Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is Mills Style Necessary?

The Chicago Manual of Style
Richard S. Lackey, Cite Your Sources : a Manual for Documenting Family Histories and Genealogical Records
Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian
Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace

Citations have two purposes: locate the source and indicate its strength. This series of articles explains what we must do to accomplish these purposes for genealogical sources.


I’ve heard genealogists (one, a professional) say that the Chicago Manual of Style (or some other classic style) is all they need, and that Mills Style citation guides are overkill.

Is that true?

Extensions Happen

When existing citation styles have not met their needs, some fields have invented new styles. Some have extended existing styles. The Chicago Manual of Style recognizes this need and specifically allows it. “Flexibility. Elements of different systems can be combined or adjusted as appropriate to the subject matter and readership.”1

The University of Nebraska Kearney has special needs as a congressionally designated depository for U.S. Government documents. It extended existing citation style guides with examples showing how to cite the many different government documents in its repository. The supplement to Chicago is titled Citing Government Documents: Chicago Manual.2

The Duke Divinity School uses Turabian citation style. But for near eastern, biblical, and early Christian texts, Duke supplements it with the SBL Handbook of Style : for Near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies.3

Genealogical Sources

Genealogists have special needs that are not covered by other citation style guides.

Locating sources in archives is far more difficult than locating published sources. The dozen citation templates provided in standard citation style guides fall far short of the endless permutations of jurisdictions (cities, counties, states, nations, parishes, dioceses, archdioceses, etc.), record types (vitals, land, probate, etc.), and arrangements (record groups, series, files, items, etc.) associated with archival sources.

The inadequacy of classic citation guides is not limited to a lack of templates. Characterizing the strength of copies of manuscript sources requires identification of both the original and the copy.

The need to give genealogists special citation guidance was recognized decades ago. In 1980 Richard Stephen Lackey published Cite Your Sources.4 In 1997 Elizabeth Shown Mills published Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian.5 In 2007 Mills published Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.6

Archives Have Extended Library Standards

Interestingly, what Mills has done for citing archival sources, the Society of American Archivists has done for cataloging archival sources.

For many years libraries used a standard called Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules for writing bibliographic descriptions.7 Chapter 4 in AACR2 (as the 2nd edition is called) covers manuscripts and manuscript collections. Archivists found it inadequate for the wide range of sources held by archives so they created Archives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts, which extends, but is compatible with AACR2.8

Small wonder that the needs of archivists and archive users should reflect one another.


Series Summary

So far in this series of articles we have spoken of these purposes, principles, and practices for genealogical citations:


     1. The Chicago Manual of Style 15th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003; CD-ROM version 1.2.3), 596; italics in the original.

     2. Diana J. Keith, Citing Government Documents: Chicago Manual, PDF publication ( : revised April 2008), Calvin T. Ryan Library > Research Tools > Government Documents > Citation Style Guides.

     3.  “Citation Style Guide,” Duke Divinity School Library ( : accessed 1 May 2011), Help Desk > Citation Help > Divinity School Style Guide.

     4.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997), 5.

     5.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997); in its 16th printing in 2006.

     6.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace(Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007).

     7.  “About AACR2,” AACR2 ( : accessed 1 May 2011).

     8.  Richard Pearce-Moses, A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology (www.archivists
.org/glossary : The Society of American Archivists, 2005), s.vv. “Archives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts.”


  1. Maybe this is the blonde hair talking, but I feel like, for me at least, there's no such thing as "overkill" in terms of citation guidance. I need the Mills book, and any other help I can get.

    If other people can do without, great. But I can't.

  2. Opened my email, gasped, and thought "Sacrilege! Of course it's necessary!" If I were still teaching high school social studies, I'd ask permission to use your blogs to cover citation principles. The kids are adept at using citation machines for the bibliographic information, but they aren't learning the analysis of sources.

  3. Tongue slightly in my cheek here...

    A more useful question might be whether the Chicago style was the right place to start. In citation 3, for instance, how exactly is the ordinary guy in the street supposed to read it and understand why "Citation Style Guide" is in quotes and Duke Divinity School Library not in quotes but in italics?

    And some of you wonder why non-librarians and archivists aren't adept in citations??? We're not attempting to teach CMS-Jedi how to cite their genealogical sources but ordinary people.

  4. Bruce,

    As I've tried to distill citation principles over the last several years, I've come to understand the reasons behind most things, but I still don't have a clue regarding how italics came to serve the function they do in citations.

    -- the Insider

  5. You don't answer the question in the end. Is Mills necessary--that is, strictly necessary. The answer is no.

    I wanted more citations in blog postings (good luck with that btw) and I preferred the old-fashioned Harvard style of inbedded footnotes with shorter cites. It worked well with the narrative and didn't require people clicking on things and leaving the text.

    A good citation gets the average person to the source.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.