What Should I Cite for Genealogy Sources?

Question:  When citing a record from a reproduction (microfilm, microfiche, CD-Rom, web page) should I cite where the original record was kept at the time of reproduction or, should I cite where it is that I viewed the reproduction? [Paraphrased]

Answer:  I would strongly suggest citing the original record and then where it was that you viewed the reproduction.


There are times when the original records have been lost or destroyed (floods, theft, fire, etc.) at the original location. Often, the only extant reproductions of the original records exist on microfilm within the Family History Library system or on other media at some other repository.

I've had enough experience in the past 15 years working to get my hands on the 'original' old book, or old typed transcript, or deeds and probate record, only to find that they mysteriously vanished from the original local library and/or courthouse housing the original document/book. It is frustrating!

Looking at the practical side, how much longer do we suspect a book published in 1846 might stay in its original form and housed in same local library? Hopefully as long as possible, but the reality is that it will not likely last another 100 years, especially if the book is well handled. Will the library microfilm the book? Will they invite another publishing group to come in and microfilm it? Often what happens to old typed transcripts and books is completely up to the discretion of an administrator and is based upon funding. Not all material survives. So, if you are looking at a micro-reproduction, cite it. It cannot be certain that the original still exists.

Sometimes individual records discreetly disappear from a courthouse's holdings. I was recently called upon to photocopy original wills that had been microfilmed and housed in the Family History Library (FHL) collections to replace the original wills that had mysteriously vanished from the local courthouse! So, again, if you are looking at a micro-reproduction, cite it. The original may not exist.

The best advice is to fully cite what you see (author/compiler/editor, title, publisher) AND where you see it. Cover as many bases as possible. If you saw the document other than in its original repository, in a micro-reproduction, on the Internet, etc., let us know.

EXAMPLES: (Include the full citation, then where it was viewed, as well).

Dorothy Harris Phifer, ed., "Samuel Thomas Bible," South Carolina Bible Records (Pinkney District Chapter, South Carolina Genealogical Society: Spartanburg, 1994), page 114, Family History Library Book 975.929 V2s.

George Harrison Sanford King, "The Registers of North Farnham Parish 1663-1814 and Lunenburg Parish 1783-1800," Richmond County, Virginia (by the author: Fredericksburg, VA, 1966), Family History Library Book 975.523 K2k.

Thomas Scott, "The Charles Jacob McQuain Family Cemetery, Thomas C. Scott property, Big Cove Creek, Gilmer County [West Virginia]," Journal of the Allegheny Regional Ancestors, Volume 6, Issue 2 - Summer (1997): Allegheny Regional Family History Society, <http://www.swcp.com/~dhickman/journals/V6I2/mcquaincem.html>, accessed 23 December 2001.

State of Maine, Division of Vital Statistics Index to Vital Records, 1908-1922, Morrowski – Mullen (Salt Lake City: Microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1954), Family History Library Microfilm 010163.

Embden Town Clerk, Embden, Somerset County, Maine, Town and Vital records, 1804-1892, p. 174 (Salt Lake City: Microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1953), Family History Library Microfilm 10846.

There are some citations that I was tired of typing over and over again, so I posted them here http://www.progenealogists.com/commoncitations.htm  so that I could cut and paste them into reports quickly. Please feel free to use them if these cut and paste citations suit your needs.

Natalie Cottrill, author
©2002, All rights reserved


Natalie Cottrill, "What Should I Cite?," ProGenealogists.com (Online:  ProGenealogists, Inc., 2002), <http://www.progenealogists.com/whatcite.htm>

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