How do I correctly cite a UK certified birth, death or marriage certificate.

I've been building my family tree as a hobby for some time and have recently been informed of the importance of "correctly" citing your sources for future generations and for my own reference.

However, I'm finding it to be a very steep learning curve so thought I'd reach out for help to ensure I get it 
"right" now, rather than having to correct it further down the line. 

I'm using a program called "Roots Magic" and while the templates are meant to follow EE, I didn't find they matched what was being taught in the Book for "citing" a UK birth certificate. 

So I decided to use a Free Flow form and you can see my citation below. Is it correct?

Footnote: England, birth certificate (certified copy) for Paula June Whitehouse, born 2 Oct 1966; registered October quarter 1966, Birmingham District 9c/206, Birmingham Sub-district, Warwickshire; General Registry Office, Southport.

Short footnote: England, birth certificate (certified copy), Paula June Whitehouse, October quarter 1966, Birmingham District 9c/206.

Bibliography: England. Registrar General. Birth Certificates. General Registry Office, Southport.

Another clarification I could do with some help on is the difference between "Master Source" and "citation". As in "Roots Magic" the Footnote, Short Footnote & Bibliography was part of the master source section and then there's another section I can fill in called "citation details" (See screenshot for reference)


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Submitted byEEon Mon, 01/10/2022 - 09:02

Curtisk, I see that you have followed EE example at 9.48. Is there a reason why you think this might not be accurate in your case?

Re the "citation details" label in RootsMagic: this label is a holdover from the days (pre RootsMagic) when its genre of software was created by engineers who did not have a clear understanding of the difference between a source (the entity from which we get our information) and a citation (the sentence in which we identify our source).  Everything we put into our citation to the source is a "detail" that identifies that source.

From the perspective of those who created this genre of software (in very simplified terms): They recognized that many sources would be used over and over again, with only a tweak in the page number, volume number, act number, folder number, film number, or other specific item. Therefore, they created a framework that bifurcated the citation into two parts:

  • the details about the source  that would not change, which they called "master source";
  • the details about the source that could change from one citation to another, which they called "citation detail."

RootsMagic (and some other genealogical software) still uses the misleading term "citation detail" for the page or "specific item" field—i.e., the field of the citation in which we say specifically where in the source we find that piece of information.

Beyond this, for guidance with specific software, your help should come from that software's user-group.


Thanks for the response that has cleared up my confusion. 

So you're saying if I'm writing the citations myself and follow EE, then I just leave the "citation detail" in the software blank? 

Secondly, this would mean I would create a "source" for every new birth, marriage and death certificate correct?  

Finally, let's say I attach the birth certificate as a source for the child's "fathers" residence fact does the citation change or does it stay the same?

Yes, Curtisk2. If we write the citations free-form, then we do not use the citation templates. Different programs handle this in different ways.

Yes, if we write the citations free-form, then we cannot conveniently click on a "Master Source" and have fields automatically populated. We can, however, copy-paste our already created citations and then tweak whatever element is different. 

With specific regard to "every new birth, marriage, and death certificate," if we are using original records the odds are that we would be creating a new source for each certificate because those come from many different record offices and are identified in different ways.  However, if we are using an online database to deliver images of certificates, then it would be only the database's identification that would be automatically replicated by our software as a "master source."

In answer to your last question, the basic rule is this:  Each time we assert a fact—whether it is in a database or written text—we attach a citation to our source for that specific information.  This means:

  • If, in one place in a database or in our written narrative, we identify a child's father, we cite the document that provides that evidence.
  • If, in a different place in a database or in our written narrative, we cite the father's place of residence at the time the child was born, we cite the document that provides that evidence. 
  • If the source for both assertions is the same, then we cite the document in full the first time and use a short form the second time. 
  • If we are using a relational database based on EE, then it will automatically create the short-form citation for us, when and where appropriate.

Otherwise, when we cite a one-page document such as a birth certificate, there is no change in the citation from one to the next.  However,

  • if our evidence comes from a book and the first citation refers to page 12 while the next citation refers to page 237, then we do alter the citation in that field for the specific page number
  • if our evidence comes from an online database and the first citation refers to one record in that database while the second citation refers to a different record in that database, then we have to alter all details that describe the record itself and its locale in that database.

EE, your explanation for "source" and "citation" is very helpful. The concept of bifurcating the citation into a "master source" and "citation details" as used in programs like RootsMagic is also used in user trees uploaded to Ancestry. For me, Ancestry is a good place to share my research with others. I realize that Evidence Explained is not the platform for discussing genealogy software, however most genealogists use some type of program for research and documentation. I know I have been challenged by how to most efficiently create EE type citations. Many of my sources are now found online which often require lengthy layered citations. While that is not a problem for creating the citations within the software, platforms like Ancestry have limits on the length of the Source title and citation details (256 characters each), which results in truncation of much valuable information needed to locate the source. This is just an observation I wanted to share.

Ah, yes, Mike. Ever since "genealogical software" was created, that software has been the tail that tries to wag the dog, where documentation is concerned.

Evidence Explained is not a manual designed for software users. EE is a manual for the users of historical records and artifacts who care about the accuracy of their research and recognize the need to identify each source fully and clearly enough that (a) it can be relocated; and (b) it's validity can be appraised. Many historical researchers are not genealogists and would never be using genealogical software; and many serious genealogists have tried and then abandoned relational databases in favor of "text" software precisely because of the limits of the software.

To its credit, genealogical software has come a lonnnnnnnnnnnnng way since PAF, Banner Blue, and similar programs was created in the early 1980s. Originally, they offered no documentation capability at all. Nada. Zilch. Persuading the designers to include it was a major battle in that decade and even into the 90s. Since then, we've seen slow but significant improvement—more so in some software and less so in others. But users still find it necessary to both lobby and educate the designers.