How Do I Cite My Sources?

By | April 2, 2017

When exploring our heritage 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 also explain this process later on.

Beginning Your Family History Journey

When you begin your family history journey you are so excited to add names to your family tree. You want to go as far back as you can and on each and every line that you possibly can. You may get that rush that you feel when you discover something new and add it to your tree.

The Neverending Journey

I know the feeling because I have been there!

I too was so excited to add a new name to my family tree and add any associated facts to that ancestor of mine that I had found along the way.

I do have a logical mind and I know how to join the dots and not take all information for granted. I realized when I first began to trace my family history not to enter everything I found before verifying it first.

Why is veryfing information important?

There is no point entering all the information that you find about your ancestors into your genealogy software. Why? Because not everything that you find will be correct.

You will be amazed at how many family trees that I have found on the Ancestry  website that contain obvious mistakes. These Ancestry members have added information from multiple Censuses or other sources and have assumed that the person in these records is their ancestor.

They have found a person with the same name as their ancestor and assumed that they are the same person. This is despite the fact that this person is from a different county and has different children.

An obvious glaring mistake but you will be surprised if you use these Ancestry family trees to help you trace your family history. It has been a valuable resource to help me go further back with my tree. But I urge you to be sensible and document your sources if you too decide to use these trees.

The 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 to your genealogy software program. What if that information is incorrect?

Billions of Records

Well, you have just wasted your time and you will have to spend even more time to fix up your 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 even went back a few generations based on the information I had found on that person.

The trouble was I had found the wrong person. They had the same name and was from the same county but some family members were different. I soon realized my mistake and found the right person. I didn’t waste too much time but it was time that I could better have spent.

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.

The three 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. These people maybe 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.

3. Give credit to others and sources – If you have found information with 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.

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 – This is 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 – This is the date that the information was collected in the source that you are referring 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 that you could add 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 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. This chapter could be exploring a branch or family member.

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.

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 if 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 for 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.

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.

12 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.


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