Genealogy Citations: What You Need to Know

At the end of 2014, I posted a review of my year and some goals for 2015. One of those goals was to focus on writing and to write one article for IGS (working on that one now!) and have another one on the way. I’m excited to say that I submitted my very first article yesterday to go in my local genealogy society’s newsletter!  Here it is, the end of March, and I’m already nearly finished with my writing goals for 2015!

My article I just submitted is about citations, which I’ve posted about before, but this article focused on what you need to include in a citation.


Where Do You Put the Citation?

First, wherever you write this information is up to you. I tend to write it at the top of my notes on that source. So, wherever it makes the most sense to put the information for you, that’s where it should go.

I do recommend putting the citation on the FRONT of a document you have, like a vital record. I know that may seem weird; I worried I’d somehow be damaging the document if I did that. The point here is if you copy the record for someone else, the citation always follows, which you want. Be aware that if your wrote it on the back, the citation is very unlikely to always follow the document, which is why we write it on the front. If it is an old document I’m looking at, I take a picture and then add the citation in picture editing software; that way I am not damaging the document, but if someone wants a copy of the document, the citation will always go with it.

Citation Formats

Genealogy is a historical field so our citations are founded in Chicago style formatting. However, genealogy research deals with mostly unpublished documents, which means we need different information included in our sources so it can be found again.(1)Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd Edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2012), 42. Therefore Chicago style doesn’t always fit our needs as genealogy researchers. So don’t expect templates that are a one-size-fits-all for your research! Instead, focus on identifying information to be sure that someone could find the document again.

Published Sources (2)Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 38-41.

There are two types of sources we deal with: published and unpublished. Published sources are items like books, newspapers, magazines, etc. These are items that not only have publishing information but can be bought and is therefore found in several locations.

The identifying information you should include for published sources are:

  • Author/Editor
  • Title (include the article/chapter title too if there is one)
  • Publication Information
    • Books: publishing company, year of publication, place of publication
    • Newspapers: date of issue and city, state of publication
    • Magazines: date of issue
  • Page number if you’re looking at something specific

Those four items are pretty simple and for most people who have written a research paper before, this is familiar.

Unpublished Sources (3)Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 38-41

Genealogists mostly deal in unpublished sources. These items you can’t buy, are location specific, and have no publishing information. Because these are location specific, citations tend to be a bit longer. To find the record again you should include:

  • Author: This is not the person who created the document as part of their job. Therefore, it’s not a census taker but the county; it’s not the pastor but the church, etc. There isn’t always an author or creator either.
  • Description or Title: If there’s a title, use that. If not, describe the source: death certificate, Probate Record Book I, etc.
  • Location of Record: Be specific to where in the source you are looking. Give volume numbers, page numbers, line numbers, etc. In census records you include items like the enumeration district (from 1880 on), line number in earlier censuses, family/dwelling numbers, etc. Identify enough information to find the exact record again.
  • Location of Source: This can be simple – County Clerk’s Office, Saginaw, Michigan –  to more complex – White Pigeon History N-Z, vertical file; History Room, White Pigeon Library, White Pigeon, Michigan. Include microfilm numbers too, especially if looking at NARA microfilm (like on and Family History Library microfilms.

Some repositories have a specific organization that you’ll want to note as well. For example, NARA uses records groups and you’ll want to include the record group number in your notes.


In this day and age, we see records in different forms of media rather than holding it in our hand. We could view an image online, on a microfilm, on a CD, etc. Because these images and information can vary greatly depending on the quality of the image and who transcribed the information, it is important to also cite the media you viewed the source on. So you are technically citing two things: the source itself as if you were holding it; and the media you viewed it on.

To find the source’s information on say or, is easy enough. When you click on the record, you are brought to a page with the transcribed information and sometimes an option to view the record. At the bottom of that page is the source information on and

When using microfilm, you normally need to go to the beginning of that collection (there can be several items on one microfilm) or the beginning of the microfilm to get all the information.

Citing media sources: (4)Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 39-40.

  • Website: Cite like a published source and be sure to include
    • The URL
    • The date you viewed the website
    • What you saw: an image, an index, etc.
  • Published Media: This is anything (CD’s, microfilm, etc.) that was created to be sold and distributed widely. You cite the information here like a published source.
  • Unpublished Media: Again, this is anything that is not sold or does not have publishing information. This includes Family History Library microfilm and should be cited like an unpublished source. Be sure to include the FHL microfilm number!

Further Reading

The commas, periods, semicolons, placement of items, etc. are important when you publish. In your notes, how you want to put the information is up to you. I do highly recommend learning more about citations because you learn a lot about evidence analysis at the same time.

Here are a few books I recommend for everyone:

Board for Certification of Genealogists. Genealogy Standards: 50th Anniversary Edition. Washington, D.C., 2014.

  • This book covers the writing standards for genealogists and is a must if you wish to publish!

Jones, Thomas W. Mastering Genealogical Proof. Arlington: National Genealogical Society, 2013.

  • Absolutely wonderful for ALL genealogists! It contains a great chapter on citations but the whole book is definitely a must!

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co.; revised 2nd edition, 2012.

  • This book is in many genealogists libraries, especially those who publish. If you don’t plan on publishing, the first two chapters are still a must read to learn about evidence analysis and why genealogy citations are the way they are.


Long blog post from me today! I hope you find the information useful and please let me know if I left anything out!


Happy citing everyone!

Please like & share:

Sources   [ + ]

1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd Edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2012), 42.
2. Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 38-41.
3. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 38-41
4. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 39-40.


USCIS Genealogy Program


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  1. Thanks for this; it’s really helpful (not least to remind me of good research habits). I tend to get so carried away with the search process and then making sense of my findings that I am apt to forget citations.

    • Nichelle Barra

      I’m glad this is helpful! I also tend to get carried away with searches so I know how easy it can be to forget a citation 🙂

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