work that I have started. And so I hope that I have made it easier for them.

For more information on citing your sources why not head on over to FamilySearch. There you will find a really helpful guide entitled Cite Your Sources.

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post explaining how I cite my sources. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

14 thoughts on “How Do I Cite My Sources?

  1. Tatiana Ceja

    This is very interesting! I was never too into genealogy until my aunt became obsessed with it several years back. She used to hound the whole family with questions to build her family tree.

    Once she began to share what she found, so then it became very interesting to me and I became intrigued with the whole process. She still spends so much time working on this and I sent her a link to your article because I found your whole site to be very informative and this article especially to be very useful!

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

    1. Owain Post author

      I am glad that your aunt’s obsession has intrigued your interest too. It’s difficult for us genealogist to not become too obsessive, but that is easier said than done. So I know what it’s like for her.

      I am glad that she has asked all your family questions. It sounds like she is doing a great job. Thank you for sharing this article. I am sure she will find lots of useful guides and tips that will help her along.

  2. Eril

    I found your post very interesting. I can see that this is a subject you are very knowledgable about and it does make me curious about digging up my own family tree! The layout of the article is very clear and logical, making the instructions easy to follow. Thank you.

    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Erik,

      I am glad that you found my post interesting and clear to follow. It has always been my intention to make posts that are easy to understand. As we start out in our genealogy journey we do not know all the answers about how to do things so it’s worth having a guide. And that is where I come in. Please check out the rest of the site as I’m sure that you will find something of interest.

      All the best,

  3. nikki

    Loved this post. Citing your sources is critical for the genealogical standard of proof. You broke down the details of a citation into a nice simple format. I always have a copy of Elizabeth Shown Mills Evidence Explained near by. It’s a great reference for when your not sure what to include in a citation.

  4. Ronnie Jordan

    Thanks, Owain. The more I read your information the more questions in my mind gets answered. I always wondered if most people family tree was accurate or not. I can see your point in being very sure what you add to your findings to eliminate any false information not only not to waste your time but to get the maximum pleasure out of your work. Do you do this type of thing for others as well?

    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Ronnie,

      You know genealogy is a lot like that. The more you dig and poke into your family history then the more questions you have. The more you find out then the more your questions get answered but you have more questions that you need answering along the way.

      When I was tracing my family tree I didn’t want to add people and information before I was certain that it was correct. Why would you add information that isn’t even correct. It doesn’t make sense to me.

      I just offer people advice, guides and tips through this site. And also review products and services that I feel will be of use to the family historian.

  5. Craig

    Hi, I think it’s important to keep a record of your sources too. If the Ancestry website can get it wrong, then anyone can. It’s also important to give credit to the sources, it’s a bit like adding references to book research.

    Apart from the Title, Date, Page and Volume and Collection are there likely to be any further details that we should cite? If you find any errors in some of your sources records is it something that we should try and rectify by contacting them?

    1. Owain Post author

      You are right Craig, even websites can get it wrong as well. When records are being transcribed errors may creep in. This is especially true if the handwriting is hard to decipher or someone is not familiar with the area. And again this is definitely true with the people in the record as they won’t be familiar with the people.

      So use caution when referring to transcriptions. It is always best to view the original image of the record. This is what I always do.

      You can cite call numbers, archive numbers, anything that you can put in that you think will help you and others to find the information that you are referring to.

      You could contact the people who have put up the incorrect information. I know that these are taken into consideration and modified accordingly.

  6. Smithe554

    It is appropriate time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I want to suggest you few interesting things or suggestions. Maybe you can write next articles referring to this article. I wish to read more things about it! efdkdcbgbkbcdgcd

    1. Owain Post author

      Hi there, I welcome any suggestion to the site. Please feel free to reply. Thank you.

  7. Megan

    Hi Owain

    I really wish I had started my genealogy research correctly in the beginning. Too frequently I will look at a document in my collection and have no idea where on earth I found it. I then have to waste hours trying to track down the original source. As some of the documents I have or notes I have made were from physical repositories looking online is not always fruitful.

    It is great that you have provided such an indepth explanation of citing so that people starting out don’t make the same mistakes I did. I am working to correcting all the sources I have but it is a slow labourious process. In recent years I have learned from these errors and my sources are well documented including which repository I found the document in. I hope this will help people in the future to find the items I have.

    What actual style of citations do you use? Mine are a combination of APA, Harvard, and Chicago but I really want to have a more consistent approach. Do you know if there is a specific publication relevant to genealogy?


    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Megan,

      Yeah I think that we are all like that when we first started to trace our family histories. We wish we could do things differently.

      But as we trace our family trees we learn more and more about best practices, and little tips and tricks along the way.

      It is a pain though having to go back and fix up our research. But I do feel though that it is important to do, we need to be organized with our research.

      Having said that I did havethe foresight of downloading images of records that I had of records, etc. and I saved them within their own family group and whatever category, ie birth, marriage, death, etc.

      I would say my citing is a mixture of APA and Harvard. Whatever you do I would just keep it consistent throughout your research.

      Not sure of a specific publication relevant to genealogy. I’ve checked and couldn’t see one.

      If anyone knows any different then please let me know.



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