The Humble Citation: Vital and Invaluable
When a sculptor is commissioned to create a piece of art, the artist’s efforts are conveyed via the finished statue. When a painter is commissioned to create a work of art, the artist’s efforts are conveyed via a painting. When a genealogist is commissioned to conduct research, the culmination of the researcher’s efforts is conveyed via a research report. One of the most essential elements of the research report, as important as the clay to a sculptor and a brush to a painter, are the inclusion of citations. Notice how citations, presented in a smaller font, are tucked away at the bottom of this typical research report:
While the citation can be the bane of any researcher’s existence because of the tedious labor involved in creating them, citations play a vital and invaluable role in genealogical research. Citations are so important that a leading researcher in the industry, Elizabeth Shown Mills, wrote an entire book about citations entitled Evidence Explained.
Responsible researchers, whether academic, scientific or family historian, back up their assertions with a citation. In the academic world, citations are used to avoid plagiarism and give credit where credit is due. In the genealogy world, a citation does that as well, but also serves two additional critical purposes: a citation alerts the reader to what record that particular piece of genealogical information came from and it aids the reader in finding that record again.
Anyone who has received a research report from Legacy Tree Genealogists sees that every fact is accompanied by at least one citation. Let’s take a minute to deconstruct a citation so it can be appreciated for the time it takes to create and the information it conveys.
The Anatomy of a Citation
Here is a typical Legacy Tree Genealogists citation for a census record:
1880 U.S. Census (population schedule), Brigham City, Box Elder, Utah, ED 4, sheet 5A, John Barker household, https://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed March 2014.
At first sight the above citation may seem like just a bunch of words and numbers, however, here we clearly break down the anatomy of this citation and what it references:
The first section of the citation tells us the name of the record – in this case a census record created in the United States in the year 1880. “Population schedule” tells us this was not a mortality schedule or an agricultural schedule, but rather a census of the general population. “Brigham City, Box Elder, Utah” tells us where this particular 1880 census was enumerated, in this case, the city, county and state. “ED 4, sheet 5A” tells us which enumeration district was referenced and what page was viewed. “John Barker household” tells us what the household that was examined was called. “http://ancestry.com, subscription database” tells us which repository was used to locate and view the record. In addition, “subscription database” tells us the nature of the repository, in this case a database that requires a subscription. “March 2014” informs us when the record was examined at this database.
Here is the anatomy of a citation for a death certificate:
And here is the citation for a baptism record obtained from a church in Italy:
The Purpose of Citations
As can be seen from these three examples, the citation serves three purposes:
- Credit has been assigned for the particular piece of genealogical information;
- The reader now knows where the information was found for the specific fact;
- The reader can go back to the repository and retrieve that record for future research purposes.
Take the time to peruse your research report and simply be enthralled by the breadth, depth and variety of the repositories, archives and databases from which the information about your fascinating ancestors was drawn.
If you have a lot of information about your family tree, but very few sources, our experts would love to help you fill in the gaps and create those citations. Contact us today to discuss which of our projects works best for you.