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Research Skills: Citing Your Sources (Citations)


If you understand the items that go into the citation of each record, it is a matter of arranging those items in a logical way. When you have created a satisfactory source note, stand back and ask the questions: Does this tell my family or my reader how and where to find the same source? Is the citation clear enough that they can understand the merit of the source being cited? You should be able to answer affirmatively without hesitation. You could collaborate with a genealogy friend in drafting your basic citations, or ask a respected professional to critique your style.

Consistency in style is almost as important as being accurate with titles, series, microfilm numbers and so on. Once you have mastered the main elements of any source, stay true to citing a source the same way, whenever and however often you cite it. Some people or archival institutions prefer the description to begin with the broadest elements, narrowing to the specific. Others prefer the opposite. Genealogical software has a built-in style, some more useful than others. Different sources or media format may require different arrangements.

Census Example (Fictitious)

  • Henry Foster household, 1871 census Canada, Ontario, Snow County, Winter Township, district 77, division 2, p. 24, line 18; microfilm C-9912, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.


  • Henry Foster household, 1871 census Canada, Ontario, Snow County, Winter Township, district 77, division 2, p. 24, line 18; microfilm 2,134,752, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Subsequent notes citing the same source in the same family history, report, or compilation are typically shortened by omitting the form and location of the source, e.g.:

Henry Foster household, 1871 census Ontario, Snow County, Winter Township, division 2, p. 24, line 18.

Depending on the census year, the household number may be added or it may replace the line number. Citing FHL microfilm numbers means the repository in Salt Lake City, not a local FamilySearch Center. Also, the FHL recommends the use of commas in its numbers although you will not always see this practiced.

Vital Record Example

  • Charles Foster, Ontario, Canada, birth registration 041926 (1873), Office of the Registrar General of Ontario, RG 80; microfilm MS 929 reel 14, Archives of Ontario, Toronto.


  • Charles Foster, Ontario birth registration 041926 (1873); microfilm MS 929 reel 14, Archives of Ontario, Toronto.
The first example leads up to the name of the record group and its microfilm location, but it repeats the word “Ontario” three times. Some people prefer the second example, pared to bare essentials. In the context of your work, you decide, for instance, if the reader knows that Ontario is in Canada. Including the agency responsible for birth registrations may or may not be significant in locating the microfilm reel.

Book Example

Brenda Dougall Merriman, United Empire Loyalists: A Guide to Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada (Campbellville, Ontario: Global Heritage Press, 2006), 95.

An article, preposition, or conjunctive word of less than four letters such as “the,” “to,” “in,” “for,” etc. is not capitalized unless it starts the title or sub-title. A colon always separates the sub-title from the title. The number at the end is understood as the page being cited. When listing books in a bibliography, the entries begin with author’s surname and parentheses are not used for publication data.

Chapter/Article Example

  • Joy Reisinger, “The Essential Library,” Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians, Elizabeth Shown Mills, editor (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2001), 82.


  • Patty McGregor, “The Devon Origins of John Pullman,”Families 45:3 (August 2006), 170.
Book titles are always in italics. A chapter in a book or article in a journal is in “quotation marks.” Note that the end-quote marks go outside the punctuation with a period or comma. In publication data regarding books, standard abbreviations are always acceptable for states and provinces, usage of the two-letter postal codes is also acceptable (in notes and source lists only).

Website Examples

  • Bill Richards, Frazer Family Tree (Manitoba Branch), descendancy chart, ( : accessed 22 November 2007), 3.ii George Melville Frazer.


The first is a relatively simple website without multiple pages or sections. As per the second example, most personal and society websites are now larger so you will add the name of a particular page you consulted, as if it were a chapter. If your word processing program automatically creates a hyperlink when you type a URL, be sure to delete it so the URL is not underlined.

Database Example

Library and Archives Canada, “Divorce in Canada 1841-1968,” database, Canadian Genealogy Centre ( : accessed 14 June 2006), entry for Charles Henry Foster; citing Acts of the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada (1920), act 145.

This becomes slightly more complex as you sort out the database creator, the title of the database, the (italicized) name of the website, its URL, the date accessed, and identify the person / ancestor / subject. Be sure to check, and cite, the source from which the database was created (in this case, an annual government publication).

Digital Image Example

Charles Foster, Ontario birth registration 041926 (1873); digital image, “Ontario, Canada Births 1869-,” ( : accessed 20 November 2007), citing microfilm MS 929 reel 14, Archives of Ontario, Toronto.

The example builds from the specific item to its Internet location. Remember that the image is accessed by a link in a database on a website and therefore is not cited the same as viewing the record on microfilm. However, your citation tells where the original image is to be found (as does the database in this case).

It may be helpful to list some tips and reminders for your own research trips:

  • When a staff member of a library or repository has guided you to a microfilm or manuscript document, think about the correct way to cite it before you make your notes, log entries, or photocopies. Sometimes we get carried away with discoveries of the moment and lose our objectivity.
  • Does the microfilm leader or target, or the running footer or header if they are in place, match the title, name, or numbers on its box container?
  • If you are viewing an original paper document or file, be sure to note whether it belongs to a larger series or collection. Is there a finding aid or inventory for the series or record group that describes and clarifies a citation for the material you are looking at?
  • Are there any copyright issues that might arise if you intend to quote from, or reproduce part of a document, manuscript, book, or website?

Reading and studying the articles in scholarly genealogy journals is one way to become comfortable with accepted practices. Journals vary somewhat in their house styles, including the format of their source notes, but that also shows you different choices and flexibility. The National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The American Genealogist, New England Historical and Genealogical Register andNew York Genealogical and Biographical Record are some of the top quarterly publications.

Note: For further details on this subject, see the Mills’ books in our Recommended Reading or “Citations for Canadians” by Alison Hare, CG, at the website of the Ontario Chapter Association of Professional Genealogists (

Recommended Reading

  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Analysis: A Research Process Map. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2006.
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian. 1997. Reprint, Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2006.
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007.
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. QuickSheet: Citing Online Historical Resources, Evidence! Style. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by [1] The National Institute for Genealogical Studies]. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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