Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part one

As discussed in my recent series on “Why Form Matters,” many of the issues that genealogists have in writing source citations stem from the pressure to “get it right.” I described in that series why the form of the citation is important, but that there is a learning curve involved in creating accurate source citations. As a means of trying to help any genealogists out there who are struggling with “getting it right,” I will present a series of articles discussing the basics of the source citation format commonly accepted in genealogy. Hopefully, you will find this useful.

The most basic format to use is the publication format. This is pretty easy to learn and actually forms the basis of many of the citations that we create as genealogists.

This format contains several parts:

  • Creator
  • Title
  • Publication Place
  • Publisher
  • Publication Date

The format puts these elements in the following order, for use in a “Source List” or “Bibliography”:

Author (last name first). Title. Publication Place: Publisher, Publication Date.

To give you an example, this is how I would cite my most recent book:

Hait, Michael. Records of the Slave Claims Commissions, 1864-1867, Volume Three: Journal of the First Maryland Commission. Harrington, Delaware: Hait Family History Publications, 2011.

One important aspect to note, especially when dealing with self-published books, including many nineteenth-century books that were published prior to many of the large publishing houses, is that the Publisher is not the same as the Printer. For example, I use Lulu.com as my printer. However, I could just as easily take the same content to any printer. The Publisher would be my own publishing imprint. Self-publishing is popular with genealogy resource books (derivative sources), so be sure that you are citing the author’s imprint, not the name of the printer.

When writing a footnote, a key point to remember is that the footnote is in the format of a sentence, and should follow the same rules of punctuation. Citing the same book above, in the form of a footnote:

Michael Hait, Records of the Slave Claims Commissions, 1864-1867, Volume Three: Journal of the First Maryland Commission (Harrington, Del.: Hait Family History Publications, 2011), pg. 23.

Just as in any sentence, there is only a single period, at the end. The other elements are separated by commas. The publication information appears within parentheses, with no comma between the publication information and the title. After all, the publication information refers to the specific publication being cited. Finally, you would cite the page number after the publication, again separated with a comma. Some people do not include the word “pg.” or “page” to specify the page number. I choose to, simply for clarity’s sake.

Part of understanding how to form a source citation is understanding what you are citing. Using this simplest of formats as an example, here is the thought process behind the formation of this citation:

  1. In your text, whether a compiled genealogy, a case study or article, or a research report, you state a fact.
  2. You are citing the source of this fact. This would be in the form of either a footnote or an endnote. This way, anyone reading the text would know that this specific fact came from this specific source.
  3. Ultimately, the source of the fact is the author of the book being cited. So this element, the author, comes first.
  4. Now you have to explain where the author provided the information being cited. In this case, it is a book, so you provide the title of the book.
  5. For clarification about the specific book, you will provide the publication information. This is important in case there are multiple editions, which may contain slightly different layouts, etc.
  6. Within the book itself, you must then cite the page on which the information appears.

The same principles will apply to all forms, though there are distinct differences.

Read more:

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by L. H. Head, Jr. on May 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Michael,

    Thanks for posting this. Have to confess, I’ve been overlooking the distinction between publishers and printers.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Sue Mccormick on May 28, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Thank you for this lesson. So far in my very begining research, I have only one source which is a book. I feel more hopeful about my ability to learn to “get it right” because I did get it almost right. The book is a flawed book of genealogy data as handed in by members of the extended clan with no sources, no research) which is nevertheless valuable as a springboard to connections between people. My first citation mistake was one I should have noticed — I used Scottsdale instead of Scottsdale, Pennsylvania as the place of publication. Since Scottsdale, PA is not an instantly known location, I should have remembered that I needed to add the state. The other mistake was that of trying to keep the printer as part of the publication data.
    This template is now part of my template list; I believe that future book citations will be much easier for me to create.
    Again, thank you for this very clear model.
    Sue McCormick

    Reply

  3. Thanks for the review. I still think the genealogy community should have a citation engine like that of MLA and APA, but in the meantime I’m constantly refreshing on citing sources. I most appreciated the review of footnote differences. I’m not sure I make the distinctionin my writings.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Tex on May 30, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Thanks for the “footnote as sentence” thought. It helps me immensely.

    Reply

  5. [...] About « Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part one [...]

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  6. [...] Source Citations: Getting it ‘Right,’ part one [...]

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  7. [...] make with my earlier posts, “Source Citations: Getting it ‘Right,’” parts one, two, three, and four. In these posts, I explain the logic behind why several of the more common [...]

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