How to Add a Source - part 3: Citations

Thursday 26 September 2019 by Fouke Boss

In this final blog on how to add a source to a Centurial project, we take a closer look at how Centurial cites our sources.

Source data

As we've seen in the previous 2 blogs, creating a new source in Centurial involves entering all kinds of data about the source we are using:

  • In part 1 we discussed the provenance of a source, which is the trail of representations, from the one we are studying all the way back to the original representation of the source. The provenance is an indicator of the quality of the source.
  • Part 2 describes what information we need to enter in order to be able to retrace our sources:
    1. What identifies the source that is being used uniquely?
    2. Where is the source located (archives, internet, published)?
    3. Optionally, which specific part of the source is being used?

Now when we start sharing the conclusions of our research, for example by capturing it in a written report or sharing it through a GEDCOM file, we should want to include all this source data along with it. By including all this information about the sources, we add credibility to our research. We're not just stating our conclusions, no, we invite and enable the reader to evaluate and double-check our conclusions, may they want to do so.

Citing our sources

The most common way of sharing our source details in scientific publications is by citing our sources*. Citations are statements in which we identify our source for a particular conclusion. These are typically written as a sentence or a paragraph. For example:

Vincent van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853, in Zundert, the Netherlands[1] and grew up to be one of the greatest painters in human history.

[1] Zundert en Wernhout, Burgerlijke stand, “Register der Akten van Geboorten over den jare 1853”, p. 9r, no. 29, Vincent Willem van Gogh (31 March 1853); image, “Netherlands, Noord-Brabant Province, Civil Registration, 1811-1942”, Family Search (https://www.familysearch.org/ : accessed 6 November 2018), Zundert > Geboorten 1850 > image 369 of 476; citing Nederlands Rijksarchiefdienst, Hertogenbosch.

The [1] in the text refers to footnote number 1, which eloquently identifies and describes the main source that supports this conclusion. Using footnotes or endnotes attached to our narrative like this is actually the major form of citing sources: it is called a reference note.

Based on this footnote, the reader can determine what quality source we used (an online image of the birth register) and the location of this source (the “Netherlands, Noord-Brabant Province, Civil Registration, 1811-1942” collection available on the FamilySearch website).

Citation Styles

Both the reference note and the Bibliography entry contain most, if not all, of the details we entered in the Source Dialog. The major difference between the Source Dialog and the citation is, of course, the fact that all the details from the Source Dialog are represented in the citation as a single paragraph, using sequence and style elements like commas, colons, quotes and italic to make the information more readable.

Over the years, many institutions have published citation style manuals, each describing a format for citing sources for various different fields. Examples include the Associated Press Stylebook (for newspapers), The Bluebook (for legal citations), the Chicago Manual of Style (for scholarly researchers), the MLA Style (for libraries) and Turabian's Manual (for college and university students). Each of these style manuals describe which details should go into the citation and in what sequence; they describe the use of punctuation, font styles, and how the names of authors should be included (Family name first, or given names first? Initials or full given names?).

Now family history researchers arguably use the widest variety of sources of all fields, and none of the aforementioned styles includes styling recommendations for all these types of sources.

Evidence Explained

Luckily, in 1997 Elizabeth Shown Mills published her book Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, which is a very extensive citation style manual for genealogical source citations, providing citation examples for every type of source a genealogist is ever likely to encounter. The style as described is rooted in the Chicago Manual's Humanities Style, however, it treats much more types of sources, including many online sources.

It would be out of scope to discuss the various fundamentals of Evidence Explained here, but it most certainly makes for interesting reading; the Evidence Explained website would be a good starting point. Also, Centurial comes with an example project (aptly titled 'Evidence Explained', available from the QuickStart Dialog) that contains many examples from the book.

Citations in Centurial

Centurial aims to support the citation style described in Evidence Explained. Actually, while entering all the source details in the Source Dialog, Centurial creates the reference note simultaneously in the bottom left corner:

Then, every time Centurial references this source, it does so by using this reference note. For example, in the Person Evidence view, Centurial shows footnotes for every conclusion:

The style as defined in Evidence Explained is by no means the only possible citation style for family history research, and there might be other styles out there that also describe how to format genealogy citations, although I must say I never encountered one as extensive as Evidence Explained. Do you know of suitable citation style, please let us know; Centurial could one day support other citation styles as well.

Bibliography

Many research reports not only include reference notes but also come with a bibliography, sometimes called a master source list. This is a convenient, alphabetically arranged list of materials we have used for our research. Citation style manuals, including Evidence Explained, usually also include formatting suggestions for these bibliography entries.

The Evidence Explained style guide groups multiple source citations from the same source together into one Source List entry. In the above example, suppose our research would also include the image of the birth register of Vincent's brother Theo, we would have a separate reference note for each image:

[1] Zundert en Wernhout, Burgerlijke stand, “Register der Akten van Geboorten over den jare 1853”, p. 9r, no. 29, Vincent Willem van Gogh (31 March 1853); image, “Netherlands, Noord-Brabant Province, Civil Registration, 1811-1942”, Family Search (https://www.familysearch.org/ : accessed 6 November 2018), Zundert > Geboorten 1850 > image 369 of 476; citing Nederlands Rijksarchiefdienst, Hertogenbosch.

[2] Zundert en Wernhout, Burgerlijke stand, “Register der Akten van Geboorte over den jare 1857”, p. 13r, no. 46, Theodorus van Gogh (1 May 1857); image, “Netherlands, Noord-Brabant Province, Civil Registration, 1811-1942”, Family Search (https://www.familysearch.org/ : accessed 6 November 2018), Zundert > Geboorten 1854 > image 398 of 524; citing Nederlands Rijksarchiefdienst, Hertogenbosch.

In the Source List these two source citations would be grouped into one entry for all FamilySearch digital images of the birth register of Zundert and Wernhout:

Zundert en Wernhout. Burgerlijke stand. Database with images. “Netherlands, Noord-Brabant Province, Civil Registration, 1811-1942”. Family Search. https://www.familysearch.org/ : 2018.

Generally, reference note citations are grouped:

  • if they are citing the same source. All citations from vital or church record series, censuses, books or journals, cemeteries, websites, etc. are grouped into a single source list entry.
  • if they are held in the same private archive.

Double-clicking a source list entry in the Source List that contains multiple citations will open the Source Explorer, which shows all citations from that single source:

Adding citations to an existing source list entry.

We can easily create a new citation for an existing source list entry by opting for the 'Add a Source' menu option in the context menu of the Source List, or by clicking the 'Add a Source' button in the Source Explorer:

Centurial will open the Source Dialog, with the provenance and the shared data already present, and only the details for the new citation to be entered:

Note how Centurial warns us that the fields marked in yellow are shared with (in this case 7) other source citations. Changing these fields will affect not only this source citation but also those of the other 7 sources.

Summary

The emphasis on source citations is one of of the major differences between conclusion-based genealogy and evidence-based genealogy. At first, entering all these source details seems like a bit of a hassle, a chore that needs to be done before diving headfirst into the genealogical information contained within the source. But examining our sources in more detail gives our research more credibility, by allowing us, and also other researchers, to better evaluate the sources and the information they contain.

* Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3rd ed. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015), chapter 2, p. 41–46.