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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Some basic rules for citing your sources in family history writing

There are lots of websites to help with citing your sources today but they do require some idea of what it is you are doing (similarly when you use the cite button for TROVE on other library or archives websites)…these websites and other aids such as   can help you to cite many of the sources (digital and otherwise) that we use as family historians.  However, it is also relatively easy, by following a few basic rules, to sort this out yourself:

The basic rules for citing your sources:

1.        Be consistent. Whatever format you choose to use stay with it.

2.       Ensure you have sufficient information so that the reader/following research or historian can find that source again.

3.       Minimal capitalization is the order of the day.

4.       Punctuation, as little as possible.

Why you should cite your sources:

1.       To avoid plagiarism and acknowledge other writers/publishers work.

2.       To meet your obligations as a historian (that is, whether the work you cite is in or out of copyright, you cite the source so as to acknowledge that someone else, a previous researcher/writer,  wrote this text that you are citing).

There are two basic styles for referencing:

1.       Humanities style (sometimes referred to as documentary note system) this method is widely used by historians and consists of footnotes collected at the bottom of each page or endnotes collected at the end of a chapter or at the end of a book. 

2.       APA (American Psychological Association Style), the APA style uses the in-text author-date citation method and is also referred to as the Harvard author-date system.

You can see examples of all of these rules, conventions and styles online at the following:

Chicago Manual of Style online at:

Garbl’s Editoral Style Manual developed by Gary B Larson see at:

Plagiarism in a digital age:

Style Manual for authors, editors and printers, John Wiley & Sons/Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2002 (this is the editing, citing and publishing guide for Australians and is available in the reference section of every public and university library in Australia).

My small book Citing historical sources: a manual for family historians covers all of the above and move and distils this information down to a readable and useful guide, you can buy it for $12 from Gould Genealogy at:

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