Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Emphasize the Source You Used Over the Source of the Source

 Two derivatives of the 1790 Census, Brookfield, Connecticut
Above are two types of derivatives from
the same page of the 1790 U.S. Census.

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.

Last time (see “Citing Quoted Sources.”) we learned how Chicago handles citations to information that is copied (“quoted”) from another source.

Mills swaps the order of the two citations, and replaces “quoted in” with “citing” (or another term that makes sense). This gives emphasis to the source seen by the researcher. I like that; it makes more sense to me.

     3. Milton Rubincam, Pitfalls in Genealogical Research (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1987), 11; citing Donald Lines Jacobus, “Tradition and Family History,” The American Genealogist, 9:1 (July 1932).

The first row in this table shows Chicago. The remaining rows show examples from Mills.

First citation   Second citation Examples in Mills’s Evidence Explained
Citation to the source of the source quoted in Citation to the source used by the researcher Chicago
Citation to the source used by the researcher citing Citation to the source of the source pp. 166, 348, 404, 427, 577, 630, 786
Citation to the source used by the researcher from Citation to the source of the source pp. 166, 577
Citation to the source used by the researcher crediting Citation to the source of the source pp. 94, 128


The examples on pages 94 and 166 are interesting because the citation to the source of the source is given inside quotation marks, showing it was copied exactly as it appeared in the source. (Also see page 446 for a different way to cite the source of the source.)

In closing, it bears repeating that when the source you use quotes another source, you need to get that source and use it if at all possible. “Never drink downstream from the cows.”1 And never, ever cite a source that you did not see.2


     1.  Ancestry Insider, “Never Drink Downstream from the Cows,” The Ancestry Insider ( : 25 February 2011, accessed 9 June 2011).

     2.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, PDF images (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 52.


  1. Again, thanks for the clear structure. Interesting for a couple of points - firstly this clearly shows that ESM alters Chicago as well as extending it. Does it matter she alters it? Not to me.

    Secondly, I wonder if it might not make sense to keep the "source of the source" first when the "source used" is an accurate copy of "source of the source". I'm thinking of photos, microfilms, digitised images of documents, etc. (Not sure about human produced transcripts. Probably not.). In those cases, what's surely important is that it's a page from the census (say) and the method of reproduction is such that we can pretty much guarantee it's a faithful reproduction, making the "source used" of lesser importance than in the case of an abstract, etc., allowing the "source used" to come second.

  2. Dear brucefuimus,

    That's a great idea for next week's article!

    -- The Insider


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