top of page
  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

Where to Add Source Citations to Your Family History Book

Are you writing a well-sourced genealogy that you want to publish in a book? Have you wondered, "how do I cite my sources in my story?" Discover strategies for inserting your source citations into your finalized genealogy book.

The Correct Citations in Family History Books Depends on Your Format

To become a better writer, you should ask a lot of questions. For example, a fan wrote and asked, "how do I incorporate citations into my writing?"

To address this question, you have to know your format or which voice you're using.

  • Are you writing an academic paper or a formal research report?

  • Are you writing a general audience family history book?

In academic papers, source citations are expected. The placement of citations for such papers typically follows guidelines set form by BCG or ICAPGEN. However, you can write a formal paper and still improve the look of your citations if you're writing for a client or an entity with more flexibility in page design.

For general audiences, your family history should do one thing:

Allow your family to enjoy the story of their ancestors.

As such, you can and should still include source citations to ensure you're writing a well-documented family history. However, your goal is to reduce any distractions that would drive away your reluctant readers.

family history example with citations

Where do genealogy citations appear in a paragraph?

While writing, your citations will appear as either superscript notations or text references to a document.

genealogy citation in paragraph example 1

The superscript notation shown above indicates that more information is in another location for you to review. Superscript notations do not clutter up your writing. Most readers can refer to or ignore the reference marks as their interest permits.

The second way to reference a source uses words.

Referencing a genealogy source in a paragraph
Inserting genealogy citation using footnotes superscript

In the first variation, the actual document is referenced by its title. In the second example, the type of source is referenced. In both instances, these sources would end with a source notation.

Which style fits your family history book's audience?

Calling out the documents within a paragraph best fists formal papers where analysis of records is paramount.

For general audiences, this breaks what we call the fourth wall. This is when the author talks to the audience about some detail or provides commentary rather than staying in the storyline.

Watch this video to see how to add your source citations to your genealogy books and reports.

Should family history books use parenthetical citations?

While writing college papers, we were often taught to include parenthetical citations in our writing. It looks something like this:

Flanagan wrote, "such travelers were few once winter put its icy grip on Norgate Fief" (108).
"Orman had a reputation as a scholar" (Flanagan 153).

While these quotations from the book The Sorcerer of the North by John Flanagan can easily be referenced by a book title in a bibliography, this simple style doesn't fit with many family history books.

How would you provide a quick reference to the following?

  • "Ellis Island and Other New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957." Database with images, MyHeritage; Geraldine G Wilson, 31 Jul 1931.

Granted, the above source citation is incomplete and should become a more complex citation.

However, a more complex citation would still preclude us from being able to use a simple parenthetical citation in many of our scholarly family history reports. They would definitely be more distracting in an informal, general-audience publication.

Where do genealogy sources appear in a book?

You have two options with where to put your source citations outside of the main text of your family story. First, you can choose endnotes or footnotes.

  • A footnote places your genealogy sources citations at the end of every page.

  • An endnote collects the citations and places them at the end of a chapter or the entire book.

↪️ Do you want to write a family history book?

Grab your copy of this FREE Writing Guide:

laptop and writing notes with title Free Guide: 5 Steps to Quickly Write Family Histories

Should you use a footnote or an endnote in a genealogy book?

The answer to this question depends on for whom you are writing.

If you are writing for AG or CG credential, to win an academic award for your research, or any other scholarly entity, you'll likely be required to use footnotes exclusively.

If you're writing to benefit your family members, use endnotes exclusively. Depending on the length of the final book, you may choose chapter endnotes over book endnotes.

Why endnotes are superior to footnotes in your family history books:

When writing for a general audience, you want to be as brief as possible while still sharing an engaging story. To do this, you need to augment your citations and page design.

Repeated use of the same footnote each time you reference a source adds bulk to your publication. Of course, there are ways to write a full citation and the short citation, but nothing can compete with a cross-reference of an endnote.

If a source is 'iv' in chapter one and you want to reference it multiple times within this chapter, you simply insert the 'iv' superscript each time you want to cite it. Two little letters and one full citation at the end of a chapter will take up less space in your final book than other combinations.

The added advantage of endnotes is your ability to cross-reference your endnotes and reduce the length of your source citation list.

Heavy use of footnotes also negatively impacts the design of your book pages for general audiences. You'll scare many of your genealogy-avoiding family members if you have pages that have more citations than text because of your use of footnotes. With endnotes, the focus remains where it should - on the story, photos, and visual elements.

Even in academic papers, consider using endnotes because of how the footnotes break key analysis elements. Invariably footnote citations will cause tables to break across the end and beginning of two pages. Tables are meant to be viewed as one entity for the best comprehension of the details shown. Footnotes compete with the layout of tables, while endnotes do not negatively impact page design.

Family history authors have many things to worry about to writing a compelling family history. However, where to place our citations should be the least of our worries.

Writing Example - Insert Citations into Family Histories
Save to Pinterest

For more family history writing tips:

Note: To leave a comment, you will be asked to sign in with your Facebook or Google Account. This action will help reduce spam comments on our site. I hope you'll understand.

bottom of page