Citation Principles

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It can be difficult to construct a citation when no matching example is given in a style guide unless you know the underlying principles. This article presents some basic citation principles from the Chicago Manual of Style and from Evidence style[1] by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Evidence Style is grounded in the Chicago Manual of Style's humanities style.[2]

Cite What You See

"Cite what [source] we actually used," not a source cited in the source we used.[3]

Clarity

"Clarity always beats consistency."[4]

Cite a newsletter like a journal when the extra parentheses are necessary to separate a volume number from an issue month.[5]

There is No One Right Way

Researchers are allowed some latitude in constructing citations. Thomas W. Jones has said, "This idea that there is one way to cite a source is false"[6] and, "Your [citation] also will vary with your audience and other factors in the context where your description will appear."[7] All of the following might be considered appropriate citations to the same artifact:[8]

  1. Sarah A. Skillen, “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler,” 1835, id number 1983.0617.03, American Samplers collection; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.; digital image, Smithsonian: The National Museum of American History (http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1096007 : accessed 22 August 2015), click the thumbnail. Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens.
  2. Sarah A. Skillen, “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler,” 1835, id number 1983.0617.03, American Samplers collection; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.; digital image, Smithsonian: The National Museum of American History (http://americanhistory.si.edu/ : accessed 22 August 2015), search for “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler.” Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens.
  3. Sarah A. Skillen, “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler,” 1835, id number 1983.0617.03; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.; digital image, Smithsonian: The National Museum of American History (http://americanhistory.si.edu/ : accessed 22 August 2015), path: Collections > Object Groups > American Samplers > Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler.” Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens.
  4. Sarah A. Skillen, “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler,” 1835, id number 1983.0617.0; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.; digital image, Smithsonian: Seriously Amazing (http://www.si.edu/ : accessed 22 August 2015), search for “American Samplers.” Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens.

Drop Redundant Information

Redundant information need not be repeated in a citation.

  • When publishing a genealogy article, once a reference note identifies the archive housing a collection, subsequent references to the collection do not have to repeat the archive information.[9]
  • For records consulted on FHL microfilm, in some cases the repository information can be specified in the source list entry and excluded from reference notes.[10]
  • When an archival set of records has both a number and a name, only the first need contain both.[11]
  • When publishing a genealogy article, ibid. may be used when a citation refers to the same source as the previous citation.[12]
  • When publishing a genealogy article, a citation may omit elements already identified in the text.[13]
  • Do not respecify baptisms in the locator information of a citation when it is clear from the title.[14]
  • Do not specify the record type when it is part of the title.[15]
  • When a location is added to the beginning of a source list entry to force desired alphabetizing, it need not be repeated in its normal position in the citation.[16] In essence, the citation element has been moved.
  • Do not specify the creator's role when it is clear from the title.[17]
  • Do not redundantly add the periodical's publication place in parentheses when already specified in the title.[18]
  • Do not specify creator if identified in the title.[19]
  • Do not specify both website name and podcast name when the two are the same.[20]

Default Types

Default types in citations do not need to be specified.

  • "Author" is the default creator's role. While an editor must be identified as such, there is no need to include the word "author" to identify an author as such.[21]
  • "Paper" is the default medium. While an audio tape must be identified as such, there is no need to specify "paper" for a book.[22]
  • "Page" is the default subdivision of a book. There is no need to specify "p." before the page number of a book. (In other contexts, it might be necessary.)

Websites are Publications

Websites are publications, not archives. Cite websites like publications and web pages like subdivisions.[23]

  • On large sites, it sometimes makes sense to cite the web edition of a book using the book's "home page" rather than the site's home page.[24]

Pervasive Knowledge

Information that is common knowledge can sometimes be excluded from a citation.

  • In some cases, world-famous, unambiguous cities may be specified without province or U.S. state name.[25]

Other

  • When citing a record that degrades over time, then one should specify when the record was seen. For example, grave markers degrade over time, so the citation should include the date the marker was read.[26]

Reference Notes

  1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007).
  2. Mills, Evidence Explained, 61.
  3. Mills, Evidence Explained, 52.
  4. Mills, Evidence Explained, 462.
  5. Mills, Evidence Explained, 806-7.
  6. Thomas W. Jones, “You’ve Got Options: Many Ways to Cite Right (Part 1 of 3),” lecture at APG’s Professional Management Conference: Professional Grade Genealogy, January 2015; notes by Robert Raymond, in his files.
  7. Thomas W. Jones, “You’ve Got Options: Many Ways to Cite Right,” Association of Professional Genealogists, APG’s 2015 Professional Management Conference Syllabus ([Salt Lake City, Utah]: Association of Professional Genealogists, 2015), 1.
  8. These examples were taken with permission from "Artifact Citations," The Ancestry Insider (http://www.ancestryinsider.org/2015/09/artifact-citations.html : 3 September 2015).
  9. Mills, Evidence Explained, 384.
  10. Mills, Evidence Explained, 56.
  11. Mills, Evidence Explained, 118.
  12. Mills, Evidence Explained, 205, 273.
  13. Mills, Evidence Explained, 259.
  14. Mills, Evidence Explained, 324.
  15. Mills, Evidence Explained, 453, 495, 556.
  16. Mills, Evidence Explained, 462.
  17. Mills, Evidence Explained, 666-7.
  18. Mills, Evidence Explained, 806-7.
  19. Mills, Evidence Explained, 807, 812.
  20. Mills, Evidence Explained, 816.
  21. Mills, Evidence Explained, 666.
  22. CMS 15th ed., 684.
  23. Mills, Evidence Explained, 57-60 (par. 2.33-7), 626 (par. 11.55).
  24. Mills, Evidence Explained, 767.
  25. Mills, Evidence Explained, 221-2, 369.
  26. Mills, Evidence Explained, 214.