by Carolyn L. Barkley

I think that great genealogical minds (and modest ones at that) think along the same lines.  Thus this article, which I have had scheduled since the end of May, coincides with Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings Tuesday’s Tip, dated 3 July.1

I spend much of my time either editing or designing family history-related books for aspiring authors. Many of the writers with whom I work are older than – oh, let’s say forty to be on the generous side. The number of these individuals who are able to cite their sources correctly (in either end/foot notes or bibliographies) is sadly small. Okay, my father was an English teacher and my mother was a librarian – as was I – which might account for my orientation to bibliographic description. I know that these skills were taught in the American school system (remember having to use Turabian?), but apparently they were not skills that remained relevant. This fact is unfortunate as quality genealogical writing requires that we correctly cite not only books and journals, but original records, photographs, online sources, and much more.

Luckily for us, Elizabeth Shown Mills has devoted several years to defining the world of genealogical citation. Her first book on the topic, Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997, reprinted 2006) was soon followed by the more comprehensive Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (2d. ed., Genealogical Publishing Co., 2010) and by a series of QuickSheets: Citing Online Historical Resources Evidence! Style (1st rev. ed. 2007); Citing Online African American Historical Resources Evidence! Style (2010); and Citing Ancestry.com Databases & Images (1st rev. ed., 2012).

A new addition to this body of work is a website: Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Source and Citation Usage. The website is one that should be used by anyone researching family history or writing a family history, a blog article, a client report, or any other type of genealogy-related writing.

At a recent conference, I had a long conversation with a visitor to the booth who was interested in publishing what sounded like several volumes of a compiled genealogy. In talking with her, she said, “Oh, my husband doesn’t see any need to use [Evidence Explained]…the citations are too long and take up too much space.” I explained that quality citations were the mark of quality research, and perhaps I was able to persuade her to talk to her husband. Thus, one of the first things I do in discussing a project with an author is to explain that, as necessary, I will revise all end/footnotes and bibliography entries to conform to the standards outlined in Evidence Explained. This statement usually leads to questions about why I use Evidence Explained rather than Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, APA, or any of several other citation guides. The website’s home page very helpfully includes a chart outlining the distinctions between Evidence Explained and traditional guides. This chart illustrates Evidence Explained’s emphasis on original records, citation models (the bibliographic, first reference note, and subsequent reference notes), digital materials, government documents and legal publications, and input information (details noted while using a record that assist in understanding and analyzing the source). By contrast traditional citation guides emphasize published materials, stylistic information and emphasis on publication information, with limited coverage of digital materials and government documents and legal publications.2 I find that I use Chicago Manual of Style for stylistic decisions (commas, abbreviations, hyphenation, and other usage issues) and Evidence Explained for all citation decisions.

One of the most useful sections of the website is “QuickLessons.” A good example of what is offered in these articles can be found in QuickLesson 3: “Flawed Records” which presents a case study outlining why thorough research and thorough analysis are important in creating a full understanding of available records, and what, when looked at holistically, they can tell us about an individual and the historical context within which he existed. (Note that at the end of each QuickLesson, the exact format for citing the article is provided.)3 Another example is found in QuickLesson 6: “Mindmapping Records.” This article explores another case study using a process of analyses that is anything but linear. Instead, it encourages a more free-flowing approach to our research that allows for those surprising detours and discoveries that continually alter the direction of our research. This lesson is one that will benefit from multiple readings and perhaps will lead to exploring at least one of the suggested readings: Tony Guzan’s How to Mind Map: The Thinking Tool that Will Change Your Life (Harper Collins, 2006).4 As I write, there are currently nine lessons available: “Analysis & Citation,” “Sources vs. Information vs. Evidence vs. Proof, “Flawed Records,” “NARA Citations & Finding Aids,” “Analyzing Records, “Mindmapping Records,” “Family Lore and Indian Princesses,” “What Constitutes Proof?”, and the most recent, “Census Instructions? Who Needs Instructions?” If you are a Facebook reader, you can “like” its Evidence Explained page and read daily posts about records and evidence and source issues, and receive posts announcing the availability of new lessons.

The Forums tab in the upper navigation bar provides visitors to the site with the ability to post questions to be answered by “EE.” One questioned how to best “digest the elephant in the room (or digest an 885-page book)? The answer outlines four very good ways to read and learn the basic principles included in the first two chapters of Evidence Explained and then how to use the index and citation models effectively.5 Another question asked for clarification and assistance with Family Tree Maker citations which are based on Evidence Explained formats.6

Other sections of the website provide links to chapters in Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, sample pages, and sample citation model templates.

EvidenceExplained.com is an essential tool in our continuing education process. Its lessons illustrate the very best in applied methodology, and its forum questions and answers are informative and offer the opportunity for interaction among researchers and experts. You will want to make reading this well-organized site a regular activity; you will be a better research and writer for doing so.


1 Randy Seaver, “Tuesday’s Tip – Check Out the Evidence Explained Website,” Randy Seaver, Genea-Musings, 3 July 2012 (http://www.geneamusings.com/2012/07/tuesdays-tip-check-out-evidence.html : accessed 3 July 2012).

2 Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Evidence Explained vs. Traditional Citation Guides,” Elizabeth Shown      Mills, Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage, 2012 (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/ : accessed 3 July 2012).

3  Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 3: Flawed Records,” Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained:  Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (http://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-3-flawed-records : accessed 3 July 2012).

4  Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 6: Mindmapping Records,” Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained:  Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (http://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-6-mindmapping-records : accessed 3 July 2012).

5 Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Forum Discussion: FTM Citations & EE,” Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/ftm-citations-33 : accessed 3 July 2012).

6 Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Forum Discussion: How Does One Eat an Elephant (or Digest an 886-page Book),” Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/how-does-one-eat-elephant-or-digest-885-page-book : accessed 3 July 2012).



  1. Great article. Love the example of the woman whose husband decided Evidence Explained wasn’t important.

    Quote | Posted July 8, 2012, 10:54 am

  2. [...] credit where credit is due, Ol’ Myrt here suggests the 5 July 2012 blog post titled “EvidenceExplained.com” by Carolyn L. Barkley in her blog GenealogyandFamilyHistory.com which she bills as “A [...]

    Quote | Posted July 29, 2012, 10:02 am

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