Do citations have to be this boring?

OK, I admit it.  I had to get that off my chest.  For several days now I have been entering footnotes into the lineage narrative for Jens T. Dahle.  Of course, the first couple of generations are the hardest because I have more information about them and their children.  Once I start doing the citations for the folks who were born and died in Norway, it will be easier.  It did not help my mental state when I received the following article in my “Linked In for Higher Education” e-mail!  (Fair Warning:  do not read this until you are done citing that huge document you are presently working on!)

Tom Jones in the BCG video states that we should be consistent.  My instructor says we should use the Chicago Manual of Style for the humanities.  I have two books, 1 quicksheet, and a printout in front of me, and all propose to be based on the same system but all look quite different.  Sigh.  It might be my downfall.

For genealogy “fun”, I got caught up in research on Jens T. Dahle’s 7 months in confederate prison.  He was in Libby and Belle Island (Richmond, VA) prisons and Salisbury, VA (said to be comparable to Andersonville).  There are some very graphic personal accounts written by the survivors.  Since Jens was one of the 2900 released just prior to the end of the war, I suspect his experience was very similar.  Of course, this is where the family traditions come into play.  in a 1981 community book (very low surety), it is stated that Jens was in prison for four years.  Not only is this not true, it is not possible.  The exchange of prisoners continued throughout the war until the Spring of 1864 when Grant figured out it was prolonging the war and not hastening its end.  Up until that time, some soldiers tried to get captured so they could take a rest out of the war and then be repatriated under the “gentleman’s agreement” that they would not fight again!  It also states that he weighed 85 pounds upon release.  Possible, but not able to be verified unless there are some extant hospital records, which I doubt.

I am seeing the light at the end of this citation tunnel but then there are the other documents to cite as well.  Oh, well. I still stand by my method of writing first and cite second.  There has been very little I have had to delete or make major modifications to to allow for full footnoting.

Do you think that citation theory is over the top?  What are your thoughts?

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  researched confederate prisons, especially Libby, Belle Island and Salisbury.  The quantity of material is amazing on the Civil War.  I considered shifting my focus of my class paper from nursing to prisons but decided not to.  I like the female revolution aspect of nursing!  (did you know that Walt Whitman was a nurse in the Civil War; drove an “ambulance”, i.e. wagon.).  I attended class and a small group of more experienced researchers are “finding ourselves.”  We have, I have now discovered, several people in the class who are newbies to using a computer.  It will be hard for them, I think.  This is in contrast to the woman next to me who did research on her smartphone through the class!  I love it.


6 comments on “Do citations have to be this boring?

  1. Jan Dean says:

    I totally agree with you about citation theory being over the top. Giving such detailed info on sources is way too rigid. Constructing these elaborate citations is very off-putting.

    • jkmorelli says:

      Like you, my disagreement is not about the need to cite but rather 1.) the lack of a single standard across disciplines and 2.) the belts, suspenders, and a rope aspect of some of the sources. On the latter, I contend, you just have to be able to get to the source; you do not need to get to the source five different ways. I also believe you ought to be able to cite in the narrative, e.g. “According to the 1900 Federal Census for Waseca County, Jens and his family….yada, yada, yada.” This example should not require a separate citation as there are so many locations to get census records and they are well known. I especially take offense with the citation suggestions by which read like a mini advertisement. All they need to do to be really over the top is to link Provo, Utah to Google Maps and they will get the “award”.

      Enough ranting by me! Off to yoga to become again serene!

  2. The difficulty that many researchers have with creating citations is not the level of detail. If you are careful in your analysis of every source that you use, then you have the information that you need to create a citation.

    The main complaint that I have encountered with citations is that many researchers want a one-size-fits-all template that they can use, just changing the names and page numbers. In fact, many use Evidence Explained as this type of reference.

    But this is not how the book was intended by its author, Elizabeth Shown Mills. While the citation examples and QuickCheck models are useful in demonstrating citation principles, researchers should be learning and following the *principles* not looking up the examples.

    It is in fact through the process of creating a detailed citation that one learns more about the record they are using.

    • jkmorelli says:

      You are absolutely right, Michael. It is not so much following a form but 1.) being aware of when you are not, 2.) knowing why you are not 3.) keeping the basic priority within each citaion and 3.) attaining a high level of consistency within the document or between documents. I find myself using four guides, all which show the citations slightly differently:
      1. a library guide on Chicago Manual of Style
      2. Evidence Explained!
      3. Evidence
      4. Quicksheet for digital media

      I like the way ESM has the name of the household for census records in Evidence. She seemed to modify it in Explained!. I have continued to insert the name of the household or event.
      thanks for your comments. I value that you have been down this road I am walking on.

  3. Jody Clark Jones says:

    Jill, even though your post is almost five years old, it remains timely. I’m enrolled in the new week-long citation class, non-threateningly titled, “Mastering the Art of Genealogical Documentation,” offered by Tom Jones at the first session of GRIP 2016. The class description says I will learn “how to create conventional citations with artistry, clarity, completeness, conciseness, and competence” (

    While I doubt Dr. Jones’s class will be boring, I do wonder about the environment that cultivated the need for such a class in 2016 – many years after you wrote this post. As a genealogist, I am assured that “citation is an art not a science,” and yet I dread writing citations. There are twenty-three other students enrolled in the class, all most likely highly competent researchers, analytical thinkers, and owners of both “Evidence!” and “Evidence Explained;” and yet we feel the need for the class. Some may scoff at the notion of “citation police” (and the desire for templates – not even for censuses?) but their presence is felt keenly.

    • Jill Morelli says:

      Thanks for commenting. As you might know I am in the throes (word choice deliberate) of working on my portfolio and that means writing hundreds of citations. To me, writing citations is like me running a marathon–I never reach the point where the endorphins kick in and so the effort is work with little reward. (Of course, this analogy only goes so far—I have never really run a marathon.) Nevertheless, I have the genealogy gene–you know the one—the area in the genetic code that makes us obsessive compulsive. Enjoy the class. I think I attended a “beta” of the class at a conference in Salt Lake City where he presented 3-2 hour talks about citations. Many parts were extremely interesting–the evolution as standards struggled to keep up with new and different technologies and evolving standards related to published and unpublished types of digital media. Thanks for sharing your thoughts; good luck with the class.

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