A version of this article first appeared in the May/June 1998 issue of Ancestry Magazine
As family historians, we accept this responsibility for two main reasons. The first is purely for our own benefit. A properly written source citation for a piece of genealogical information helps us remember where we originally found it. This can save us from performing redundant research in a source which we've already consulted. Source citations can also assist us in considering additional avenues of research when we've turned up something new.
We don't just cite our sources for ourselves. The second reason for citing our sources properly is for the benefit of others. The family history which we create should include source citations so that others interested in our genealogical information can judge the accuracy of our research for themselves. The future researchers of our genealogy - that one grandchild, niece, or 4th cousin once remove who shares our passion for the hobby - will need to know "how you know" that Aunt Edith was really born during the 1932 World's Series. Besides our posterity, contemporary researchers with whom we share our information have the same need to verify the facts which we have gathered and organized. If we share the results of our research, others must be able to judge the craftsmanship of our efforts by the quality of our source citations.
Elizabeth Shown Mills, long time editor of the National Genealogical Society's NGS Quarterly, has authored a book titled Evidence! - Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (reviewed in the January/February '98 issue of Ancestry, page 11). This book was a much needed addition to the literature of proper genealogical documentation. It includes a very readable discussion of the fundamentals of both citation and analysis of genealogical source material. The book concludes with extensive examples of source citations for genealogical source materials of all types and media.
While noting that agreement on the "proper" method for citing the new electronic sources has not yet solidified, Mills recognizes the need we have as active family historians to make quality source citations now even in the face of uncertainty regarding their correct format. She has come to our rescue in providing citation examples for the new electronic sources including electronic mail, web pages, CD-ROMs, and mailing lists. The remainder of this article will discuss the formats for these four common types of sources. The examples given come directly from Evidence! They are Mills' examples of primary citations for endnotes or footnotes. The book also provides formats for subsequent citations and for bibliographic entries for the same sources which are not reproduced here.
The second challenge stems from the impermanence of web pages. Changes to a web page can be uploaded in a matter of minutes so what you viewed on a particular web page today may be changed by tomorrow. Because of this, it is critical to note the date on which you viewed the web page to obtain the information cited. Mills suggests including this date at the end of the citation. The "Minshew data" referred to in the below example is the surname which was searched for on the Texas State Library's online index to Confederate Pension Records.
|Index to Texas Confederate Pension Records, Archives Division, Texas State Library, online <http://link.tsl.state.tx.us/c/compt.html>, Minshew data downloaded 16 November 1996.|
(Note that the URL quoted above has since been changed to http://link.tsl.state.tx.us/c/compt/index.html).
|Christopher Nordmann, "Rochon Baptisms of Mobile: Translated Abstracts," email message from <firstname.lastname@example.org> (2767A Mary Avenue; St. Louis, MO 63144-2725) to author, 12 January 1997.|
In the example below, Mills includes the date on which the message cited was printed out. This printout date is not really necessary. Once a message is sent to a mailing list, the author of the message does not have the ability to change the message copies which were sent to other mailing list subscribers. Therefore the date required for the citation of a mailing list message is the date which it was sent to the mailing list by its author - its creation date.
|Daphne Gentry (Library of Virginia, Richmond), unidentified "report" quoted at length by Jon Kukla, in "Virginia Personal Property Tax Records as a Research Source," |
|Nicholas Shown entry, FamilyFinder database, Family Tree Maker, CD-ROM (Fremont, California: Banner Blue Software, 1994), citing Archive CD-153 (Orem, Utah: Automated Archives, no date). This data set is based on the census-index series complied by Ronald V. Jackson et al. (Salt Lake City [and elsewhere]; Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1970s-1980s).|
Citations in the Electronic Age While the media from which we cite our sources is evolving, the reasons why we cite them for our genealogical research are unchanged. Citations act as a reminder to the researcher of what we've researched and how to find it again as well as providing other researchers with the ability to evaluate the accuracy of our research. Citations still perform the function of identifying the author of a piece of source information, the source type, the date of the source's "publication", and the additional information required to locate that source. Evidence! reminds us that the sources may have changed but the purpose and content required of quality citations remain constant.
This article has only considered four electronic examples out of the dozens and dozens of traditional and electronic source citation formats provided by Mills. Other citation formats for electronic sources such as the Ancestral File(tm) on CD-ROM are also provided in Evidence! but are not reproduced here.
In the book's bibliography, several World Wide Web sites for citation guidance are provided for our increasingly electronic world. The web sites provided in the book's bibliography and additional web sites on electronic citations may be found by visiting Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet - Citing Sources.
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