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How to Reference Your Family History Sources

It is essential that you acknowledge the material that you have consulted to create your family tree. This acknowledgement is called citing or referencing.
dictionary definition for reference
© University of Strathclyde

Our work is developed by gathering data, thinking about ideas put forward by others (say in history books or family trees) and then creating our own family trees or family histories.

These sources can be books, journal articles, newspaper reports, census records or web pages – in fact anything at all!

Referencing Your Family History Sources

It is essential that you acknowledge the material that you have consulted to create your family tree. This acknowledgement is called citing or referencing.

What is Referencing?

A reference or citation is an entry, whether in an endnote or a footnote, which gives precise details of the source of the information used. Endnotes are located at the end of a piece of work and footnotes are shown at the foot (or the bottom) of each page of a document.

Whenever you use a piece of data (such as noting down the date and place of birth from a birth certificate), directly copy the words of another author by quoting them or put their ideas into your own words (paraphrasing) you must acknowledge the source and/or the author.

How to Reference your Family History Sources

How you acknowledge an author’s work or the source of data found depends on the style of referencing/citing you decide to follow. There are a few formalised genealogical referencing styles that you can use and we’ve provided links to several of those below but you may choose to create your own or adapt a style to suit yourself. Whatever style you prefer, the most important thing is to follow it consistently throughout your work.

Here is an example of a bit of text and the reference to the source which provided this information. This reference is given in the style developed by the University of Strathclyde for use on its postgraduate programme.

‘When George Reeves died in 1809 he left his substantial lands and estates in Wiltshire to his wife and daughter and their heirs. Walter Coleman is also mentioned in the will.’

Testamentary records. England. 16 August 1809. REEVES, George. Prerogative Court of Canterbury: Will Registers. PROB 11/1502/202. The National Archives, Kew, England. : accessed 29 February 2013.

Why Reference Your Family History Sources?

  • So you know where your data is coming from. There is not much worse than having a bit of information on an ancestor and not knowing which source it came from. This often means re-doing research which we can all do without.
  • So you stay organised. Through referencing you can see what you already have, where you have already looked for information and where you need to focus your energies next.
  • So you produce quality work. Referencing demonstrates the thoroughness of your work, the quality of the sources used and allows readers to evaluate your research.
  • So you avoid plagiarism. As stated above, acknowledging the source and author of a piece of work you are using demonstrates responsible research practices and is just good manners.

Main Points on Referencing:

  • Be consistent in how you format references.
  • Include any essential information that will help your reader find the source.
  • Document where you found the information when you actually first come across it!
© University of Strathclyde
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Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree

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