Monday, February 8, 2016

Studying the Art of Citation

GPS Element #2 – Source Citations

This is part of my ongoing series on Educational Preparation for BCG Certification. It is not limited to those interested in certification, but provides ideas for any interested genealogist. There are links to the other posts in the series at the bottom of this article.

To understand the second element of the GPS, “complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item,” I recommend the following:

Informal Study Options

1If you only do one thing, it should be:

Read chapter 2 on “Fundamentals of Citation” in Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015).

This chapter explains that “citation is an art, not a science.” It also provides the purpose, format and common practices of creating citations for a wide variety of sources. It will help you understand source citation, and make the practice of crafting citations easier. 

This book is available from Genealogical Publishing Company or Amazon.

2. If you have finished #1 then you are ready to move on.

Elizabeth Shown Mills has provided many resources for helping us learn to craft citations. Now that you have read chapter 2 in Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, you may as well browse the rest of the book. Notice that there are not only QuickCheck Models for many types of citations, but also background information on each type of source and details on what you would need to include in the citation.

3. One of the best resources available online is

Elizabeth Shown Mills shares a variety of resources on this website, including:

Evidence Explained Forums – a place for you to ask questions on citation issues, evidence analysis issues, and record usage and interpretation. You should read the archives for answers to many of your questions, or questions you did not know you had.

Evidence Explained QuickLessons -  brief lessons on a variety of source, analysis and citation topics. Here are a few that are relevant to studying source citation:

       QuickTips – the blog at Start with these posts:
            Citations: How Much Is Enough?

4. Read chapter 4 of Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013). This chapter on source citations gives a five-part model for creating citations, and several figures with examples of citations created using the model. There are also fifteen exercises to pick apart and create citations for practice.

5. Review chapter 2 on “Standards for Documenting” in Genealogy Standards: 50th Anniversary Edition by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (Nashville: Ancestry, 2014). This chapter contains eight standards for citations including purposes, scope, elements, and format. Standard five provides an easy to remember model of who, what, when, where and wherein as elements of a citation.

Formal Learning Activities:

6. If you are an auditory learner, you might like the following recorded presentations from the 2014 Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) national conference:

     by Elizabeth Shown Mills
     Why should citing sources cause angst or obsession? Learning a few basic rules lets us apply a
     common-sense approach that avoids both frustration and overkill.

     by Thomas W. Jones
     Learn how to document a family history, five characteristics of complete and accurate citations, 
     and a simplified format for citing most sources, both physical and digital.

7. If you have completed all of the above, and still want more, then you might like a full week of “Mastering the Art of Genealogical Documentationwith Thomas W. Jones at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh in June 2016. 

These are just ideas for you to add to your individual education plan as you choose. They are NOT meant to be a checklist where you have to read/study/participate in every option. 


  1. I just read "Understanding FamilySearch Citation Models" by Robert Raymond in the September 2015 issue of the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly and found it quite good. Another place for more education.

    1. Jamie, Thank you for recommending the article by Robert Raymond. I was hoping that people would add their recommendations to my list.

  2. Thanks for this list! I am currently taking a course through NGS by Michael Hait titled "American Genealogical Studies: Guide to Documentation and Source Citation." At first, I thought I was really grasping citations. But, now I'm to the quiz part and am really struggling! I think I'll take a break and go through some of your recommendations. I already did item #1 between last night and this morning as I TRIED to get a grasp on citations. I'll move on to item #2!