Source Citation Made Easy

One of the things that I have trouble with in my genealogy research is source citation.  Of course, I understand the importance of citing sources, and I do so to the best of my ability.  My two big problems are format and decision-making.

When it comes to format, I’m fairly comfortable with the Modern Language Association (MLA) style.  I used it the most in college and I can write an MLA source citation for print books in no time.  What I have trouble with are the oddities.  By oddities, I mean letters, photographs, microfilm, etc.  I often end up creating a sort of hodgepodge citation with what information I know others will need to look it up later.

Whenever I do research, I’m faced with either having to write down a lot of source information, making sure to note it thoroughly so I know which digital source it goes with, or making digital copies or photocopies of the title and verso pages if I can.

I then enter all of the information into my genealogy software at home.  Once in my genealogy software, it’s not easily retrievable for side projects, such as blog posts.  Maybe that’s a flaw in the software I’ve chosen or maybe it’s common to all genealogy software.  I’m not sure.  In any event, I then find myself having to look things up and write out new bibliographies for my blog posts.

A while back, I was looking for source citation apps on my phone and found a couple that I wanted to try.  I ended up really liking EasyBib.  It’s free and it is really easy to use.  At first, I just input the information for the type of source I was using and then write down whatever it generated (you can e-mail it to yourself).  Then, I realized there was a corresponding website, which made it even easier.  I started clicking the copy and pasted option and pasting it directly into my post.

Today, as I was reading the newest issue of Internet Genealogy, I came across a list of genealogy apps.  There were several listed that I am familiar with and use, but EasyBib wasn’t one of them.  In fact, there were no suggestions for source citation apps.  I decided to play around some with the website.

When you first see the website, you can choose a citation style and a source type.  The most common source types have their own tabs, but there are other options.

59 source type options

59 source type options

Once you have selected what you need, type in the book title, web address, etc. and click “Cite It” to generate a citation.

If you sign up for an account, you can create folders and projects.  One of my folders would be “Blog.”  Projects within this folder would be “Rakestraw, Francis,” “Springer, Frank,” etc.

I started this with Francis Rakestraw and added a couple of source citations to the project.

Francis Rakestraw sources

Francis Rakestraw sources

I can then check each source that I’m using, click “Export,” and select “Copy & Paste”.  It will open up a new tab with a works cited page.

Works Cited tab

Works Cited tab

EasyBib turned out to be a great solution for me, and I wanted to pass it on in case it might be useful to others too.

Why Don’t You Just Use Ancestry?

I get asked that question a lot, and in light of what’s been going on with the proposed Indiana state budget, I thought I’d take an opportunity to discuss why local history and genealogy departments cannot and should not be replaced by Ancestry.  I’ll be focusing on Floyd County, Indiana, as that is where I am.

The first thing I want to talk about is access.  Most of our library’s (New Albany-Floyd County Public Library) patrons, and this is probably true of most people, can’t afford the subscription to Ancestry.  They come to our library to access Ancestry Library Edition.  While this service would continue without the library’s Indiana Room (for local history and genealogy), the vast majority of the patrons who use it do so in the Indiana Room.  Why?  Because the Indiana Room staff know what databases are available through Ancestry and how to perform a search to yield the best results.  It’s true that this training could be given to Reference or Circulation staff, but, as genealogists know, if you aren’t into genealogy you aren’t going to provide the best genealogical services for your patrons.

This brings me to my next point.  Patrons utilize the Indiana Room because they can get help and advice from staff members.  We offer beginning genealogy courses at our library and are just starting to implement genealogy for kids, genealogy for teens, and more specific classes, such as Irish genealogy.  This allows first-timers, or those who just want a refresher, to get an idea of what is involved in the process and get one on one time with someone has been doing genealogy for years.  We also assist walk-ins and schedule one on one time with patrons.

It may be that you are researching someone who served in the Civil War.  You’ve typed his name in the search box on Ancestry and you’ve found him listed in the Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana and maybe a couple of other things.  Is that all there is?  Probably not.  At the library, we have microfilmed local newspapers with an online index.  Your ancestor’s obituary might include his military service.  We also have Floyd County Civil War soldier records on microfilm (I have yet to find these on Ancestry, but maybe someday).  In some instances, we might have an archive collection that has information or even artifacts.  These are all things you wouldn’t know if you didn’t have someone to ask, and as great as Ancestry may be, contacting them is difficult at best.  Some of these things are also things that Ancestry just doesn’t have, at least not yet.

Another issue is that sometimes you can view an image and sometimes all you get is a transcription.  I searched for “Rakestraw” in the Indiana Marriages collection on Ancestry.


I clicked on the marriage record for Adalino Rakestraw and Henry Hardy, and this is what it showed.


The problem with this is that there is no original image.  Adaline Rakestraw married Henry Hardy, as the image from the microfilm at the library will show.

Floyd County, Indiana Marriages, Vol. 3, p.101, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

Floyd County, Indiana Marriages, Vol. 3, p.101, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

Ancestry is a wonderful tool, but it really needs to be viewed as a virtual library.  The same rules apply to it that apply to libraries nationwide.  Every library is unique.  While some libraries have duplicate information, such as Census, each library has something that other libraries do not have.  In our case, we have quite a bit, but to name just a few:

  • Asylum Records, 1866-1900
  • Cemetery Records
  • Church Records, 1816-1990
  • Cornelia Memorial Orphans Home Records, 1877-1954
  • Diaries & Journals
  • Family Bibles
  • Letters
  • Newspapers, 1817-2015 (with online index)
  • Yearbooks

Should you use Ancestry?  Absolutely!  Just don’t forget to visit your local library, historical society, or genealogical society.  As genealogists, it is our responsibility to be thorough in our research.  This means we need to use all repositories at our disposal for research.  At present, no single repository contains every piece of genealogical information available.

An Example of Best Practice Genealogy from My Great Great Grandfather

Some time around one hundred years ago, Daniel Wiseheart asked his father, William Henry (my great great grandfather), if he could borrow the family Bible.  William lent it to him.  A letter from Daniel states that the family Bible was destroyed in the 1917 tornado (or cyclone) that struck New Albany, Indiana.  As I read this letter, I was dismayed.  Until that point, I held out hope that one of Uncle Dan’s descendants might still have the Bible.

A couple of days ago, as my uncle and I went through the Rakestraw trunk looking for letters relating to Frank Springer, we found that William H. Wiseheart had copied down all of the information from the family Bible onto a piece of paper.  Words cannot express the joy I felt with that discovery!

I’m also grateful that my great great grandpa had the foresight to copy the information.  I can take a lesson from him.  Make sure to copy everything before you loan it, or make copies for the person who wants to do the borrowing.

The following images are the envelope the paper was in, and the front and back of the page.  I don’t know whose writing is the blue ink, but the information is accurate based on my research thus far.

Envelope containing transcription of William H. Wiseheart Family Bible.

Envelope containing transcription of William H. Wiseheart Family Bible.

Transcription of the William H. Wiseheart Family Bible by William H. Wiseheart.  Births.

Transcription of the William H. Wiseheart Family Bible by William H. Wiseheart. Births.

Transcription of the William H. Wiseheart Family Bible by William H. Wiseheart.  Deaths, Marriages, and Memoranda.

Transcription of the William H. Wiseheart Family Bible by William H. Wiseheart. Deaths, Marriages, and Memoranda.

20 Rules for Genealogy

I often talk about my research with my co-workers.  I find myself saying things like, “I know ____ happened.”  When my co-worker asks how I know, my response is often “because my grandpa told me.”  Of course, I know, and frequently say, that nothing is “known” until it’s been proven.  I’m just sometimes so involved in what I’m doing that it’s hard for me to take a step back and look at it objectively, which is why I often talk to my co-workers about my research.  They act as a mirror.  They tell me the things I know but fail to recognize.  Currently, I have several different people that I’m researching and I really just need a reminder of what I need to do.  So, I set out to write down my rules.  Some of these I’ve picked up from peers and mentors and others I’ve learned the hard way.

  1. Genealogy without proof is mythology. Every fact needs supporting evidence.
  1. You have to be a detective. Pay attention to the details, think outside the box, and put yourself in your ancestor’s shoes. Be willing to beat your head against the brick wall until you make it through.
  1. Work from the known to the unknown. Start with yourself and move backward. Maybe you are descended from royalty, but it takes multiple times longer to trace it down from that royal ancestor to you.
  1. Be open. Accept that some of the things you “know” may be only partially true or may not be true at all. Family stories can be like playing telephone for decades. Also keep in mind that everyone has skeletons in their family closet. You can’t be afraid of what you might find. We are not responsible for the actions of our ancestors.
  1. Use pencil until it’s proven. Not only will you save paper (and trees), but this will also help you see what you still need to research.
  1. Use primary sources whenever possible. Secondary sources can be a helpful guide, but primary sources are generally more reliable.
  1. Cite your sources! It’s frustrating to you when you need to re-copy something and you can’t remember where you found it. It’s frustrating to others when they can’t verify something that you’ve written.
  1. Track your work. Knowing what sources were not helpful is just as important as citing the ones that were. Accidentally revisiting the same unhelpful source is a headache and a waste of your valuable time.
  1. One source is not proof. A minimum of two sources is preferable. Even vital records can be wrong. However, one source is better than no source.
  1. Check all possible spellings, sound-alikes, and look-alikes. Also look for nicknames, initials, and the use of a middle name instead of the first. “To ere is human.” Clerks, enumerators and transcribers are no exception.
  1. Always spell the month and use all four digits for the year. 3/2/12 could be March 2, 1912 or February 3, 1812. Using 2 Mar 1912 or March 2, 1912 is clearer. If you aren’t sure what the original record means, make a note of exactly how it appeared on the record.
  1. Research your collaterals. Your ancestor’s sibling may be the key to breaking through your brick wall. This is especially true if everyone in your family was named Charles, William, and Elizabeth, but there was one sister named America.
  1. Check and re-check all your sources. What doesn’t seem important now may prove to be important later. This is especially true if you’ve inherited copies from another family member and can’t quite connect some of the names to what you have researched.
  1. Back-up your work. Save it on your computer, an external hard drive, a flash drive, an online database, and the cloud. Make photocopies or printouts of everything. You can never have too many. Making a schedule for this will help. Maybe you save to your computer and print a copy immediately, back up to a flash drive and/or an online database once a week, and back up to an external hard drive once a month.
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone needs help sometimes, even the experts. Sometimes you can be so focused on something, that the avenues you normally would consider have escaped your notice. Two heads are better than one.
  1. Ask questions of your elders. Having lived the longest, these family members will be the ones with the most information for you. Of course, you want to get information wherever you can, so don’t ignore the rest of the family. Often times, hearing family stories from more than one point of view can give you clues for your research. Record your family’s stories. The longer you wait, the harder it will be and it may be a useful tool for future generations.
  1. Share your discoveries. Publish a book, write a blog, or donate copies to your local genealogical society, historical society, or library. This allows access to others, ensures that future generations will be able to find it, and acts as another form of back-up, should anything happen to your files.
  1. Do not publish or post information about living people without their permission. Some people may wish to avoid being found for whatever reason. Many people simply like to keep things private and we should respect that.
  1. Some brick walls are permanent. Many records have been destroyed due to war or natural disasters, and some due to human accident. Some events were never recorded.
  1. You will probably never be finished. “New” sources are being discovered and digitized everyday. There is always something new to learn.


As I read Amy Johnson Crow’s Are Your Ancestors the Average of 5 Records?, I thought about my own recent discoveries on John Bridges, and a book about Rebecca Gilbert’s family, which is a topic for a future post.  The first time I read the book, I wished I had a book for each of my ancestors, something to give me an idea of who they were and how they lived.  With John Bridges, finding out there was more to the man than the family legend suggested was an eye-opener.  To borrow from David Walton, learning about our ancestors is more than names and dates.  (Ok, so this is a bit of a plug too, since I’m one of the reenactors, but it’s relevant nonetheless).

My grandpa loved to tell stories and he had a million of them.  I wish, now, that I had recorded or written down more of them.  As we were going through some of the things in his bedroom, my uncle found a few stories that my grandpa had written down.  I never knew that he had and it was a treasure to see them.  I’m a journaler by nature.  I keep a journal of everyday events.  I may write every day for a week and then I may not write again for a month.  It doesn’t really matter how often it’s done, just that it is done.  While my journal might not mean anything to anyone now, one hundred years from now, it may be a treasure to a descendant.  It may provide clues to family relationships that couldn’t have been found otherwise.  Part of the reason I started this blog was to put family history in a place where it can be easily accessed and not lost.  I encourage the patrons, where I work, to write down their stories too and I encourage anyone reading this to do the same.

Stories are important.  They give our ancestors character, a voice.  They make them relatable and significant.  They make them real to us in a way that just the dry facts cannot do.  I’ve made it one of my goals to research and write a story for each of my direct line ancestors (at least).  It will only be a snapshot of their lives, but it will be more than I had before and it will give me a sense of who they were.  If finding out who our ancestors were as people isn’t one of the primary goals of every genealogist, it should be.