Friday, April 15, 2011

My Solution for US Census Free-form Source Citations in RootsMagic 4

In my last post about my genealogy database (Steadily Improving my Family Tree Database, posted 23 February), I noted the progress I'd made in my genealogy database by standardizing my place names,  making free-form standard sources, and adding sources for unsourced assertions.  Since then, I've modified almost all of my master sources in RootsMagic 4 to nearly Evidence! Explained (EE) quality. 

My main reason for making free-form master sources, rather than using the EE-style source templates, was because I want to use GEDCOM to upload my tree to several online databases.  My Source Citation Saga  Compendium series explained, rather graphically, just how almost every online tree and software programs mangles source citations from almost every bit of software or online tree.  My recommendations for readers adding or editing sources is to use free-form citations, based on the EE models.

One particular EE source citation model that has been difficult for me to model are United States Census records, at least in RootsMagic 4.  I noted in Source Citation Creation in RootsMagic 4 - some examples that "... [using the EE] Census source template ... will require each unique census page to have it's own Master Source citation (because of the need to put the NARA Roll number in the Master Source field)."

I have over 200 source citations to the 1900 US Census alone, so I needed to find a work-around, using free-form citations, to solve this problem so that I have only one Master Source for each census year.

In order to determine how to craft the free-form citation, I used the EE-style source template for the Census, US Federal (online images) as a model. 

1)  Here is my model for the 1850 US Census source for Isaac Seaver using the EE-style source template:

The Master Source details were entered as (field/entry):

*  Country (optional):  United States
*  Year and type:  1850 United States Census
*  Jurisdiction:  Norfolk County, Massachusetts
*  Schedule:  Population schedule
*  Item type:  online database
*  Website:
*  URL:
*  Credit line: citing National Archive Microfilm Publication M432, Roll 331

The Source Detail information were (field/entry):

*  Civil division: Medfield town
*  Enumeration district: [blank]
*  Page ID: page 356
*  Household ID: dwelling #699, family #699
*  Person of interest:  Isaac Seaver
*  Access type: [blank]
*  Access date: 1 Mar 2011

The resulting source citation elements were:

1850 United States Census, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, population schedule, Medfield town, page 356, dwelling #699, family #699, Isaac Seaver; online database, ( : accessed 1 March 2011); citing National Archive Microfilm Publication M432, Roll 331.

Short Footnote:
1850 United States Census, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, Population schedule, Medfield town, page 356, dwelling #699, family #699, Isaac Seaver.

United States. Massachusetts. Norfolk County. 1850 United States Census, population schedule. Online database. : 2011.

2)  With the "Footnote" source citation above, I crafted a Free-form source citation that matched as close as possible to the EE-style Footnote, as shown below:

In this source citation, the Master Source entries are:

*  Footnote:  1850 United States Census
*  Short footnote: 1850 United States Census
*  Bibliography:  1850 United States Census. Online database. (

And the Source details as:

Page Number: Norfolk County, Massachusetts, population schedule, Medfield town, page 356,  dwelling #699, family #699, Isaac Seaver; online database, ( : accessed 1 Mar 2011), citing National Archives Publication M432, Roll 331

The resulting Source citation elements are:

1850 United States Census, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, population schedule, Medfield town, page 356, dwelling #699, family #699, Isaac Seaver; online database, ( : accessed 1 Mar 2011), citing National Archives Publication M432, Roll 331.

Short Footnote:
1850 United States Census, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, population schedule, Medfield town, page 356, dwelling #699, family #699, Isaac Seaver; online database, ( : accessed 1 Mar 2011), citing National Archives Publication M432, Roll 331.

1850 United States Census. Online database. (

The only differences I see between the Source template Footnote and the Free-form Footnote is that is italicized in the Source template Footnote and not in the Free-form template.

There are more differences between the Short Footnote and Bibliography entries, but these do not, in general, get transferred in a GEDCOM transfer to an online family tree or to another program.  It is not possible, with the current RootsMagic free-form template, to match the EE-style template perfectly with the free-form template.

As I've shown before, the Free-form Footnote gets transferred very cleanly using GEDCOM to online trees and software programs.

So my current Source project is to go through all of my US Census sources and standardize them to the Free-form format shown above.  It isn't as onerous as it could be, since I have many of the elements already in my source details (the county, state, town, ED, page, dwelling #, family #, person's name, roll number) and only have to add "population schedule" and " (, citing National Archives Microfilm Publication M432" between the person's name and the Roll number.  They can be easily copied/pasted for each census year in each Source Detail line.

I recommend that RootsMagic make the National Archives Roll Number (or FHL Microfilm number) part of the Source Details rather than make users put it in the "Credit line"  of the Master Source.  I also recommend that RootsMagic put the "Jurisdiction" data in the Source Detail section.  That way one Master Source can be used for every jurisdiction in the Census EE-style Source Template. 


RootsMagic said...


You can create your own source template and modify it to do exactly that.

1. Do Lists > Source templates
2. Highlight the source template to base yours on
3. Click Copy to make a copy of that template
4. Edit that copy of the template
5. Edit the Jurisdiction field and mark the checkbox to make that field a detail field
6. Create a new field for the Film # and make that a detail field
7. Add that new field to the template for the footnote where you want it.

We'll look into your suggestions for modifying the built in template as well.

Unknown said...

Umm ... I'm thinking that Randy should do a webinar on creating free form source citations like this one so people like me (citation-impaired) can cite their sources without messing it up :)

Sherry - Family Tree Writer said...

Happy Birthday, Randy!! I am so glad you wrote this post on Citations1 I, too, am 'Citation Impaired' and this was helpful.

I've awarded you the Lovely Blog Award, Randy! I love checking on Saturday Night to see what the challenge is each Saturday Night, and trying to play along with the challenge!

John said...

Like you I don't want to have hundreds of unique "Master Sources". I want one for each U.S. Census year.
I use the source template called "Census, U.S. Federal (Online Image)"
I name my Master Source the same name as Ancestry uses, e.g. "1920 United States Federal Census". The ONLY entry I make in the top part of the template is for Year and Type - like 1920 United States Federal Census. I put all the rest of the required information in Source Details. This way I only have one master source for each census year, not one every state or every Civil Division.
John Carruthers
Victoria, BC, Canada

Cherie Cayemberg said...

Happy Blogiversary, Randy! And many more! :)

Miranda said...

I make copies of every template that I want to use so that I can modify them like this if I need to. I've added a CreditLineDetails field to my Source Details in my copy of the Census U.S. Federal (online images) template so that I can put the roll number there.

I've also found it helpful to change the Civil Division field to "Place" instead of "Text". That way you can create Master Sources with just a Jurisdiction of "United States" and a Civil Division of "Town, County, State". If the Civil Division is changed to Place, then you can change the Bibliography template to start with "[Jurisdiction]. [CivilDivision:Reverse]." and it all prints in the right order.

These two modifications have allowed me to keep one master source per census year, but still have the citations print like I want them to.

Chris Whitten said...

Hi Randy,

Reading Tamura Jones' "Geniology" article gave me a kick in the pants about sources. This is my top priority right now on The idea of there being another million profiles in our database without careful sources is keeping me up at night. I'm thinking we might need to go so far as to limit the number of profiles a user can add if you don't commit to using sources. But that's a tangent ...

Next time you import a GEDCOM to WikiTree, the source sections and footnotes will be cleaner. As long as it's not this week. :-) When you do, and when you have comments, I'd like to work with you to keep improving how we import data from RootsMagic and other programs.

By the way, congratulations on the five-year anniversary! An average of more than two and a half blog posts per day for five years is nothing less than incredible.


Delia Furrer said...

Thanks for your post and the step by step. This is the answer for me since I didn't want hundreds of master sources either in my list.
How do you cite a census for each member of the family group? Would you then just list the head of the household and copy that same citation detail for each of the family members?
Is the census source attached to the "residence" fact and at that point the enumeration date would be noted? I just want to be clear about this since it is such a daunting task for me.
I appreciate all your posts regarding the sources it's helpful to see it spelled out.