Thursday, August 13, 2015

5 Elements of a Source Citation

I get regular emails from Tyler Moss.  He's the online editor of Family Tree University.  He recently sent out an email advertising a new course entitled, Source Citations for Regular People.  It is a four week course that costs $99 and runs from 10 August through 4 Sept.  If you are interested in taking the course, you can get more information here.

In the body of the email he sent out to the world, Tyler did outline the five key elements of a successful source citation.  Since I got it in a mass mailing email, and I am giving him credit for the information, I am going to repost some of his email below.


While there are suggested ways you should do a source citation there is not a true wrong way or right way. Elizabeth Shown Mills says "citation is an art, not a science" and she is correct. It comes down to adhering to the components of a citation listed below. Once you know these you will be comfortable enough to ad lib as needed when you run into an out of the ordinary record.

There are 5 key elements to a successful source citation. If you have these in your citation you will be good to go, with only a few exceptions. Most should be pretty simple to understand but let's go through them one by one.

These elements are:

Who created the information (author, editor, transcriber, etc.)
What is the title of the source
When the record was created or published
Where in the record the information is located (volume, page, etc.)
Where is the source physically located (archive, library, etc.)

Let's break this down a bit and further define each component.

"Who" specifically refers to the author or creator of the source. It may be a person(s) or it could be an organization. There are two reasons you wouldn't list a "who."
If it is unknown, like the writer of a historic newspaper article which typically did not list writer's names.
If it is the same entity that published the item and the "who" is also the title of the work.

"What" refers to the source's title. Underlining, italics, and capitalization rules for publications apply here. If the item does not have a title we create a description for it. The description lets others know exactly what the material is. For example "Letter written by John Doe to his wife Jane." If you think the title doesn't make it clear what type of a source it is you can add descriptive words after it such as database, transcript, image, and etc.

"When" refers to the date the media was published. Years are used for books. Months, quarters, or seasons are added for journals and magazines. Full dates are used for newspapers, downloads of online information, and unpublished sources if applicable. If the item is undated we can state that by using the letters ND for "no date." However, if we can estimate a publication date then we should try to do so. This can be done by simply showing the estimated date range or writing "likely the 1880s."

"Where in" refers to the specific place in the source where the information is located. The place is a page number, volume number, chapter title, or etc. If the record is an unbound source, or has no page numbers, you can identify the information on the page you are citing by describing it. For instance "birth dates chronologically listed on loose page in file."

"Where is" refers to the specific physical location of the source. Did you find it online, in a library, at an archive, or is it held privately? This can get very complicated but remember, you want to work from small to large. Start with the collection name (the smallest where) and work your way up to the state or country (the largest where) listing all the information about the location of the source as you go.

Thanks to Tyler Moss for sharing some very using information about source citations.  Hope y'all find it useful!

-- submitted by Denise Doyon

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