Monday, August 14, 2017

Citing a Source as a Collection or as an Individual Document

While adding sources to RootsMagic today I've been thinking about whether (and when) it may be better to cite a collection as a source and/or whether (and when) it may be better to cite a single document as a source (even if it's part of a collection). 

A collection such as FamilySearch's "Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953" can be cited as a source.  Within that collection I may find 20 or 30 death certificates for ancestors and relatives that I will want to include as sources in my genealogy program.

If I cite that collection as a source
  • I can use the source for more than one document.
  • I can use the collection for more than one individual.
  • I will need to add only the individual's information to the citation.
  • I cannot use an individual document in that collection for more than one individual.

If I cite a single document as a source (even if it's part of a collection)
  • I can use that document for many individuals.
  • I will have a longer list of sources than if I cite a collection as a source.
  • I will need to type some information again and again, information that I wouldn't have to if the collection were cited as the source.

As I see it, there are times when one citation is preferable over the other.

I will want to cite a document as an individual source even if it is part of a collection if it has information about other individuals in it.  A death certificate often names the deceased's parents which can become sources for them.  An obituary usually lists parents and other relatives which I'll want to use for more than the individual who died.  There are other times when multiple names and relationships are noted in documents, including census records.  When that happens I think I should always write a citation for the individual document.

When a collection includes documents that name only one individual and no relationships I think that would be an excellent time to cite the collection as a source.

It's possible that I'm missing or misunderstanding the options available in RootMagic or the reasons for citing one way or the other.  If so, I hope you who have more experience will please share your knowledge.

Whether or not you use RootsMagic you probably have to choose which way to cite collections and the individual documents in collections.  How do you choose?  What do you do?


Copyright ©2017 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. UGH - you have identified the thing that just KILLS me and that's the too-long list of sources. I have no solution.

    1. I don't now how to get around the long list, either, Wendy. I'm just about ready to once again "toss" citations. I really need to persist, don't I?

  2. I am at a loss on any other work around too----like you said, I guess we just push through and persist. I know I appreciate it when I want to know how someone knows something and they have taken the time to cite things fully. But, it's a lot of work.

    1. Thanks, Michelle. Yes, pushing through is the only way to do it. I'm still wondering, though, which is best (cite a collection or cite an individual document in a collection) and which my readers choose.

  3. Nancy, I think the purpose of adding a source is for someone who reads your research to be able to see the exact record you are using to prove a birthdate or land sale or other fact. Our citations need to include all the information required for that person to view (in person or electronically) that primary document. Precise work is required but, in the long run, it is worth our time.

    1. Yes, Colleen. I think sources are important so others (and my, too) can follow the trail back to the original source. My question with this post was whether it's better to cite an individual document in a collection (and reuse it for others who are mentioned in the document) or whether it's better to cite the collection (and perhaps not be able to cite the document again for others). It's more a question about which was to cite is more useful in the long run.

  4. Is it possible for you to cite the collection, and add the particular certificate/volume number that makes the certificate different from the others as a note? That might be a good compromise that has all the facts. [I am horrible at citing sources].

    1. From what I can tell so far, if I add a source (such as a collection of birth certificates) I can use it for multiple individuals. Each birth certificate usually gives name of baby and names of parents but if I use it for the child, I don't think I can use the citation again for the parents. Maybe there is a way and I just don't know it yet.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...