Genealogy Citations For The Rest Of Us

SuperscriptI’m new to citing sources in genealogy. It’s not a natural or organic process for me at all. So consider me someone who is still surmounting the learning curve, as I suspect most family historians are. Part of me wishes I’d started citing my sources in the beginning. Yet in some ways I’m glad I didn’t because I would have spent far too much time doing something I didn’t enjoy, and might have lost interest in genealogy all together if I thought it was just too tedious to pursue.

I have no interest in becoming a professional genealogist. It’s too much work and I’m not built for having paying clients. Still, I see the value in citing sources. I have spent some time reading articles about this necessary function, and have arrived at some conclusions about a reasonable approach to keep from going crazy trying to get it right.


Here are some examples of a citation for a U.S. Census record.

This one is from Family Search:

United States, Bureau of the Census, 15th Census, 1930, “Kansas, 1930 Federal Census: Population Schedules”, Washington, D.C.: Bureau of the Census Micro-Film Laboratory, [199-?], [FHL film 2340440], E.D. 40-6, p. 30, Family History Library, 35 N. West Temple Stree, Salt Lake City, UT 84150-3400, USA !Name: Frank C. Dilts.

This one is from

1850 United State Census (Free Schedule), Pitt Township, Wyandot County, Ohio; p. 233, family 86, dwelling 79, lines 967-977; June 1, 1850; National Archives Microfilm M-19, Roll 719.

This one is from Evidence Explained (this is a short version):

1870 U.S. census, Wilkes Co., Ga., pop. sch., Washington P.O., p. 223 (stamped), dwell. 19, fams. 19-20, Cozart and Hogue.

Here’s the one I use. It’s what the Daughters of the American Revolution uses for its applications.

1850 U. S. Census, Illinois, Edgar Co, District Nineteen, pg. 116B, ln 27.

The DAR standard starts with the date, then the largest district: U.S. and lines up by the next largest district: State, County or Parish, Enumeration District¬† (abbreviated ED) or Township (abbreviated Twp), page number, then either family number or line number. It’s clean and simple and easy to remember once you get the hang of it.

What dictated the decision I made about what style of census citation to use is something I learned from another area of my life: Know Your Audience. I spend time helping people join the DAR, so more often than not, my audience is comprised of the staff genealogists at the DAR. Ask yourself under what circumstances would someone else be reading your citations? Citations for a peer review journal would be written entirely differently than citations that are hyper-linked in a family tree website. Different lineage applications have different citation conventions as well. It saves me headaches knowing I don’t have to make a complex citation for most real world applications.


Love, Love, Love the Citation Machine. It’s handy for citing books, newspapers, and websites. I just plug in the information I have from a title page for a book, for example, and it creates the citation for me. It does require proofreading the finished product, but it saves me having to remember or look up the style details every time I want to cite something. I did learn early on to request title pages for books, although I just did forget to do that the other day. Fortunately, I have a fair number of title page images on my hard drive, so I don’t have to re-search for them whenever I need one. Using the Citation Machine makes short work of producing readable citations.

Clearly not everything we need to cite in genealogy fits nicely into the census, book, website, newspaper system. We encounter all kinds of interesting records that have no easy way to cite.

Some websites do give you a ready-made citation for the record.

Family Search does that for the online images they provide.

Family Search Citation box

See the nifty citation at the bottom of the record description? Just copy and paste that into foot or end notes, family group sheet or citation notes in genealogy software, and it’s good to go. It has the added advantage of having a URL imbedded in it, so if the citation gets published on a website or in a .pdf, all the reader has to do is click on it to be taken directly to the record. How cool is that? is a great place to get already composed citations.

Ancestry citation

I copy and pasted the information in the box below the ‘Save’ button on the results page, and added the Accession number, and voila, I had my citation. In the absence of a subscription to Ancestry, or some other site that gives this kind of composed citation, I’ve learned to look for a composed citation to use at the website that provided the document. If one isn’t there, then I try searching “How do I cite (fill in the blank)? I just did Google: How do I cite BLM-GLO records? I found this handy guide from the St. Louis Genealogical Society. Help is out there. This doesn’t have to be difficult.


Seriously, that is the best advice I’ve seen yet on all the websites and documents I’ve read and videos I’ve watched on citations. Whatever my style is, I need to commit to it and make it my own. My non-conformist streak kicks in whenever I try to force myself to use someone else’s system for doing pretty much anything from exercise to cooking to citations. As long as I’m consistent, then I believe I’ll be okay. Developing my own style for citations is a work in progress. Like any work in progress, I have learned to give myself permission to get it wrong. Making mistakes is how we learn. I’m not going to be submitting my work for peer review publication, so as long as my citation informs me and any potential reader how to find the record I referenced, then the citation is valid.


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