Saturday Skills: Source List Entries or Reference Notes?

As a new editor, I’m dealing with some surprising issues, things I had no idea would come up during the editorial process. One of these issues is the proper formatting of source citations. The order of elements in citations is of concern, certainly. Just as frequently, I’ve found that authors confuse the format for source list entries with that for reference notes. Each has a place in historical writing, but when should authors use what format?

The source citation Bible for genealogy is Elizabeth Shown Mills’ excellent resource, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009), commonly referred to as EE. The companion web site, which is also incredibly useful in learning how to create citations, is Evidence Explained. I’ll be using EE in the following discussion, for those who would like to follow along.

In EE, Elizabeth covers fundamentals of evidence analysis in Chapter 1 and fundamentals of citation in Chapter 2. Do not begin learning how to craft source citations without first reading these two chapters, as each provides an essential overview, or foundation, to the citation process. Section 2.4 on page 43 deals specifically with the various types of citations, of which Elizabeth identifies three. The following discussion concerns only two: source lists and reference notes.

Source lists are just that, compiled lists of sources used to create a work; in other words, a bibliography. These are formatted in a specific manner, with hanging indents. Individual entries also have specific qualities in the formatting.

Print publications are common in source lists, but by no means the only ones. If you’re following along, then turn to Chapter 12 of EE, which deals with citing publications and study the models found therein. A typical source list entry for a print publication looks as follows (just imagine there’s a hanging indent). Note that there are periods between each element in the citation, and the author’s name is surname first:

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Second edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009.

Yes, I checked this against the QuickCheck Model for “Print Publications, Book: Basic Format” on page 646 and the QuickCheck Model for “Print Publications, Book: Revised Edition” on page 651. (The QuickCheck Models are one of the outstanding features of EE.)

If I were writing a large book and wanted to have a bibliography or a section of select resources, this is the style of citation I would use.

I would not use this citation style in footnotes or end notes for an article, as reference notes follow a completely different formatting style. A typical reference note looks like this (again, I checked it against the appropriate QuickCheck Model as I crafted it):

Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2d ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009): 646, 651.

Note the striking differences between the two formats. That’s because these citation styles are for very different purposes. Source lists (or bibliographies) are usually for items used as general or “collection-level” references (Hey, these are the sources I used to compile this gargantuan local history!), whereas reference notes identify specific information in a work or reference a particular document in a larger collection, while that information is being discussed in the narrative.

To confuse the issue, when a work is referenced a second time in a narrative, there’s a completely different format (called a second or subsequent reference note), but that’s a subject for another day. Suffice it to say that understanding and using the proper citation format is critical to correctly referencing your work. Plus, it makes an editor’s job much easier in the long run.

Now, another burning question: Which citation format should be used when citing sources in family tree software? As I understand it, several such programs have built-in reference capabilities, and you can use those, if you’re comfortable with them. I’m not. Because of this dissatisfaction, a few years ago I began keeping source citations in the notes fields for each individual, with the individual source citation formatted as a reference note prefaced by the specific information to which the reference pertains (e.g. parents’ names, date of birth, etc.). I do this so that I can transfer the citation from my family tree software to an article with little or no fuss. This is what works for me. If you would like to learn how to create citations in a family tree program using its pre-set features, I would recommend following Randy Seaver’s blog Genea-Musings, as Randy frequently discusses such issues.

Regardless of where or in what you’re citing sources, I recommend thoroughly reading Chapters 1 and 2 of EE, as well as the chapters covering the particular record you’re trying to cite. If you’re still having a hard time figuring out which formatting style to use, then study some well-documented articles, like the QuickLessons on the Evidence Explained web site or articles published in genealogy journals. If all else fails, ask someone who is familiar with source citation to help you. Understanding how to craft citations is an on-going learning process, and not one we should be afraid to tackle frequently.

Good luck and happy hunting!

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