Friday, June 29, 2012

Follow-Up Friday - Thinking About Good Citations

It's Follow-Up Friday, where I highlight challenging, interesting and helpful comments to my blog posts.  

On Which Site Provides "Best" Census Source Citations? (posted 19 June 2012), there were a number of comments:

1)  Russ Worthington commented about whether any of the site source citations provided met his standards:

"'None of the above', with the exception of Elizabeth Shown Mills example.  That is why I have spent my time converting ANY Citation from anywhere into the Family Tree Maker Template Format.  What might be interesting is comparing FTM2012, against RootsMagic and Legacy. I would hope that they would be much closer then those provided by your Online Examples."

My comment:  I thought that I had done a comparison of the different source templates in the recent past, and I was right.  See:

*  Creating a 1940 U.S. Census Source Citation in Family Tree Maker 2012

*  1940 U.S. Census Source Citation with Legacy Family Tree 7.5

*  1940 U.S. Census Source Citation in RootsMagic 5 - Free-Form Template
*  1940 U.S. Census Source Citation in RootsMagic 5 - Census Image Source Template

If you read each post, you will note that Legacy Family Tree 7.5 and RootsMagic 5 created source citations almost exactly to the Evidence! Explained model, but Family Tree Maker 2012 did not.  The FTM 2012 citation did have all of the elements in the EE template, but in a different order.

On Russ's point, the three software programs I used above do a much better job of creating Evidence! Explained quality sources than do the online family tree websites or historical record collection providers.  

For me, the key is that the citation elements be present so that the citation is useful to the reader.  My preference is that they be in EE order.

2)  R. Mansfield said:

"I often compose my own sources for information I've provided such as birth or death certificates. I don't have a copy of Evidence Explained because it is (1) so stinking expensive, and (2) not available in an electronic medium for which I could easily carry it with me on my iPad. I'll probably eventually buy it and scan it. 

"However, I do understand the purpose and basic elements needed in a good citation since I work in academic settings. I am in school where Turabian is used and I teach where APA is used, and I constantly have to keep the two methods straight in my head. I probably think in terms of Turabian more than APA when I craft a source, but I know the essential elements necessary to go in the citation. It needs to have enough information so that someone else could find the same source. So while they may not conform toEvidence Explained, I do believe they are complete, which--to me--is the most important part."

My comments:  The PDF version is much easier to carry around - I have it on both computers and in Dropbox where I can access it in my account there if necessary.  

As noted above - the important thing is to cite your sources in whatever way you are able to.  At some point, you may want to publish your genealogy work, and have to comply with the source citation format of the publication.  The source citation style of the different publications vary, but I note that NGSQ is using EE style now.

Since I haven't used Turabian or APA or CMOS, I'm curious as to what a census citation looks like in any or all of those styles.  Any takers?

3)  Kenneth R. Marks challenged:

"Using the Evidence Explained template, can someone please explain to me why the dwelling and household number is necessary? Obviously with the city, county, and state and the ED and Page#, the proper page is found and can be found in the future. I always add the head of household name and ALL members of the household for completeness.

"And why if accessed online is it required to cite where you accessed it from as well as the date? Having the microfilm info seems to be redundant. I must be missing something I guess."

My comments:  As Russ noted in a response, the best explainer of this would be Elizabeth Shown Mills.  She has a wonderful website at, and has a Forum where persons can asked source citation questions (see  

Let me try to answer the challenges, though, but this may demonstrate my lack of knowledge on these issues:

*  Why are the dwelling and household numbers necessary?  I think that they are "finding aids" on the page.  The handwriting is not always legible and the spelling is not always correct.   Before the ED numbers were provided, there were usually two or three page numbers on a page (stamped, a penned town page number, and a scrawled number that was probably from when they bound the pages in a county book).  

*  Why cite where it was accessed, and the date?  The short answer is that "just because it was on a specific website or microfilm on a specific date, doesn't mean it will always be at that website when someone else wants to find it."  Will always be  Will always be  No...  The date helps if the researcher was keeping a research log or needed to find a web page on the Wayback Machine.  That said, I rarely add the access date (my free form citation details are too long as they are)) - I don't see an obvious value to them and have 28,000 citations without them.

*  Why is the microfilm number cited?  Not everyone has access to the Internet, or to the subscription sites on the Internet.  The Microfilm number, and roll number for NARA citations, are useful as finding aids when an online index and image are not available to the researcher, or the source detail (ED, page, etc.) citation provided is wrong.  The NARA microfilm roll numbers, and the FHL microfilm numbers, will probably not change over time.

The latter question raises an important issue - the record providers like and often combine separate record sets into an online collection.  The separate record sets were findable at the repository at which they were held (e.g., National Archives), but source citations may not cite those original record sets and repositories.  I'm trying to add that information to the "Source comments" field in the master source entry in my genealogy software so that there is a clue to where the record was conserved before imaging and indexing. 

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver 


GeneJ said...

Hi Randy,

About the household / dwelling numbers, might I add that these details are helpful to me because:

(a) In the context of extended family and/or FAN research, these numbers are relatively relevant references (ha!). If Joe is living at dwelling 35 and his father is at 38 or there are three others of the same less than common surname at dwelling 41-45, it's just easier for me to use the household or dwelling number references to describe those "relative" references (rather than to count lines or lines and pages, etc.).

(b) Bootstraps entries that involve "same dwelling," "different household."

As for access dates ... OooO. When using a well identified, established commercial site, accessing what I consider well identified "standard" sources, access dates are becoming less relevant for me. I do continue to record them.

Taco said...

Quite right, Randy! I also add the original data as a note with the master source, and with the source detail, I also add the information on what part of the original source may be cited, for instance the image number and FHL film number or the NARA film roll of the series. I am thinking though, that nowadays it should be 'allowed' to just use a web link as a source detail, with added info on what original source that weblink is quoting.

Michael Hait said...

In regards to your request to cite a census record in Turabian/Chicago or APA style--there isn't a way. Well, let me rephrase that: There is a way but it does not provide enough information to identify a specific household. It was this inadequacy that caused Elizabeth to write Evidence Explained in the first place! While there are some differences, EE is basically built upon the Chicago Manual of Style (which is also the foundation of Turabian--it is not a separate style).

You might remember my blog post last summer that discussed the various citation styles: