Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Revised edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009.) is a citation guide widely used by genealogists and family historians.

Are there any other citation guides in use, or is this the de facto standard in the field?

To add some context, I've looked for alternatives, and the answer is always: Evidence Explained. Which is a fine guide if you're dealing primarily with US sources, but still leaves a lot of work to do if you're applying it to English and Welsh sources, for example.

  • 1
    Might this question, @lkessler, be acceptable if the question were rewritten as, "What are style guides (for citations)? Is there a standard guide for genealogy and family history?" My thought it that the revised question can be answered and it will probably result in answers that provide the same information ColeValleyGirl is seeking.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 3:03
  • @ColeValleyGirl - Our comments are becoming meta discussion, so I've opened a question on the meta site to continue the discussion there and let others express their opinions as well. I've deleted my comments above, and you should delete yours as well because I've copied them to the meta.
    – lkessler
    Commented Oct 13, 2012 at 20:54
  • Here is the link to the discussion on this question. Join the conversation here.
    – jmort253
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 3:16

2 Answers 2


Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, rev. ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009) takes an in-depth look at genealogical sources; it incorporates a citation style. Although the sources and other aspects of the style are US centric, the analytical principles are universal. Because of its US focus, it might be better to suggest Evidence Explained is the closest thing genealogists have to a de facto standard.

As ACProctor explained, Evidence Explained is itself an extension of The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). Comments that follow are intended to put this in context and provide more insight, especially about UK practices.

The best known citation guides are a part of style guides, that set out standards for consistency/uniformity in the writing process. This consistency aids in readability. To get a feel for the broad range of topics covered by a comprehensive style guide, glance over the CMOS topical online Q&A index. Creating/maintaining a comprehensive style guide like CMOS no doubt requires substantial resources.

Style guides/manuals are essentially writing guides; they are commonly language specific. ACProctor mentioned some comprehensive styles that are both long standing and widely used. The Wikipedia entry, "Style guide," includes a list, too. Given ColeValleyGirl's UK interest, she may want to review Hart's Rules/Oxford (or New Oxford) Guide to Style or The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism.1

Across all disciplines, there are thousands of publishers, educators and others who develop submission guidelines that incorporate stylistic preferences. Sometimes the guidelines specify the use of a third party style, like CMOS, APA, etc. Frequently, however, the guidelines are based on a more comprehensive style and then modified slightly. Guides associated with a specific organization or publication are called "house styles" or "editors styles." From among the great variety of house styles, many in the US could be described as "APA with a few twists" or "CMOS, with a few twists," etc.

Scholarly genealogical journals have established submission guidelines. Examples follow for a few US based journals.

The best way to learn the styles used by the journals, The Register, The Quarterly and The Record, is to read current issues. All three editors generally follow Chicago Manual of Style ... with some twists. More information is available about the genealogical journals and submission standards at the end of this article.

Citation styles have readability objectives, and stylistic formatting serves as a sort of shorthand. Many different terms are used to describe citation styles generally---author date, note, etc. Disciplines tend to approach citations differently, and the options favored by some areas of study are greatly abbreviated when compared the note or numbered systems genealogists favor.

  • author date, in-line system (example): (Titus 1963) or (Titus 1963, 73)
  • note/number system citation (example): 1. Warren Irving Titus, Winston Churchill (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1963), p. 73.

While most disciplines work with a range of published materials, genealogists (and historians) work extensively with unpublished and archival materials. Archives favor sometimes complex hierarchical organization schemes. Many archives publish their own citation guides as an aid to researchers.

Of general note, UK archives favor citations that work from the largest to the smallest element in the hierarchy. Archives in the United States tend to reverse the order (thus US note style citations tend to work from the smallest element to the largest). Separate from this large-to-small or small-to-large arrangement, variances in language and grammar between the US and UK create other differences between UK and US citations.

Other genealogy style guide materials:

  • Michael Leclerc and Henry Hoff, editors, Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century: A Guide to Register Style and More, 2nd ed. (Boston, Mass.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2006).
  • Helen Schatvet Ullmann, CG, FASG (New England Historic Genealogical Society) "Register Style Template."
  • Joan F. Curran, Madilyn C. Crane, and John H. Wray, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills, Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin, rev. ed. (Washington: NGS, 2008).
  • Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2000).

1 Reference only: Scribd The Oxford Guide to Style [2002]

  • Thank you ; I have a copy of The Oxford Manual of Style, which incorporates The Oxford Guide to Style and thus Hart's Rules. Also Fowlers, The Complete Plain Words, and Usage and Abusage. All fine documents, but not tailored to genealogy, the way Shown Mills is. It's also good to have highlighted the difference in ordering between UK and US archive citation styles. It still seems that the only extension of any generic style to the requirements of genealogists/family historians is the US-focussed Shown Mills.
    – user104
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 20:25
  • There has been work done to advance a set of international genealogy citation standards. It will need the input of a larger audience (and every reason for us to believe that support is there).
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 20:40
  • Good information standards are also needed to support the changes that occur over time in citations styles (they change many times over the life of a user file).
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 20:42
  • Sourcetemplates.org has acknowledged that "that further alteration may need to occur for this system as an international audience is further involved." and fhiso.org explicitly recognises the need for international involvement in standards and is actively recruiting software developers such as Calico Pie in the UK. Am I missing any initiative I should be following and supporting (although end-user support is not the most important thing they need)?
    – user104
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 21:22
  • You are correct on all counts; you see the emphasis (in all cases on the international solution).
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 21:48

There are many citation styles in use. For instance, in the humanities there are: Modern Language Association (MLA), Harvard referencing, Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA), and the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). There are other styles commonly used in law or the sciences too.

The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) recommends CMOS which utilises footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies.

What Evidence Explained does is to extend the CMOS style to cope with the huge number of sources and artefacts that family historians need to cite. I know of no other guide that offers this range.

So, in summary, there are certainly other guides that will help you cite traditional sources such as books and published articles but nothing that I'm aware of that will cater specifically for family history.

  • I think this answer could be improved, Tony, by adding the comment/challenge/need to extend Mills work further from an international perspective.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 17:12
  • Yes, as a UK genealogist, that's an important point.
    – user104
    Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 11:43

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