Citing Everything: Your 1-2-3 Guide

We love the fact that billions of records from around the world are now available to us in one form or another, to access with or without our device of choice. That convenience comes with an inconvenience: citing the stuff can be so doggoned confusing. 

Regardless of what kind of records we use, three modes of access are common: we use the original in physical form, we use a microfilm copy, or we use online images at some website.

By defining those three situations, we have a simple 1-2-3 set of rules:

  1. If we eyeball the original physically, we cite the original.
  2. If we eyeball the original on film, we cite the original in Layer 1 and we identify the film in Layer 2.
  3. If we eyeball the original as online images, we cite the original in Layer 1; in Layer 2 we cite the website that published the image. Then we add, as Layer 3, whatever source-of-the-source data our provider gives us.

The fourteen chapters of Evidence Explained cover just about every type of original document in existence. With that, we can ace Situation 1.

Every source-type chapter demonstrates how to cite microfilm and online images. That takes care of Situation 2.

Situation 3 is more complicated. In addition to all the examples in EE itself, our website's QuickLesson 19 explores the concept of "layers" in much more depth. Our QuickLesson 25 demonstrates how to deal with websites that require ARKS, PALS, and/or paths. Those two lessons help us understand the complexities of Situation 3.

But the simple guidance we need to handle our angst are those rules 1-2-3. Just plug together as needed.

IMAGE CREDIT: CanStockPhoto ( : accessed 7 December 2019), "1 2 3" by Design56, uploaded 13 November 2010; used under license.

HOW TO CITE: Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Citing Everything: Your 1-2-3 Guide," QuickTips: The Blog @ ( : posted 8 December 2019).

Submitted bySheila Benedicton Sat, 12/21/2019 - 12:24

I would like to "see" the correct way to cite a public tree or multiple public trees about the same surname.

Submitted byawesson@ancestry.comon Thu, 10/22/2020 - 12:11

This is for my ICAPGen Accreditation.

How do I include the ID number in a Family Search website citation?

Each person on Family Search has a specific ID number attached to them, but in Evidence Explained there is no where referenced of how to cite this ID number. 

Here is an example: Hannah Jean Evans ID number is KN1H-L1Q

Here is the citation as per Evidence Explained Third Edition Revised: 

“Family Tree for Hannah Jean Evans,” database, ( : accessed 5 October 2019), entry for Hannah Jean Evans, Oneida, Idaho.

May I please have you inform me how to include the ID in my citation using Evidence Explained? 

Submitted byGaryCollarinion Wed, 06/09/2021 - 09:19

While examining information contained on a military discharge document, I have run across a question regarding information type classification. 

The document is signed by the person himself at the time of issuance, and is still living. A subsequent interview validated that the record is the original copy and that he signed it at the time of issuance which leads me to believe that as far as standards go, all of the information contained within the document would be considered primary information found on an original source. This is where my questions begin.

The record was technically created by a unit clerk, who was not present at the time of any of the events listed within the document, which by my understanding of the definition, would make all of the information secondary. Would the unit clerk be "acting on behalf" of the United States military as an entity, making the information primary, as the military as an entity was present at the time that all of the military related events happened? Does the subject's signature at the time of issuance take precedence for classification? 

On this document in particular, another issue presents itself as there is a separation pay section, with a section listing the name of a pay officer, who distributed the pay at the time it happened. Again, as this document is produced by a unit clerk, who was not present at the time this event took place, make the information that the pay officer was who he is said to have been, and the amount paid secondary information? The same question still applies though, in regard to the subject's signature on the document. 

I am looking at this strictly on a basis of document analysis, without further research required for analysis for a school report. I know this was touched on in earlier lessons, but I would welcome any direction or links to better understanding this concept.

I have the luxury of being able to interview the subject and confirm that the information listed is true to his recollection, and have other sources that further confirm all of this information, which for research purposes would be very convincing evidence to lead to the belief that the information contained is true and correct. I don't however have the luxury of using that research to determine the classification of the individual pieces of information that are on the document.

Thanks in advance to anyone able to steer me in the right direction.