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Source footnote citations help us document, organize, and analyze the evidence gathered. They are the hallmark of quality family history. List of style guides.

Ideally, every event on a family group record would have one or more source footnotes. The information about the event came from somewhere (even if it was guessed), so we should cite the source properly.

Value of Source Citations

The best way to judge the quality of a family group record is by its source footnotes.

Citing your sources makes it easier to correlate and analyze sources against each other. It helps other researchers vet your work. It is a partial acknowledgment of the contributions of the authors you cite. Citing sources is the best way to avoid plagiarism. Also, the source in which an ancestor appears is one of the identifiers of that ancestor (like his name, date, place, and relationship identifiers).

When to add source citations

Add a source citation every time you add an event to a family group record. Add a source citation for every event mentioned on each source. The best time to enter source footnotes is at the same time as you enter the event information. Document AS YOU GO!

Link each source citation to the event(s) it documents. For example, a marriage license may also divulge birth information and should be cited for both the marriage and the birth. Cite the census source for each member of the family listed. (This is easily accomplished in Personal Ancestral File (PAF) by using the Memorize Citation button, and Use Memorized Citation button.)

What to Cite

In theory a good source citation is simply a matter of including five normal, and two optional elements:

  • Author
  • Title
  • Repository (for books the place published and publisher)
  • Date
  • Page
  • Optional library or archive call number
  • Brief preliminary evaluation comment about the source

In practice the first five elements are sometimes complicated and may be hard-to-find details. For example, who is the author, what is the title, and what is the date of an untitled parish register kept over many years by several ministers?

Most archives and libraries have already used these elements to describe the source in their catalog. So using the repository catalog helps the researcher cite the elements of the footnote in a way that will help other researchers find the same source at the same repository.

On the other hand, as researchers rely more and more on the Internet, new questions arise about how to cite sources from a “repository” that changes so often.

Source Footnote Style Guides

There are several handbooks that can help you improve the style of your source footnotes. They are guides, not commandments from deity. They differ slightly in their suggestions. Please encourage your fellow researchers to cite sources, and avoid being overly fussy about the minutia of their citations. If you see a citation that needs improvement, encourage the author to consider one or more of these guides:

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