Monday, November 8, 2010

Annotate Your Sources - It Can't Hurt And It Just Might Help

Good good good good citations
I'm pickin' up good citations
You're giving me excitations
Good good good good citations

Recently Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings, authored two articles on citing sources, Confessions of a Name Collector - English Sources and Citing My English Sources - My Preference. I agree with his conclusions and would like to offer some suggestions.

If the women don't find you handsome... they should at least find you handy

- Red Green -

That is also my philosophy with regard to citations. While they may not be handsome (technically correct), your citation should be handy (sufficient information to find the source). You may have missed a comma, capitalized something that shouldn't be, or have things out of place, but we should be able to find that source.


The basic purpose of a citation is to allow the reader to locate a cited source accurately and efficiently. A citation should contain at the minimum, the amount of information necessary to lead the reader directly to the specific items cited. There is no rule for maximum.


1. Scholarship: We want our work to reflect our excellent research and show our sourcing stuff. You're only as good as your sources.
2. Finding Aid: We want those using our research to be able to find the sources for themselves. The basic tenant of this is consistency. However you cite, cite the same way every time.

The conclusion to Randy's article was that you cite the sources you use. If you haven't actually used a source, how can you cite it? It would be poor scholarship.

You can make a source more informative by adding more information, also known as annotating the source.

One of the learning objectives of the University of Washington Certificate Program in Genealogy and Family History, was the development of an Annotated Bibliography. I graduated from the 9 month program having been required to develop an annotation for each of the sources I used. An annotation could be several sentences or several pages. Examples of those created: Historical map, county or town history, book published contemporary to my subject, a scholarly article, historical photograph, microfilmed newspaper, etc.

There is no law as to how much information a citation can contain. There are no Citation Police who will come to your home, open your genealogy program, read you source entries and start ticketing you. It's what works for you provided you meet the purposes of a citation.

The following is the annotation bibliography entry I developed for my use of an historical photograph and the local microfilmed newspaper for Carrollton, Missouri.

Historical Photograph

"Clerical force & U.S. Deputy Marshalls, U.S. Land Office, Perry, Okla. Ter. Oct. 12, 1893." Photographs of the American West: 1861-1912. Select Audiovisual Records; National Archives and Records Administration, Washington. Online: ; file west145.jpg; printout dated December 1, 2004. 49-AR-35.

Relevancy: While the photograph does not depict my Great Great Grandfather John Campbell or his area of the country, it does depict everyday lawmen in the Midwest for the approximate period of time he was a Sheriff. Looking at the photograph gives some idea of how John Campbell might have dressed.

Below is the annotation for the local newspaper in Carrollton, Missouri. I apologize for the fact that this is the copy with the professor's notes to me.

I can attest to the fact that by having so much information at my fingertips I was able to use this information two years later knowing exactly what I would be able to find in this source.

The Carroll Record Summary
Independent In All Things - Neutral In Nothing

Newspaper: The Caroll Record, Coffey Building, South Main St., Carrollton, MO

Published: Every Saturday

Editor: Jos. H. Turner, Proprietor

Rates of Subscription:

One copy, one year $1.59
One copy six months $0.75

Directory - Each paper contains

Train Time Table
City Directory
County Directory
Public School Directory
Church Directory


Front Page
Inside - Left (for purposes of the summary referred to as Page 2)
Inside - Right (for purposes of the summary referred to as Page 3)
Back Page


Current Topics, National and International news
Personal and General - National and International new in brief
Indian Depredations
Missouri State News
Crimes and Casualties
Facts for Farmers
Carroll County Stock/Harvest
Splinters - Small Advertisements
Record Racket - Local and area news
More Racket - Local gossip
Advertisements - Large
Farm and Fireside - Recipes and farm life
Our Young Readers - Poems and religious sermons
Education - School news and honor rolls

You will also find a very informative post by Dear Myrtle on Book citations and annotated sources here.


Anonymous Carol Yates Wilkerson said...

When it comes to writing citations I am in danger of being admonished by the Citation Police. I do try to give my source and/or provide a link, but it might not be enough. As a plus, I was fascinated to see this photo for the very same reason you cited it. I know of some OK outlaws who were breaking the law about this time frame too. When you post a photo, you just never know who it might interest, do you?

November 8, 2010 at 10:09 AM  
Blogger Randy Seaver said...

No Citation Police? There must be! I thought you were one of them...I've been trying hard not to get a ticket from you or ESM or who knows who else is in the Citation Secret Police. I did get a comment from ESM once telling me about the colon after the place in the publication data.

While there may be no awards for good citations, there may be comments in online family trees about bad sources. If you put the tree out there with bad citations, it may reflect on your reputation. I'm afraid that my rep is already tattered due to my earlier citation practices. I may post the new, improved tree under another name!

Hugs -- R

November 8, 2010 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Carol said...



"There is no law as to how much information a citation can contain. There are no Citation Police who will come to your home, open your genealogy program, read you source entries and start ticketing you. It's what works for you provided you meet the purposes of a citation."


November 8, 2010 at 12:08 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

No citation police? Really? Huh.


I bow to you, fM, the Queen of Footnotes. The devil might be in the details. But so are the answers.



No citation police?

*dumbfounded look on face*


November 8, 2010 at 3:22 PM  
Blogger Karen K said...

Great post - getting people to understand that sourcing is for THEIR benefit has to be one of the hardest things I've ever done.

So many people think they have to be precise & scholarly to source their material.

Thanks to your article maybe a few will now understand its okay to source without fear of the source police!

November 11, 2010 at 5:26 PM  

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