Paul K. Graham

Accredited Genealogist ®

Certified Genealogist ®

Certified Genealogical Lecturer SM

Referencing for Genealogists: Sources and Citation (Book Review)

Originally published in Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly 29, no. 2 (Fall 2015). By Paul K. Graham. Courtesy of the Association of Professional Genealogists.

Referencing for Genealogists: Sources and Citation. By Ian G. Macdonald. The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire, England, 2018. ISBN 978-1- 7509-8688-5. 144 pages. Paperback, £16.00 (UK); $26.95 (US). Kindle edition available.

Reviewed by Paul K. Graham, AG, CG, CGL

Source citations form one pillar of sound genealogical research, and we need to be comfortable citing a variety of sources with great specificity. No matter how versed we are in the major citation guides, we always run into records that have not been modeled. The newest addition to the citation-instruction space, Referencing for Genealogists: Sources and Citation, puts the focus on United Kingdom (UK) records. While instructive, it veers from academic citation practices and US-based developments in evidence analysis terminology.

Referencing for Genealogists originates in the genealogical studies program at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, and it represents how students are taught to construct citations. It approaches the subject from a UK perspective, while acknowledging ways the formats can be extrapolated to sources found in other countries. The recommended structures are also used in the Journal of Genealogy and Family History, where Macdonald is deputy editor.

Three introductory chapters discuss the nature and principles of sources and evidence, explain the reasons we use citations, and touch on standards in genealogy. Chapters four and five explain how the citation is based on the “Harvard” style, which is the author-date system used in the sciences and social sciences (rather than the notes-bibliography style preferred
in the humanities).

The first chapter of citation examples focuses on the “secondary source” which “interprets and analyses primary sources,” followed by a chapter on “cloud sourcing” (digital sources). “Genealogical and archival sources” (referred to as “primary sources” in chapter one) are then introduced by an overview chapter. Primary sources are divided into nominal records (that name related people), material records (that deal with property and other forms of ownership), and procedural records (that deal with the activities of society, such as court records). Three more chapters address images, maps, and a catchall “other primary records.”

Note this book uses the terms primary and secondary sources. The author
describes terminology developed and promoted by the Board for Certification
of Genealogists (BCG)—specifically primary and secondary information
coming from original, derivative, or authored sources—as “over-analysed” (p. 15). Sources that do not exactly fit Macdonald’s two source categories are called “derived primary” (those derived from a primary source) and are described as “primary-ish” (9) and “adequate for most purposes” (15). I did find one reference to “primary and secondary information” (21) in the text.

The book’s arrangement is similar to Evidence Explained. At the broadest level, citations are divided between secondary and primary sources, and within those categories the book addresses specific source types (monographs, censuses, etc.). I found around fifty citation templates backed by more than 250 specific examples. Citation examples are accompanied by discussion and commentary about using the source in your research.

I am in the process of learning UK research; from that perspective, the book is useful as it provides mini-introductions to records. It also helped me understand which parts of each record are most important for creating citations. The content of source commentary is wide-ranging. Sometimes the text discusses citation details; other times it points out unique aspects of the records. It may also describe the history behind a source.

Broadly speaking, there are two citation formats in the book. Discussions
about particular records explain where to add, subtract, and otherwise make adjustments to the citation format.

Secondary sources follow this general form:

Author. Year. Title. Publication Details. Page. Collection [online title]. Web Address.

Primary sources follow this general form:

Source type. Country. Place. Date. Name of Individual(s). Archival Collection or Publication Details. Repository. Collection [online title]. Web Address.

The unique needs of genealogical source citations lead to noticeable variations. For example, archival collection information comes after the individual’s name in most citations, but precedes the individual in some, but not all, service record citations (86–88). Most primary source citations begin with the source type, but not for court proceedings (110–112). Treatment of citation details necessarily varies among sources, but the placement and order are generally consistent.

Despite its general usefulness with respect to learning about UK sources, the book’s underlying philosophies left me with mixed feelings. Don’t expect continuity with evidence analysis terminology advanced by genealogists in the United States. I was more surprised, though, that Macdonald eschews long-standing citation practices in the humanities. Most notably, he rejects use of the comma-punctuated style used in academia’s footnotes and endnotes, choosing instead to use the period-punctuated format of bibliographies. We are told that using two different formats for notes and bibliographies “is foolish” (31); though, we are also instructed to use shortened, generalized references in our bibliography for primary sources (129). The citation formats presented in this book will not fill the needs of those producing work for most US-based historical or genealogical journals. Those writers will need to turn to other style guides for direction—a reality noted by the author (25).

The book also avoids discussion of US-based developments in standards of
proof. Rather than building on the concepts of analysis, correlation, and resolution of conflicts to reach a conclusion, Macdonald encourages a mathematically based nominal approach to genealogical proof. This means that “the greater the number of facts that match, the greater the likelihood of relatedness” (16).

Referencing for Genealogists will be useful for more experienced researchers who have limited experience working with UK records and are looking for guidance on citation contents. It’s also beneficial for those wishing to publish in the journal that Macdonald edits. It will not, however, meet the needs of many researchers producing work for publication or those who want their citations to meet BCG standards. Researchers will need to use this text in conjunction with other style guides. By avoiding engagement with wider academic and genealogical practices and standards, the book limits its application and its audience.