Thursday, September 29, 2011

Citations... It's Like Flossing.

Why are citations like flossing? Well, it's a good habit to get into... just like flossing. Neither are very exciting or brag worthy. However they make you better. The more you cite your work the more it becomes second nature, and you don't even think about it... much. Just like flossing.

Yesterday I worked on citations for several different documents that had arrived in the mail over the past week or two. Most were very straight forward, being birth or death records from a particular state's vital records department. In fact looking at the records one could almost wonder, "Why write a citation? Isn't it obvious where it came from?" To us genealogy obsessed folks it probably is, but for the non-obsessed probably not. Also, now that I have citations on the said documents, when I write up my findings (today, I hope) I'll have the citation ready to go for my footnotes. This way I can focus more on the writing aspect than the technical citation part.

One document that gave me a challenge and spent a surprising amount of time on, was a certificate of divorce. I looked at a few examples in Elizabeth Shown Mills' book Evidence Explained. The book explains (in a nutshell) that divorce cases are civil suits that begin and end in local court (refer to 8.25 and 9.36 in the book if you're curious). Then I proceeded to make a mountain out of a mole hill. The issue was, I obtained this record from the vital records office, not from a court house. Should I cite the docket number or not? Should I cite the page number or not?

In the end, after a chocolate break, I got back to basics. The question to address was very simple, "Where did I get the record from?" After all that is the point of a citation, to tell whoever is looking at a given document where you got it from. Then it was easy. The citation I ended up with very much resembled that of a citation for a marriage certificate.  I'm not sure if that was the "right" way to do it, but I do know that I answered all the questions of who, what, when, and where. Now I'm ready to write up my findings in my research report, and wait for the next batch of documents to come in the mail.


  1. Very good post and comparison to flossing - I couldn't agree more. Also, I think you did the right thing with your certificate of divorce. As you said, the purpose of citation is to guide another to where YOU got the information. Great job.

  2. I like this post! Of course, after you do years and years of research and you come back to those divorce facts and want to remember where you got the information, you won't have to reinvent the wheel to figure out where you got the source and then how to cite it if you've made your best attempt now. I speak from experience ;-)

  3. It sounds like you made the right decision for citing the divorce certificate. Funny how chocolate clarifies things!