Footnotes! Footnotes! Footnotes!

Do you manage your footnotes or do they manage you?

When writing my Kinship Determination Project (KDP) for my portfolio, I had trouble keeping  the footnotes “complete and accurate.”[1] They should add “consistent’ to this rubric.

I thought I had a plan. I didn’t; or the one I had didn’t work so well; or maybe it worked as well as could be expected.

Nevertheless, I thought I would outline my process. Hopefully, you can find some ideas you can use or perhaps learn from my mistakes.

I would also be interested in how you manage your footnotes when writing  a footnote intensive paper. I would like to improve this process.

Note: I don’t use RefNote or any specialized software. I used Word.

I did OK for most of the KDP in keeping my footnotes consistent.   I attained what consistency I did have by keeping a record in Word of every type of footnote and using the style as a template for future footnotes of the same type.  The footnotes were arranged by record type in the Word document–all the death footnote types were together, all the electronic ones were together, etc.

But, I learned as I wrote and some things shifted in the footnote creating inconsistencies.

Every footnote was entered as a full footnote. I did not make it a shortform, even if I knew there was a similar reference before it, until I was completely done with the paper. If I knew (or thought) that a footnote was previously used, I put the letters SF, for “short form,” at the beginning of the footnote.  If the footnote was a candidate for Ibid., I put that at the beginning as well. But I  did not convert it to a SF or an Ibid. until the very end of the writing process. Reason? I was moving around paragraphs of information right up until the end.  At one point I removed about 1000 words from my KDP. I knew I had to be careful. It also didn’t matter if I made a mistake because I knew I had to check every one.

By the time I got to the end of writing the document, inconsistencies in my formatting of even the typical footnote templates, had slipped in. I had also knew that there were consistencies, even if accurate.

So, I re-reviewed every footnote at the end of writing the paper. (Which I think you would have to do anyway.) Here is how I reviewed all my footnotes:

I first made sure that all footnotes were the same font type, size and black in color.

Starting with footnote number 1 and going in order:

  1. I made all my footnotes into endnotes and copied them into a single Word document (I called this document the “Endnotes”). Then I changed the document with endnotes back into one with footnotes.
  2. Working back and forth between the document and the Endnotes, I checked to make sure that footnote #1 was accurately reflecting the content of the cited work, complete and in a format that was most consistent with the narrative.
  3. I re-checked each one against Evidence Explained [2] so I knew where I deviated and why.
  4. I used the Find feature to see if I had any duplicates of that footnote. Since even the most typical footnote had a unique identifier, this was not hard. (Obviously, the first footnotes were unique, so this happened later in the writing.)
  5. On the Endnotes, I changed the color of that particular footnote to green, when I was completed with checking for correctness, accuracy, consistency.
  6. Repeat, until you find a source that has already been cited. Create the shortform. Copy the shortform and paste into the Endnotes, under the first full citation.
  7. As you go, adjust the footnotes to include Ibid., if appropriate.
  8. When you are done, all Endnotes will be green; all shortforms and Ibid.s will be entered and you will have checked all against other similar footnotes for consistency. And you will have checked each type against Evidence Explained.
  9. Pat yourself of the back and repeat for the Case Study! [3]

I hope it doesn’t sound confusing. It went quite smoothly and quicker than I thought.  I am visual so the color coding was essential. The Find feature was a godsend. If I discovered an inconsistency, I could identify all of the affected footnotes and change them one-by-one.

That describe how I handled them when the document was finished.  Next we will look at how I did ciations during the writing process so they didn’t put a full stop on the flow of the writing.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: I know it has been some time since I posted but I have traveled to the Eastern time zone 3 times in about 10 days.  Plus made presentations in about 10 venues. I also am Seattle Genealogical Society’s president.  It’s been an active fall, but is now winding down as we get ready for our daughter’s wedding in Boston.  Looking forward to it and to a little relaxation afterwards.

[1] “Rubrics for Evaluating New Applications for BCG Certification, revised 18 January 2016,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 9 November 2016).
[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, third edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2015).
[3] I wanted to make this a 12-step program, but I just couldn’t come up with two more steps to my process! 🙂




9 comments on “Footnotes! Footnotes! Footnotes!

  1. I hate footnotes because they interrupt the flow. I like to cite the reference in a sentence such as, “in a news article on March 14, 1921 it was reported that……”

    • Jill Morelli says:

      Valerie, I believe that is called “newspaper citations” as reporters are often saying “Fred Smith, on site at the scene described how the hatch exploded off the barrel.” I also think this type of citations increases readability dramatically and particularly when the source is the interviewee. It is not, however, the accepted standard for academic or scholarly papers such as the portfolio, especially when we rarely have the luxury of interviewing our ancestors! 🙂 Chicago Manual of Style addresses this in Chapter 14.206.

  2. Cyndi Ingle says:

    I do the same with leaving footnotes in long form until the final proof reading and editing is done. Love your idea for creating a cheatsheet with endnotes to help you double-check your work. Brilliant!

  3. a gray says:

    I use Word, and I handle footnotes in a manner similar to the manner you described.

    • Jill Morelli says:

      Nice to hear. So, I am not totally out in left field? Writing the portfolio takes special care with footnotes….any inconsistencies that are not “explainable” are suspect. It was particularly painful with the article on the Swede, as probably 90% of the footnotes started out the same, then the rest of the footnote looked the same, but wasn’t.

  4. Thank you for this post and Part 2!

  5. Rachelle says:

    Great practical advice!

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