Grandma’s Tips: Citing Your Sources

Over the last month or so I have been sorting and organizing my Grandma Mona’s family history research. Several times during the years before she passed away, she asked me to organize it and donate what I could to the library.

Grandma did the majority of her research from about 1999-2011. During this time, records were quickly being added online, but most of her research was still conducted via microfilm through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, or at local libraries and courthouses.

Combing through Grandma’s records, I have been impressed with her organization skills. Perhaps she learned how to efficiently organize records through her job at the hospital (which required much record organization), or perhaps she was just born with an organized brain. Maybe a little of both? (I seem to have missed the organization gene; I have to work hard to figure out how to organize well and to keep it up.)

Organizing our family history records is very important, whether you are a natural like Grandma or a lifelong student like me. We need to know where we found our information and be able to find it later when we need it. There are many ways to cite and store our information and hopefully we can find a method that works for us!

Grandma developed a system for citing her paper records which works beautifully. No, the citations are not in strict MLA, APA, or Chicago style format, but her method can easily be adapted to quickly convert the info into these formats. Her method is a quick and easy way to cite source info when you have multiple pages or records on paper from the same or similar sources.

When Grandma made paper copies of records, she created a blank source citation that could be printed on the back of the papers from her home printer and filled in with specific data like the newspaper issue date, the page number, etc. This way she could quickly and easily have a unique source citation on each document page that she copied. Since her collection includes about 1500 obituaries and will/estate papers on 101 individuals, handwriting ALL of the source info would have been… time consuming, to say the least.

Here are some examples of what her method looks like for an obituary from a newspaper on microfilm:

And here are some examples from estate papers copied from the courthouse and from microfilm:

Keeping source citations on paper copies from microfilms, books, courthouses, etc, via Grandma’s method is an easy and useful.

Of course, many of the documents and sources we collect nowadays will be online and can be printed with a citation directly via the website (if you want a paper copy in addition to a digital copy, that is). Citations for digital documents can also be created using programs such as Evernote or Rootsmagic. Grandma’s system isn’t particularly useful for digital copies unless they are printed on paper and are missing source citations. Even then, it is most useful when working with multiple pages from the same or similar source.

Keep in mind that even though many, many records are available online, there are still many records that are not. You may find yourself copying pages from a book or printing documents from microfilms found only at the library or archives. In these types of situations, why not give Grandma’s citation method a try? You might just save yourself a lot of time while you document your research and avoid headaches later when you need to remember where you found it.