The Importance of Citations

When I first started in genealogy, citing my sources wasn’t on my mind. It made sense, of course, to always cite my sources. The general rule being that if it isn’t common knowledge, you need to state where you got your information from isn’t new to me. I loved history and English all through my schooling years and took the advanced and extra courses whenever available in high school and learned that rule very early on, especially in college. Then, as a teacher (in English because it overshadowed my history degree), all of my students had to do their own research and citing sources was required then too. I can pretty much do MLA formatting in my sleep! Not to mention that as an education major I also learned APA and as a history major I also learned Chicago style. So, I am pretty well-versed in citations and their importance – I get it and I understand why it’s done.

So why, oh why, did I NOT CITE MY SOURCES when I first started? To that, I have no idea. A momentary lapse in judgement. And that lapse cost me HOURS of re-research. Let me tell you the story…

Back in 2003, while still in college, I began in earnest to research my family. After doing the usual basics of writing down what I knew, I then asked if there were family members who also had information. In came my Aunt Joy who sent me copies of her wonderful research that gave me more names and dates and a place to start. I was focused (and still am) on my maiden name, and wanted to find out more information on where we came from. I had gotten as far as my 4x great-grandfather, David Witherell and was hunting for his parents. I knew he had married a Martha Wolcott in New York and this knowledge somehow led me to information that stated that David’s parents were John and Juda (Bullard) Witherell. Then this information somehow led me to note that Juda is really Judith and her parents were David and Elizabeth (Hadley) Bullard from Gaines, New York.

Of course… I wrote nothing down on where I found this information or even how many sources this came from.

I was in college at the time and my double major and education degree were taking a lot of my spare research time away. So I put the family research aside. In 2007, after getting my first job and a cross-country move (north to south), I started my research again and reviewed my notes. Especially now as a teacher, I was completely perplexed why I did not write down where I found David’s parents names!

On a trip home, I once again hunted for that information. It took me nearly a YEAR to find that information again. A YEAR! Grant it, it’s because I lived a flight (or a two-day drive) away from home, so it wasn’t very easy to do some of the research since it did require me to be there. I finally found the information and reread it to confirm it and realized the sources may not be that credible (a family genealogy book without citations and a county history book without citations). So, what did I do? I DID NOT WRITE DOWN THE INFORMATION AGAIN!

Seriously, I am not a dumb individual, but I seemed to have been lacking good sense and intelligence while researching David.

Now fast forward to another cross country move (south to north) to where I currently live. Once again, I picked up my David Witherell research determined to find out more since I was MUCH closer to my hometown. And once again, my past self screwed over my future self. This time though, I had made a note of the type of book the information was found in and since I was much closer, it was only a few hours of time wasted in refinding AND CITING the information.

Finally, I had my information noted and cited:

David Witherell married Martha Jane Wolcott on 14 April 1849 in Shelby, New York; he was the son of John and Juda Bullard from Richmond, N.Y.[1]

Juda, or Judith, is the daughter of David and Elizabeth (Hadley) Bullard who settled in Gaines, New York and married John Witherell.[2]

My lesson has been fully learned! I will cite every bit of information I find no matter if I think it isn’t the best source! These small tidbits are clues that have led to more information on David that led to better sources to confirm parts of David’s history. If I had remembered to cite my information in the beginning, I often wonder how far I would be on David’s research. So much wasted time when I should have just cited the source, which should have been second nature to me. And now my copy of Evidence Explained has a broken binding, dog eared pages, and many colored tabs for sources I use often. It is a well worn, well used, and well loved book.

504 Evidence Explained

It still looks new until you open it 🙂


I implore all of you who don’t yet cite your sources to learn from me! Don’t worry about the format – the semi-colons, commas, periods, etc. – that can all be rearranged later if you wish to publish. Just always be sure to write down the basics: author, title, published and publication date. Or for the unpublished items (which is what what we usually use): the creator if there is one, a title or description of the source, the date of the event, the item of interest, and where you found it. Simple. Just be sure you can find it again if you need to! It will save you HOURS of research. 🙂


[1] Chandler Wolcott, The Family of Henry Wolcott: One of the First Settlers of Windsor, Connecticut (Rochester: The Genesee Press, 1912), 212.

[2] Arad Thomas, Pioneer History of Orleans County, New York: Containing Some Account of the Civil Divisions of Western New York, with Brief Biographical Notices of Early Settlers and of the Hardships and Privations They Endured, the Organization of the Towns in the County, Together with Lists of Town and County Officers Since the County was Organized, with Anecdotes and Reminiscences, Illustrating the Character and Customs of the People (Albion: Orleans American Steam Press Print, 1871), 231.

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  1. Carol Anne Kuse

    I can relate to your problem. I started back in the 70’s when few people heard of genealogy much less citations. I have so many citations now that read “I have no idea where I got this.” I leave that in there even when I do find and cite it from reliable sources as a reminder of what not to do. Most of it from family who was there.

    • NikiMarie

      That’s a good idea when going back over research! I still have a few sources that I’m unsure of but they were mostly stories from family members too. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Amanda Poyner

    I am running into similar issues, not only with my research (done late at night with a sleep addled brain), but with others. I have found connections to distant family who have information added on their trees, but do not have any sources or other forms of documentation other than a death record index and that the name and date range fit. It is a bit frustrating at times.

    • NikiMarie

      This is a common problem in sharing trees online, no matter the website. Sometimes if you ask the person, they may have the documents but they just didn’t add it as a source. Some people, like me, simply use their online tree as a clue tree. I have several names on my tree that aren’t sourced but I also state that I use the tree like that in my profile. I prefer to keep all my documented ancestors on my genealogy software instead. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  3. Such good advice of course; but so easy to ignore because citations are just so boring to do and get in the way of the chase. I’ve done post-grad degrees and should know better, but still struggle to document my sources. 🙂

    • NikiMarie

      Too true! I agree it is tedious and boring and it is so easy to get lost in the fun of the search and forget the citation! It’s more fun to just keep going! But after my hours of re-research, I found it to easier and less frustrating to take the time to just write down the information the first time. 🙂

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