Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part four

In the last post, part three of this series, we discussed the logic behind citing a census record. However, we only cited part of the record we used. As selected in the last post, we chose to use the following sample record:

So that you can all see what record I am citing, I have included a link to an image of the 1860 census page containing my 3 x great-grandfather, Calvin Hait: If you do not have a paid subscription to, you can sign up for a free 7-day trial to view this image. The image is also available on The free index entry on (while not the image) is available using the following short link:

The citation for this record as it stood at the conclusion of the last post is as follows:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household …

So where do we go from here?

We have already cited the record itself–or more clearly stated, we have cited the census household. But we have not fully cited the actual source that we are using. In order to fully cite the source we are using, we have to specify what we are actually looking at.

For example, if you are looking at the actual original paper census record, you would cite this as such. For most of us, this is not the case.

My first exposure to census records came as a teenager at the National Archives in Washington, D. C. In those days, before any of the microfilm had been digitized, we would cite the microfilm. The National Archives microfilm publication for the 1860 U. S. Census is M653. So we would cite this as

NARA microfilm publication M653

As with the census itself, this is akin to a title, but is not a title, so it would not be italicized.

M653 consists of 1,438 rolls of microfilm. So, of course, it is necessary to indicate which roll of microfilm holds the record we are using. In this case it is roll number 865.

The full citation for this census record, as I read it on the National Archives microfilm years ago, would thus be:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household; NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 865.

Of course, unless you lived near Washington, D. C., you probably did not view the original NARA microfilm. Most researchers were more likely to use the Family History Library microfilm, which would have been indicated by citing “… FHL microfilm no. 803,865.”

Today, few people actually still use the microfilm–either the NARA publication or FHL’s copy–to access federal census records. Instead, we use the digital images provided online by Ancestry, Footnote, HeritageQuest, etc. This is how we would cite these:

First we must specify that this was a digital image (as opposed to a transcription, database, or some other format). The easiest way to state this is plainly.

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

In the case of a digital image of a census record appearing on a website, the website itself is the publication. Think of it like you would a book, with the census image being  an article or chapter within the book. Again, we must remember that the census record does not bear a title, so it would not be enclosed in quotation marks the way a traditional chapter would be.

Using the principles outlined in part two of this series, we would cite the creator, title, and publication information (URL and date accessed) of the website publication. In this case, the citation would appear as follows:

digital images, ( : accessed 25 June 2011)

In this case, in order to provide the most accurate information possible, we would also want to cite the source of the digital image, as cited by the website itself. This is indicated by the use of the word “citing.” Footnote includes the source information as seen here:

This information includes the microfilm publication number, but not the roll number. So in this case we would state exactly what Footnote cites:

citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll not identified.

Here we also get into proper use of punctuation. According to the Chicago Manual of Style Online (16th Edition), a semicolon is used for various reasons:

In regular prose, a semicolon is most commonly used between two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction to signal a closer connection between them than a period would.[1]

When items in a series themselves contain internal punctuation, separating the items with semicolons can aid clarity. If ambiguity seems unlikely, commas may be used instead.[2]

Both of these apply in this case (and many others). First, we are combining multiple clauses into the formation of the full citation.  The citation of the census household is one clause, the citation of the digital image is the second, and the citation provided by the website is a third. These multiple clauses should be separated by semicolons. The second reason cited above, for a series containing internal punctuation, also applies. The first two “clauses” both contain internal punctuation, and therefore must be separated by semicolons.

Evidence Explained, by Elizabeth Shown Mills, specifically addresses the use of semicolons in this context:

When we use a published source that cites its own source, our citation will focus upon the derivative that we actually used. However, it is good practice to record also where our source obtained his or her information. Depending upon the complexity of the situation, we may need to separate the two with a semicolon, … or we may separate them more simply with a comma ….[3]

Given all of this information, the full citation for the 1860 federal census record for Calvin Hait, as viewed on, would be as follows:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household; digital images, ( : accessed 25 June 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll not identified.

Future posts in this series will discuss other common record groups and citation formats.


[1] The Chicago Manual of Style Online ( : accessed 25 June 2011), chapter 6.54, “Use of the semicolon.”

[2] The Chicago Manual of Style Online 6.58, “Semicolons in a complex series.”

[3] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), p. 88.

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9 thoughts on “Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part four

  1. Pingback: Source Citation Blog Posts – the Link List (31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog, Week 7) « Planting the Seeds

  2. Pingback: Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part one « Planting the Seeds

  3. Pingback: Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part two « Planting the Seeds

  4. Pingback: Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part three « Planting the Seeds

  5. Pingback: Why we don’t always need source citation templates … « Planting the Seeds

  6. I’ve recently discovered your blog and have read all of your posts about the Genealogy Proof Standard and source citations with great relish – finally someone who explains this in a clear, concise way so that I can understand how to use it in my own research!

    I’ve been adding the (hopefully) correct source citation to a biography about one of my ancestors I am currently writing, but I’ve run into a small problem to which I can’t find the answer. So here’s to hoping you might be able to help.

    I’ve been attaching the source citation to the sentence that states the fact found in the source, and the citations are all endnotes. However, there are several sources that I use over and over again – most notably a short biographical sketch written by my ancestor himself and an article about him. Both citations look like this:

    1. Life description Lodewijk Wesselo – handwritten by himself, 1947; Familiearchieven: CBG, fa 00472, familiearchief Wesselo, Doos 1, portfolio 3, CBG, Den Haag.

    2. Carolus Pictor, “Een diamanten tijd in dienst van goud, zilver en diamanten: De Heer L. Wesselo 60 jaar chef bij Begeer, van Kempen & Vos,” Edelmetaal (July 1948), copy; Familiearchieven: CBG, fa 00472, familiearchief Wesselo, Doos 1, portfolio 3, CBG, Den Haag.

    Now my question is, how do I cite this the second, third, etc. time? Because I know there are footnotes and short footnotes (although I’ve never been clear on what to leave out in the short footnote), and I presume there is a shorter version of this citation for continued use? Any help with this would be greatly appreciated.

    • Short citations should contain enough information to effectively identify the specific record being used. For example, in the second example you have provided, which appears to refer to a journal article, you could get away with the following:

      Pictor, “Een diamanten tijd in dienst van goud, zilver en diamenten,” Edelmetaal (Jul 1948).

      [As an aside, if the copy that you have has page numbers, then you should include the specific page numbers. If not, then you should either (1) try to discover the page numbers through other sources or (2) state “page numbers unknown” in your citation.]

      For the first example, which appears to be a manuscript autobiography, you can get away with even less, as long as it is completely identifiable.

      Another important aspect of effectively using short citations is that you should not add them to your manuscript until the editing of the text has been completed. If you add them while still writing you run the risk of rearranging the text in such a way that a short citation might precede the full citation.

      • Thanks! I do have all of the citations listed in full, but I’m at the editing stage right now, so want to shorten the ‘double’ citations.

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