Citation Baby Steps

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This is the syllabus for one of a series of classes taught by Robert Raymond and represents his private opinions. Suggestions for changes should be made on this page's Talk page. See other articles in this series at:

Sources and Baby Steps
Information Baby Steps
Evidence Baby Steps
Conclusions and Baby Steps
Genealogical Maturity

Baby Steps[edit | edit source]

“Baby steps” is a system of self evaluation and self improvement. It focuses on five aspects of the evidence analysis process: sources, information, evidence, conclusions, and citations.

The Research Process

This class is about citations.

Where does citations fall in the evidence analysis process?[1] From sources we find information. From information we select evidence. From evidence we make conclusions. Our conclusions contain citations. And citations point back to our sources.

Read through the following table to see how a person might typically improve over time in their use of citations. Think about which level best describes you. At the conclusion of the class, set a goal to improve as explained in “Genealogical Maturity.”


  1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Analysis: A Research Process Map, laminated study guide (Washington, D.C.: Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2006).

# Maturity Level Citations Check
1. Entry Sees no need to record citations.

2. Emerging Realizes the need for citations, but rarely records them. Sometimes captures URLs and film numbers.

3. Practicing Cites books. Cites online copies of sources. Learns about citing manuscript sources.

4. Proficient Gives complete and accurate source citations. For online sources, specifies the source-of-the-source and indicates source strength.
5. Stellar Overcomes limitations of genealogical software to create well organized, industry standard reference notes and source lists.

Level 1: Entry Level[edit | edit source]

Entry level genealogists often see no purpose to record citations.

Citations serve two main purposes. The first is to help us find the original source. If we are using an online copy of a record, we need to also indicate the citation of the offline original. This isn’t as hard as it may sound. Reputable websites like and provide both citations for you.

The second purpose of citations is to help us quickly judge the strength of a source without having to find and look at it. In particular, we indicate if the source is an index only, images, or both index and images.

Level 2: Emerging[edit | edit source]

Emerging genealogists understand that they need to cite their sources. Incidentally, to aid understanding we should use the words source and citation correctly. A source is the record or person from which we obtain information. The text that describes the source is not a source, it is a citation.

Emerging genealogists often lack the experience to know how much information should be included in a citation. For example, it is a bad practice to specify just a URL (web address) or an identification number like a batch number, film number, or call number.

URLs change, and they do so quickly. URLs for census images on changed when they switched viewers. Those for FamilySearch Record Search no longer work. Those for the classic FamilySearch website will soon stop working. Batch numbers almost went away on the latest Did you know that the Family History Library changed film numbers many years ago? Robert has a family group sheet with an old film number and it is very difficult to figure out the current film number. Many libraries switched away from the Dewey Decimal call numbers.

Citations for published sources are pretty easy, so emerging genealogists often create them. The basic information is title, author, page numbers, and publication year. The two we sometimes forget are publisher and place of publication. Some books have different authors for each chapter and so the citation includes the name of the chapter and its author.

You don’t have to remember these elements or the order because genealogy programs have templates. You merely fill in the blanks and the program formulates the citation according to the Chicago Manual of Style, the certified genealogists’ standard.

Level 3: Practicing[edit | edit source]

The practicing genealogist increasingly captures the necessary information for non-published—manuscript—sources. This is also easy if you have the latest and greatest genealogy programs. Again, you fill in the blanks.

Level 4: Proficient[edit | edit source]

The proficient genealogist uses Mills Style to create good citations even when using a program like Word or Excel that doesn’t have templates for genealogy sources. Mills Style is described in Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.[1]Evidence Explained contains easy to use templates and the information necessary to adapt the templates to other situations.

Manually citing online record collections is straightforward. Webpages and online collections or databases are cited like chapters in a book. “S.o.s.” stands for “source of the source” and is the source of the collection as specified by the website. Item type is “database,” “database and digital images,” or just “digital images.”

Like Citations to Book Chapters.png

For example, here’s a citation to the death certificate for Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States:

1. “Texas Deaths, 1890-1976,” database and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 12 August 2010), search for Lyndon Baines Johnson, died 1973; citing “Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics. Digital images of originals housed at the State Registrar Office in Austin, Texas.”

Level 5: Stellar[edit | edit source]

The stellar genealogist understands all citation principles and can produce the highest of quality citations for the most extreme of circumstances. Consider this citation produced by the proficient genealogist:

2. “Denmark Baptisms, 1618-1923,” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 September 2011), Emanuel Trepka Bloch, 1873; citing “Index includes the IGI, digital copies of original records, and compiled records. FHL digital and microfilm copies. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah”; FHL microfilm 300,491.

The stellar genealogist’s version is:

3. “Denmark Baptisms, 1618-1923,” database, FamilySearch ( accessed 27 September 2011), Emanuel Trepka Bloch, 1873; from Den Danske Folkekirke (København Helligånds sogn) [Danish National Church (Copenhagen, Denmark)], “Helligaands Kirkes Daabsprotokol [Holy Church Baptisms], 1872-1880,” p. 27, entry 76, Michael Trepka Bloch and twin Emanuel Trepka Bloch, 29 January 1873, Landsarkivet for Sjælland, København [Provincial Archives of Zealand, Copenhagen]; FHL microfilm 300,491.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Citations have two purposes: First, make it possible to locate the original source, and if online, the online copy. Second, characterize the strength of the source to make it possible to make a quick judgment about the strength of the source.

Using the table at the start of this handout, and using what you learned in class today, set a small, baby step improvement goal. See Genealogical Maturity for more information.

Continuing Education[edit | edit source]

Advancing from level to level requires continuing education. Avail yourself of these resources:

Recommended Books about Sources, Information, Evidence, Conclusions, and Citations.

  • Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd edition. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1990. In particular, see chapter 4.
  • Leary, Helen F. M., ed. North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History. 2nd edition. Raleigh: North Carolina Genealogical Society, 1996. The first section is applicable to research anywhere. Because of the cost, I recommend this book only for those doing research in southern states.
  • Merriman, Brenda. Genealogical Standards of Evidence: A Guide for Family Historians. 3rd edition. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 2010. Lacks an index.
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997. Not as good as Evidence Explained, but cheaper.
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown Mills. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Second edition. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009. For the evidence analysis process, read the 26 pages of chapter 1.
  • Rose, Christine. Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case. 3rd revised edition. San José, California: CR Publications, 2009.
  • Rose, Christine and Kay Germain Ingalls. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Genealogy. 2nd edition. New York: Alpha Books, 2005.
  • Rubincam, Milton. Pitfalls in Genealogical Research. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1987.
  • Stevenson, Noel C. Genealogical Evidence: A Guide to the Standard of Proof, revised edition. Laguna Hills : Aegean Park Press, 1989. The use of legal terminology is outdated, but the research methodology is still good.
  • Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, editors. The Source. Third edition. Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2006.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd ed. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009).