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Friday, April 26, 2019

Citing Sources when writing your family history

I wrote my book Citing Sources: a manual for family historians  in 2013.  It remains one of the more popular topics in my workshops and when I receive queries via email.

It is the case that one of the more difficult tasks we do as family historians is working our way through the plethora of sources available today and then work out  how to reference these in our work.

However,  there are general principles that are useful to keep in mind which, if you keep these in mind, will make your job as a historian so much easier and more professional:


  • Consistency - whatever citation method you choose stay with that choice throughout your book/writing.

  • Sufficient information - okay so that letter/document/story/newspaper report you found seems to be in  a complicated  place which almost defies commonsense referencing.  Keep in mind that your task as a writer and a family historian is to include as much information in your footnote, endnote or other reference so that your reader will be able to find it, do further research  and check for further information about it.  In other words, 'my mother's bible' is not sufficient as a reference.  If your mother's bible is a reference, then you might do something like the following:
      • The Holy Bible, The Stereotype Edition, printed Dublin by Richard Coyne, 1847, a family bible of the Kyle family found in the papers of Kathleen Kirkpatrick, in possession of the author. 

  • Acknowledgement - the inclusion of a footnote/reference is to tell the reader where you have included, text, either verbatim or in a paraphrased form, from another author's work  Citing these sources is your obligation as an author to ensure your writing is professional and free from plagiarised material.  There is much to find online about plagiarism, the following is a beginning:   What is plagiarism?  This website provides the following succinct note:

All of the following are considered plagiarism:
                   ·         turning in someone else's work as your own
·         copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
·         failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
·         giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
·         changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
·         copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not..




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