Working With Sources

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Source documentation gives your family history data credibility, whether it is a single family group sheet or a full-length genealogy book. In RootsMagic, you can add source citations for a person, a family, or a fact. A source citation shows where you found the information that you entered into a person's record.


The source is information about the document, certificate or other physical source of information. For example, if the source of information is a book, the source would include details like the book title, the author of the book, and the publisher of the book.


The citation is a written description of where in the source the information for a particular fact came from. It will include information from the source itself, as well as additional details telling where in the source the information is located. For example, if you are trying to document a person's birth and your source was a book, the citation would include the source information (title, author, publisher) plus additional information such as the page number where the person's birth was mentioned.

The citation can be printed in reports and can take 3 different forms:

  1. Footnote - this is the standard citation form which will be printed in reports. It can be printed at the bottom of the page where it is used, or as an "endnote" at the end of a report.
  2. Short Footnote - this is a short version of the citation which can be printed in reports if the citation has previously be printed. It can be printed at the bottom of a page or at the end of a report the same as the standard footnote.
  3. Bibliography - this is a special version of the citation which only prints once per report (at the end of the report) no matter how many times it is used. Bibliography entries are printed alphabetically.

Using Sources and Citations

A source can have more than one (and sometimes way more than one) citation associated with it. For example, you may have a Bible that gives you birth dates and wedding dates of several ancestors. You would enter the Bible itself only once, and then cite the page numbers where the detailed information is found in the individual records.

In RootsMagic, the Bible would be considered a master source, and the page numbers the source details, for purposes of data storage in the database. For another type of source, say a census, the split between the fields which are considered master source fields and those considered source details becomes blurred by each person's interpretation of the source. While the same fields would be used in the Source template, some people may want more fields in the master source, while others may want fewer master source fields. The source templates in RootsMagic were designed in the middle ground between the two possible extremes that could be created.

No matter the split, the data from the fields in the Master source and Source details are combined to create the Source citation that appears on the reports or websites. Because the master source and source details are both integral parts of the Source citation, RootsMagic displays both sets of fields on the same screen for data entry, as well as displaying the final form of the Source citation for the (full or first) Footnote, Short (or subsequent) Footnote, and Bibliography (source list) as the data is entered into the respective fields. If you are re-using a master source, the master source fields would be filled in, and you should only be adding data into the Source details fields.

Master Source Note: Changes to the Master Source entry will affect all source citations using that Master Source. Only apply changes that are global to that Master Source. If they are not globally applicable, you should create a new master source, by either using the "Copy selected source" command on the Sources page, under the 3 dot menu, or clicking the Add (+) icon to create a new one.

Citation Note: Citations are reusable. Changes made to a citation will affect all events using it. Only apply changes that are global to source citation. If they are not globally applicable, you should create a new citation, by either using the "Copy selected citation" command on the Sources page, under Citations and clicking on the 3 dot menu, or clicking the Add (+) icon to create a new one.

As you carry out your research, you will discover answers to your research questions from a variety of sources. You should evaluate each source to determine if it was an original source or a derivative from another source. The source provides information, which should be evaluated to determine if the information was provided by someone with first hand knowledge (was involved or witnessed) of the event, or by someone who wasn't involved or didn't witnessed the event and therefore received the information on a second-hand basis. The information may then provide either direct evidence or indirect evidence to answer the research question, or a source may yield an absence of information, providing negative evidence . The results of this evaluation can be recorded in the Quality of Information form.

Following this example, the place where the bible is located (whether on Aunt Betty's bookshelf, in the local museum, or at a national library or archives) would be considered the repository, which could be entered into the Repository screen.

Style Guides

The master source fields and source details fields can be intertwined in the RootsMagic source templates to accommodate source style guide's such as Richard S. Lackey's Cite Your Sources, and Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian, and Evidence Explained: Citing Family History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, and two QuickSheets, QuickSheet: Citing Online Historical Resources Evidence! Style and QuickSheet: Citing Databases & Images as well as educational-institution sponsored Humanities-based style guides. The templates in RootsMagic are based on the Lackey and Mills style guides.

Source Template Language

The RootsMagic template language is extremely powerful yet flexible and easy to use. Source templates control how the data entered into the source fields is arranged to create the source citations. You can use one of the almost 400 built-in templates, create your own templates, or copy a built-in template and apply changes or rearrange elements to meet your needs. (Note that you cannot edit, export or delete the built-in templates.) When finished creating or copying and editing a template, you can export your templates to share with others.