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Jillaine's Dream Source Help Page

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NOTE: While many WikiTreers have found this page useful, please understand that this page is my dream (I thought that would be clear by its name) and NOT official WikiTree help language. -- Jillaine

This is my draft of what I'd like to see replace all the different pages we have about sources, including Sources, Sources Style Guide, Footnotes (yeah! merged with Sources) and the new Source_Citations_Formatting (now merged with Sources Style Guide.

UPDATE: While the four different pages have now been merged into two -- Sources, Sources Style Guide -- I still prefer it all in ONE page. So I'm leaving this "dream" page here. Smith-32867 09:21, 4 February 2016 (EST)
ANOTHER UPDATE: I found an old post I wrote in g2g about sources, information and evidence analysis that I think is a good reminder. I've added it at the end here. Smith-32867 12:36, 13 November 2019 (UTC)


Why Sources are Important

If you're a Wikitree member, you signed the Honor Code, which includes among other things:

"We cite sources. Without sources we can't objectively resolve conflicting information."

It is required that we add sources for the information we include on Wikitree profiles.

Sources are critically important for genealogy. Some even say that genealogy without sources is mythology.[1] Even if you're just a casual family historian recording modern family history, you will be helping future genealogists by listing where the information you've added came from.

A source enables anyone reading a profile to judge the accuracy of the information found there, and also helps them independently verify the information by providing sufficient information that the reader could find the source themselves.

What is a Source?

A source is simply the identification of where you obtained the information you've provided on a profile. Sources might include anything from family legend, personal direct knowledge, an interview with a family member to original vital records-- birth certificates, marriage records, last will and testament records and anything in between.

Much has been written about assessing the quality of sources, and analyzing the evidence contained in them. The best include:

  • Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co.; 3rd edition (May 22, 2015). See also the author's blog by the same name: Evidence Explained.
  • Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, National Genealogical Society (2013)

But you don't have to be perfect; the point is to provide sufficient information to help others assess the validity of the information and be able to find the source themselves.

How to add Sources to Profiles

When a profile is created, it automatically creates a section at the bottom of the profile narrative that reads (when looked at in Edit mode):

== Sources ==

<references />

See also:


(What follows "See also:" should be a list of related materials not specifically cited in the narrative.)

NOTE: You may notice old profiles where "Sources" or "Footnotes" is surrounded by three === signs. "Sources" should be updated to level-two (==) headlines. "Footnotes" as a heading should be removed all together.

Immediately below the == Sources == header should be placed the following tag: <references />

This code will generate a list of specially formatted source citations that have been placed within the text. See below.

You have a couple of options for adding sources to a profile you're working on:

List them at the bottom of a profile

Underneath the Sources header (and below <references />), list the sources:

  • John Smith's birth information is from his birth certificate, a copy of which is in the collection of Jillaine Smith

Embed them into the narrative

Start to flesh out the narrative. See the Biographies style guide. After each fact for which you have a source, include a citation in the following general format:

<ref>Author, Title, Place:Publisher (year), page #: pertinent quote</ref>

The text between the "ref" tags will appear below the "Sources" header.

For example, if you type:

Samuel Adams emigrated to Boston in 1630.<ref>Robert Charles Anderson, ''The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633,'' Boston, MA: NEHGS (1995); volume I, pp 126-130.</ref>

the following will appear under the Sources heading:

Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, Boston, MA: NEHGS (1995); volume I, pp 126-130.

Examples: Source Citations

Here are just a few examples of how to cite various sources:


Book citations should ideally include the Author, Title, Edition, Publisher, Publication Date, and page numbers. For newspaper and magazine articles be sure to include the title of the article as well as the title of the publication. If it's a rare book you might also include where it can be found, such as in the collection of a certain person or library.

For example:

  • Joe Schmoe, "Schmoe Origins in Eastern Europe," in Eastern European Genealogy, Warsaw, Poland: A-1 Publishers, April 1911, page 15. This issue is rare but Chris Whitten has a copy of it and will scan the page on request.

Census Records

1930 U.S. census, Laclede County, Missouri, Hooker Township, Enumeration District 53-6, sheet 1-B, dwelling 13, family 14, John Peppers household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 June 2012), citing National Archives microfilm publication T626, roll 1207.[2]

NOTE: familysearch.org has free access to US census records. It’s preferred to Ancestry.com, which requires paid membership to access the same records. And when you're looking at the image, underneath the image you'll see a tab "Information" where you will usually find an already formatted citation that you can copy and then paste into the pertinent profile.

Web Sites

You can usually find the URL in the address bar at the very top of your web browser. For example, the address for this page is [[Space:Jillaine%27s_Dream_Source_Help_Page|Space:Jillaine%27s_Dream_Source_Help_Page</nowiki>]]

When citing a web page you can create a link by using brackets "[ ]" around both the URL and a descriptive phrase (“birth record” in the example below):

For example:

Some genealogy web pages include source citation information that you can copy then paste into your profile. For example, at the time of this writing, FamilySearch (the location of the source above) has a "Show citation" in the lower left corner that will generate a partial citation for this record:

"Massachusetts, Springfield Vital Records, 1638-1887," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-12057-150658-66?cc=1865477 : accessed 14 June 2015), 004375673 > image 389 of 439; Springfield City Hall.

If you're an Ancestry.com subscriber, looking at the image of a source, just type "s" and a source box will appear that you can also copy and paste into the profile. (These typically need editing as they contain too much information.)

Family Bible

If the source is a unique family heirloom or clipping, consider uploading a photo of it or create a free-space profile (more info).

For example, this:

* The birth and death dates are written in the [[Space:Whitten_Family_Bible|Whitten Family Bible]], apparently in the hand of [[Lorman-1|Mary Olive (Lorman) Whitten]].

Creates this link:

Cemetery Headstone

Include the location of the cemetery, who visited it, and when. If you have a photo of a headstone upload it to the individual's profile page. Do not upload a photo you found on, say, find-a-grave.com without express permission from its photographer.

Second-hand Information

Often genealogical information is provided by other family members.

It's a good idea to include who said certain information, and if you remember, when and where they said it. You may also want to include a link to the person's WikiTree profile page.

For example, this:

* [[Whitten-20|Edward Whitten]] related the story about his childhood to [[Whitten-1|Chris Whitten]] on Christmas Day 1979.

creates this:

Advanced Sourcing

Repeated use of the same source on a given profile page (without page #s)

Here's how to use the same source citation multiple times. The first time you use it, include a "name" inside the ref tag, like this:

<ref name="birth certificate">Birth Certificate of George Russell Beebe, Registration 398-5554-428 (1920), Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services - Bureau of Vital Records, Personal copy in the files of [[Beebe-655|Barbara Beebe]]</ref>

In all following references you can just use this: <ref name="birth certificate" />

Done this way, all subsequent footnotes for this same source will point to the same footnote at the bottom of the page.

CAVEAT: this approach doesn’t work well when you want a subsequent use of the source to include a different page number of quote.

Repeated use of the same source on a given profile page (WITH page #s)

NEW of of 1 June 2016:

See this g2g thread for how to use the SPAN tag to do what the above does AND be able to include different page numbers and other details that REF NAME above does not support.

Citation Styles

There are a number of common styles used for citing material and creating bibliographies. The following list includes some of the more common formats:

  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS) which has specialized derivatives:
    • American Anthropological Association (AAA)
    • Evidence Explained (EE)
    • Turabian
  • Columbia Style
  • Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA)
  • Modern Language Association (MLA)

Within genealogy the EE format is perhaps the most commonly used.

Evidence Analysis (an editorial)

Evidence analysis is complex. Use of sources is complex. Every time we try to simplify it, we make it more confusing and usually inaccurate.

A source is neither good nor bad-- certain or uncertain. A source is NEUTRAL. It's simply the place we found the information we are providing. And it's either an original source or not (i.e., derivative). And even original or derivative does not convey reliability.

For example, if we state that if a derivative source was used to support a relationship, then that relationship should be marked uncertain, then every PGM profile that relies on Anderson's Great Migration series would need to be marked uncertain.

The Great Migration Begins is a derivative source. It is used for a LOT of PGM profiles. But it's far more likely to be "certain" than a derivative source published in, say, 1890 because the author, Anderson, with very few exceptions, provides a source citation for every piece of information he provides in the book. The 1890 published genealogy cites nothing. They're both derivative. But their quality and reliability are oceans apart.

We also need to distinguish a SOURCE from the INFORMATION found in that source. We keep conflating the two. And even the information is neither certain or uncertain-- it depends on the question you're trying to answer.

Does the information in the source directly answer the question: Who were the parents of Ambrose Fish? If it does, awesome! We've got certainty. If it doesn't, we've got more work to do. But the same source may have information that directly answers another question: What was the maiden name of Nathaniel Fish's wife? Same source: uncertain for one question; certain for another.

In other words, closer analysis is required to determine how accurate and reliable the INFORMATION provided on any given source is, including how that information correlates to other information-- whether from the same source or another source.

When we attempt to boil this complexity down to a fixed list of certain and uncertain sources, or blanket statements about reliability of original over derivative sources, we do a disservice to ourselves and our community.


  1. Still trying to track down the first mention of this phrase. Might be this: Lorine McGinnis Schulze, "Genealogy without Sources is Mythology," article on Olivetree.
  2. Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 9: Census Instructions? Who Needs Instructions?” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-9-census-instructions-who-needs-instructions : Accessed 4 Feb 2016).

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Categories: Sources