Mastering Genealogical Documentation

Mastering the Art of Genealogical Documentation

Coordinated and taught by Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, FASG, FUGA, FNGS

(photo of Thomas W. Jones credit to Shelley Lewis)

Held via Zoom June 18-23, 2023. Registration Information.


Documentation lies at the heart of respectable genealogy. Without clear and complete citations to supporting sources no family compilation or report can be credible. Therefore, all serious genealogists document their work. Students taking this course will learn how to understand their sources well enough to describe them. Then they will learn how to apply that knowledge to crafting citations. This hands-on course will help students gain understanding of how to create conventional citations with artistry, clarity, completeness, conciseness, and competence. Besides eighteen classes (four time periods each day Monday through Thursday and two on Friday morning separated by morning and afternoon breaks and lunch), the course includes four homework assignments, which will assigned after the last class the first four evenings and debriefed before the first class the last four mornings.


  • Read Genealogy Standards, numbers 1–8 (pages 5–9).
  • Read Mastering Genealogical Proof, chapter 4 (pages 33–45).
  • Come to class with questions about genealogical documentation.


NOTE: The seventeen topics are in sequence, but they do not correspond to the eighteen specific class times. Some of the topics require less than 75 minutes of class time, and others require more.

Welcome and Introductions, Monday Only, 30 minutes before posted class time

The Flexible Nature of Genealogical Documentation

Students will learn citation basics, including reasons to document, desirable qualities to show, aspects of “right” and “wrong” documentation, the importance of flexibility, the limitations of creativity, and cautions for using citation software.

Noncitation Aspects of Documenting

Students will learn what to document and what not to document, when and where to document, and how to use reference notes and their numbers.

Citation Contexts, Forms, and Shortcuts

Students will learn to differentiate three citation contexts—reference notes, source labels, and reference lists—and the appropriate format for each. They also will learn how to create shortened reference-note citations and to use other citation shortcuts.

Assembling Citation Components

Students will learn the first steps of creating citations and what to exclude from citations. They also will learn about the five citation components—answers to Who, What, When, Whereis, and Wherein questions about a source—and how to sequence those components in citations.

Applying “Spit and Polish”

Students will learn how to use capitalization and punctuation in polished citations.

Determining and Citing a Source’s Publication Status

Students will learn how to determine whether a source is published or unpublished, citation implications that those distinctions imply, and how those distinctions apply to online images.

Answering the What Citation Question

Students will learn options for citing titles and subtitles of all kinds of publications and unpublished sources, and titles of parts of publications and unpublished sources, regardless of whether those titles are in English or another language. They also will learn options for describing sources instead of citing titles or for citing both title and description. They also will learn how to cite different versions of sources with the same title and how to cite facsimile images made from sources.

Answering the Who Citation Question

Students will learn citation guidelines for citing private individuals, organizations (including businesses, governments, religious organizations, and societies), and multiple people as creators of published and unpublished sources.

Answering the When Citation Question

Students will learn about date forms for citing various kinds of publications, issues in determining dates of publications and unpublished sources, and how to interpret and cite colonial dual dates.

Groups and Subgroups of Offline Sources

Students will learn how to cite publications and unpublished sources with nested levels. These include publications in series, various kinds of multi-volume sets, serial publications, and archival materials nested in named or numbered collections, series, record groups, and the like. They also will learn how to distinguish pages from folios and apply the distinction to citing them.

Online Options for Answering Wherein and Whereis

Students will learn the pros and cons of six options, including waypoints, for citing the location of information within a source. They also will learn to distinguish source repositories from source creators and to cite them accordingly.

Offline Publisher and Repository Issues

Students will learn how to address issues in identifying and citing offline publishers and source repositories. Subtopics include unknown repositories, closed record sets, and source provenance.

Citing Original Online Information

Students will learn how to cite information that exists only online, including Find A Grave memorials.

Citing Facsimiles of Previously Published Pages

Students will learn pros and cons of five options for citing online facsimiles of sources that appeared previously in print publications, like city directories, family histories, history books, magazines, newspapers, and research journals.

Citing Facsimiles of Previously Unpublished Pages

Students will learn pros and cons of four options for citing images of material that was unpublished before someone published facsimile images of the material online.

Multipart Options for Citing Facsimiles

Students will learn the four permutations of imaged forms of sources and the underlying material. They also will learn about four citation “architectures” or structures and which applies to each permutation. They then will apply their knowledge of source-image permutations and citation architectures to choosing among five citation formats for citing material representing each of the four source-image permutations.

Citing Grammaw’s Dish Towel

Students will draw from their learning from the course’s previous topics and cite sources for which no model exists. They also will combine what they have learned into a ten-step paradigm for citing genealogical sources.