GPS Element #2: Informative citations

This is the second in the series that looks at each of the five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard.  The first posting was GPS Element #1: Thorough Search

In the mid 1980’s, I was recording my genealogical sources in numerical order in Access on a “sewing machine” portable computer. I used that number to link the source with the data–all on paper, of course.  I had generated a Master Source List–not a citation list– but at least I knew where I got the information and I knew what I was missing.  (I still have that initial list of 38 sources!)

Fast forward to February of 2002… I was bored with writing an assignment in my final year of my master’s degree program.  I decided to “take a break” and determine if genealogy software programs could handle source citations better than my attempts 15 years earlier. My immediate goal was a momentary diversion from a tedious paper.  My long term objective was to restart my genealogy journey that I had stopped about 10 years before.  That night I purchased The Master Genealogist (TMG) software and almost didn’t get the class assignment completed!

Why was I so focused on citing my sources?  Early in my genealogy career, I understood that genealogy was original research–no different than the paper I was writing for my class.  If one approached family history as a scientific endeavor then weren’t the parallels obvious?

My thought process has evolved (matured?) since the early 2000’s.  Originally, I cited my sources to allow finding the original document quickly (How does one catalog all the ephemeral one collects as a Genealogist?).  Now I see that criteria was too narrow of a perspective.  Thomas W. Jones, in his book Mastering Genealogical Proof, instructs us that proper citations reveal whether we have:

  1. accomplished “a reasonably exhaustive search” (scope)
  2. utilized “the least error-prone sources available” (quality) and
  3. document the research question (linkage) [1]

Two sources help us with the development of strong citations.  The present “gold standard” for a citation style manual for genealogists is Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (EE). [2]  Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones illustrates the principles of citation building so they can be built with a reasonable accuracy even without a style manual.  The combination of understanding the fundamentals and having templates to assist has given me a greater confidence in the creation of my own citations.

For “fun,” let’s compare four citations from Tom Jones’s article “Logic Reveals the Parents of Philip Pritchett of Virginia and Kentucky” [3] with the EE citation templates.  Since National Genealogical Society Quarterly, the journal which published the Jone’s article, follows EE as a standard, one should expect them to be similar in composition with only some variations to respond to the context of the source or the article.  Both Dr. Jones (TJ) and Elizabeth Shown Mills (EE) agreed to allow the use of their material for this blog. [4]  They also read the draft of this posting in advance of publication.  This document embodies their comments. but, as they say, the mistakes are mine.

It should come as no surprise that there is strong consistency between the citations addressing specific sources in the article (TJ) and those of the style manual (EE).  The variations that do occur are often attributable to the context or clarifying inclusions. As Dr. Jones stated in his email, “Context of the source, context of the citation, and context of its reader should all inform the decisions we have to make while crafting a citation. Different contexts will lead to different decisions about what to include and how to format the elements of the citation.” [5]  This is the “art” of citation building.

Bold typography highlights the differences which are then followed by my observations.    I recommend you read the Pritchett article to place the citations in their context and to read about the templates in Evidence Explained.  I have placed the page number below in parentheses following the “TJ” or the “EE” for your convenience.

TJ (29):        1810 U.S. census, Montgomery Co., Ky., p. 377, Philip Pritchet; National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication M252, roll 7.
EE (247):     1810 U.S. census, York County, Maine, town of York, p. 435 (penned), Line 9, Jabez Young; NARA microfilm publication M352, roll 12.


  • The differences are minor in nature. The reader can easily determine if the citation adds to the scope, reveals the quality and documents the question. And, I easily found the entry for Pritchet in the 1810 census.
  • Location: the state name is spelled out and the town name given in EE.  EE includes the method of placing the page number (penned or stamped) and includes the line number of the household on the page.  There are no line numbers on the Montgomery County census digital image listing of the households.  I probably would have counted down to Philip and included the entry number in the citation as a alternative to a line number.
  • There is no page number shown on the original Montgomery County document, but the page number is given as 377 in Ancestry (open image, click on “s” to get source information). [6]
  • Head’s Up!  TJ’s entry was the first entry citing NARA and so he has written the acronym out and placed NARA in parentheses.  EE shows it abbreviated.  Another common abbreviation is FHL for Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.  She discusses this principle on page 73 of Evidence Explained.

TJ (36):         Joan W. Peters, The Tax Man Cometh: Land and Property in Colonial Fauquier County, Virginia: Tax Lists from the Fauquier County Court Clerk’s Loose Papers: 1759-1782 (Westminister, Md.: Willow Bend, 1999), 3.
EE (646):      Joe Nickell, Detecting Forgery: Forensic Investigation of Documents (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996), 123.


  • The two are the exactly the same form.
  • I puzzle about when and how to indicate the state of the publisher.  For example, see the citation below for Black’s Law Dictionary–should I have included Minnesota?  Is the correct abbreviation Mn.?  See page 72 of Evidence Explained for a short discussion on the usage of postal codes for the abbreviations of states in citations.  It appears that TJ could have used MD for Maryland.  I have a tendency to write out the state name if it is not foretold by the name of the publisher or obvious by the name.  In his email of 31 December, Dr. Jones referred me to the Chicago Manual of Style for a more complete discussion of this topic.  I will blog about my findings in the future.

TJ (32):         Fauquier Co., Deed Book 8:179-81, Butler to Baker (1784); County Court, Warrenton, VA.; Fauquier Co. microfilm 4, Library of Virginia (LVA), Richmond.
EE (489):      Perry County, Alabama, Tract books, 1: unpaginated entries arranged by legal land description; see Township 21 North, Range 8 East, Section 27, “SW Fraction E of Cahaba,” James J. Harrison, 1833; Probate Judge’s Office, Marion.


  • These two citations are much more alike than I initially thought.
  • In the context of the article the need for the inclusion of the state (Virginia) is minimal, as the citation is within a map labeled northern “Virginia Counties and Pritchett Locations.”
  • TJ included both the buyer and the seller.  I like this as I get confused sometimes when I am reading deeds as to the roles of various individuals.

TJ (37):      The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed. (New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911), s.v. “next friend.”
EE (694):     World Book Encyclopedia (1998) “John Wesley.”


  • TJ gave us more information than the EE template.  He did not place the edition in parentheses. EE states that either the date or the cardinal edition can be used.
  • TJ included the publisher and the date.
  • TJ used the abbreviation “s.v.”  This was new to me.  Black’s Law Dictionary defines s.v. as sub voce or sub verbo: “under the word: used in references to dictionaries and other works arranged alphabetically.”  [7]

Comparing these citations was a terrific exercise for me.  The importance of evaluating the context of the “source, the citation and reader” and their impact on good citation writing became more obvious to me.  I will continue to improve my “citation discipline” (nit picking?) about the details, but I received comfort in knowing that there is flexibility in the development of a citation within the principles of citation building.  I do feel that I understand citations better for having conducted this comparison.  I also understand that there is not a template for every situation–  I just have to write thousands of them to get really comfortable!  🙂

Ultimately, the writing of a citation is an art and not a straitjacket.

Thanks to Elizabeth Shown Mills and Tom Jones for taking a bit of their time to assist me in the writing of this article.


What I have done since the last posting: I worked very hard this weekend on my Case Study for certification.  It is slow going but coming along.  I would say that I am half way through a good first draft.  It is shorter than some I have seen (you can look at examples of successful portfolios at conferences).  I hope that “elegance” of presentation is more important than “weight”. On the recommendation of Karen Stanbury, my mentor in the MGP class, I decided to read some of the Jacobus Award Winners, given annually for excellence in family history writing.  What surprised me was the I had difficulty getting any of the books from my local or university library.  I recommended to the librarian at the Seattle Public Library that he purchase the complete set of winners.  I registered to attend the NGS conference in Richmond.  I wasn’t going to go but then decided to cancel out of another trip to Richmond in March and substitute this instead.  I will stay with my friend Mary so accommodations are not an issue.  I am getting ready for Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) where I will be taking the Advanced Methodologies course from Dr. Jones and others.  I am excited and hope to do a little research as well.  I am talking to a new client about doing the layout for the memoirs of her father; this seems to be a niche that is a vacuum I can fill.

[1] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 33.

[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing  Company, 2007).

[3]  Thomas W. Jones, “Logic Reveals the Parents of Philip Pritchett of Virginia and Kentucky,” National Genealogical Quarterly, 97 (March 2009), 29-38.

[4] Elizabeth Shown Mills [(e-address for private use)] to Jill Morelli, e-mail, 28 December 2013, “requesting permission for use of EE templates for a blog posting,” digitally filed, Blog file; privately held by Morelli, [(e-address) & street address for private use], Seattle, Washington, 2013; Tom Jones [(e-address for private use)] to Jill Morelli, e-mail, 29 December 2013, “blog on comparison of citations,” digitally filed, Blog file; privately held by Morelli, [(e-address) & street address for private use], Seattle, Washington, 2013.  (note to self:  find out why parentheses are placed around the word “e-address.”)

[5] Tom Jones [(e-address for private use)] to Jill Morelli, e-mail, 31 December 2013, “blog posting comparing article with EE citation templates,” digitally filed, Blog file; privately held by Morelli, [(e-address) & street address for private use], Seattle, Washington, 2013.

[6] 1810 U.S. census, Montgomery Co., Ky., p. 377, entry 9, Philip Pritchet; digital image, ( : accessed 31 December 2013); citing National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication M252, roll 7.

[7] Henry Campbell Black, Black’s Law Dictionary (St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1968) 1500.


2 comments on “GPS Element #2: Informative citations

  1. Fuller Jones says:

    Hi Jill,

    Folowing your Blog and enjoying your comments!

    Did you find out why the parens around the e-address?

    I wondered also.


    Sonny J

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