Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part two

In the first part of this series of posts, “Source Citations: Getting it ‘Right,’ part one,” we reviewed the format for source citations for books. However, books are not the only kinds of publications. There are magazines and journals, of course, but webpages are also considered publications. In terms of resources available for genealogical research, websites may have overtaken even books as the most popular. In general, citing a webpage follows many of the same principles discussed in the last  post, for publications. Please read this earlier post prior to reading this one.

As noted in the first part, publication citations contain the following elements:

  • 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.

A web page would be cited in a similar manner, with one exception. The author and publisher are likely the same, so they do not need to be noted separately. In some cases, the author name and title of the website are the same, and these can also be combined, such as in Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

Here is an example of a website citation:

Genealogy Trails. http://www.genealogytrails.com : 2011.

Only rarely, however, do we have need to cite an entire website, in the manner shown above. In most cases, we are citing a single part of the website, such as an online article, database, or digital image. The individual item that we are citing would also have to be cited, just as we would cite an article in a magazine, or a chapter in a book. In a Sources Used list or bibliography, this would appear as follows:

“Documents Regarding Slavery.” Washington D. C. Genealogy Trails. http://genealogytrails.com/washdc/slaverydocuments/documents_regarding_slavery.html : 2011.

We will most often create citations for specific facts, using footnotes or endnotes (whether in a narrative or in a genealogy software program). The format for notes differs slightly from the format for a bibliography, most notably by requiring much more specific information, similar to a page number in a book:

John G. Sharp, “Certificate Of Freedom, William Winters, August 7, 1816,” online article and transcription, Washington D. C. Genealogy Trails (http://genealogytrails.com/washdc/cof_winters_w.html : accessed 30 May 2011).

The various parts of this citation might need to be explained:

  • Once again, it is important to remember that we are citing the author of the resource first. On this particular page, the author is identified. In some cases the author of a website may not be identified, just as the author of a book might not be known.
  • The next item that would be cited is the title of the article. This is cited in the same way that a magazine article would be cited, using quotation marks.
  • We also need to note the type of material that this. Is this a digital image, an abstract, a transcription, a database of extracted information? All of these carry their own unique qualities, that can only be recorded and conveyed by noting the type of resource you used.
  • This one article is not the entire publication–the Washington D. C. Genealogy Trails website, with all of the various sub-pages, is the name of the publication. Like all proper titles, italics are used to designate the titles of websites.
  • Of course we need to provide more information, akin to the publication place, company, and date of a book. Websites, of course, are not physical objects that you would locate in a library or bookstore. On the other hand, you can locate them in a very specific online place–the URL. For this reason, the URL serves the purpose of the publication place. Websites are also extremely mutable. They can be changed at any time of any day. Rather than citing the date of original publication (which we often are not able to discern anyway), it is more important to note the date on which we accessed the information. Using tools like the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we can actually visit many websites on a specific date in the past. These details qualify the title of the website, so they follow the title within parentheses.

There are other variations on websites, depending on the type of material being presented.

So far, this series has focused on two relatively simple types of citations. Of course, they can get far more complex. We will continue to look at other citation models, as well as the reasoning behind them.

Read more:

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6 responses to this post.

  1. [...] About « Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part two [...]

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  2. [...] Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part two [...]

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  3. [...] previously discussed the elements to citing a website, in part two of this series. These are no different in this case than in any [...]

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  4. [...] « Recent Family History survey results, part four Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part two [...]

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  5. [...] 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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