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Step 5 - Document Your Information


If you feel the pages in a book, periodical, or unpublished document are of value to your genealogy, make a copy of them. Be sure to copy the title page of the book and the back of the title page for the publication date. If you found some information on a microfilm, write down where the microfilm is located and the film number. If it is a document in a courthouse write down all pertinent information about its location, for example:

Deed of Sale from John Allen and wife to Henry Woodfill, 5 April 1823 (filed 7 April 1823), Jefferson County, Indiana, Deed Book A, page 105. County Recorder's Office, Madison, Indiana.

It is best to put the citation on the front side of the page and not so close to the margin as it may be cut off during a second photocopying or three-hole punching. If the page is dark and it will not destroy the integrity of the document, you might add a stick-on label on which to write the citation. You may use a colored stick-on dot or arrow to point out relevant lines. We do not recommend going over text with a high-lighter other than yellow, as it may obscure the text during photocopying. However, if the highlighter is acidic, it may eat through the page over time.

Most genealogy software programs allow you to keep good citations for the information you have found and also add notes.  It is often said that a family group sheet without notes and source citations is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

If someone told you the information write down the circumstances; who was this person, where did they get the information, what was the date? For example:

My great-grandfather (William Joseph Hewitt, born 1833), had a disagreement with his family and left for America as a stow-away on a ship. This was told to me by his grand-daughter, Isla D. Stewart, on 8 August 1963, as told to her by her mother.


Elizabeth Shown Mills' book Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009) is the definitive book on citing sources. Ms. Mills provides thousands of precise examples for citing the sources you use in your research and the standards for doing good genealogical research are explained. If you are planning to publish your research, we recommend that you follow the examples given by Ms. Mills so anyone reading your book will be able to easily locate any published or unpublished material that you cite. Citing the sources you use in your research adds credence to your work. You may, however, prefer to use other recognized style manuals for citing your work, such as, The Chicago Manual of Style or the Modern Language Association Style Guide. At any rate, choose a style manual and use it consistently.

We supply our clients with formal reports on the work we have performed. We follow the format and rigorous standards prescribed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists and the Association of Proffessional Genealogists.  We can also supply more informal reports if your wish. These informal reports take less time for us to produce even though the standard of research is the same.  Many of our clients ask a research questions and wish us to respond quickly by email so they can carry on with their research. These types of reports cost our clients less money and we are happy to offer the less formal report as an option.

Citations for books generally follow this format: the author's name (last name first, or the name of the editor or compiler); the title of the book in italics, any edition number; the place of publication, the publisher, the date of publication; and the page number on which the information was found.

Here is an example of a citation for a book that might have been used in compiling a genealogy. If you are quoting specific pages, then list the pages at the end of the citation:

Fields, Bettye-Lou, compiler and editor. Grayson County: A History in Words and Pictures. Independence, VA: Grayson County Historical Society, 1976, pp. 87-88.


Citations for information found in periodicals follow this format: author of the article, last name first; title of the article in quotes followed by the title of the periodical from which the article came, in italics; volume, issue number, date; and pages from which the citation came.

Here is an example for citing the information that was found in a periodical:

Larson, Janna Bennington. "Identifying Abigail, the Wife of Daniel Cressey of New Hampshire," The American Genealogist 77 (July 2002): 180-81.

To the general format, you may add other helpful information, for example:

  • The name of the repository and the item's call number. Although, remember that the same book may be found in numerous libraries across the country and the call number could be different.
  • Comments on the legibility, organization, or condition of the document.

Examples for citing Bible records, CD-ROMs, cemetery markers, census records, diaries, email messages, interviews, legal cases, manuscripts, probate files, videos, just to name a few, can be found in Elizabeth Shown Mills' book.

Help Me! I forgot to make a full citation of a book I used in my research. Can you help me find out what it should be?

Help Me!  How do I cite a land record found on microfilm taken from records in  the county's courthouse whre my ancestor lived?

Help Me!  How do I know that the John B. Anderson I found in records for Monroe County, Indiana is my John Bennet Anderson? 

Help Me!  What is the proper way to cite a census record? A Bible record? An entry from a diary?

Help Me!  My great-aunt was the family historian. She left me a notebook with the family history going back to the Mayflower but there are no sources for this information. Can you verify my great-aunt's work and find sources for the information she provided? 

To ask these or similar questions, click on Help Me!, fill out the form that comes up, and submit your questions.


Transcribing, Abstracting, and Translating

Janna Larson and Daniela Moneta have extensive experience in transcribing and abstracting old documents and will be glad to provide this service for you. We have experience in working with records in foreign languages, notably Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Norwegian and Spanish, but we may need to consult experts to translate complex documents.

Help Me! I think I have the baptismal record of my ancestor. Can you transcribe it and translate it for me?

Help Me! I have a letter from my French great-grandmother to her grand-daughter, my mother. I can’t read it. Could you translate it for me?

To ask these or similar questions, click on Help Me!, fill out the form that comes up, and submit your questions.