Thoughts on Mastering Genealogical Proof: Chapter 4 Citations

During this week’s Hangout-on-air, I publically criticised Evidence Explained, widely regarded as an essential reference to genealogical citation. In particular, I find the examples for census and civil registration records in the United Kingdom confusing.

In this post I will examine one census example, a first reference note on page 304:

“1871 England Census”, database, ( : accessed 1 September 2006), entry for George Lucas (age 33), Bromley St Leonard, London; citing PRO RG 10/571, folio 27, p. 3; Poplar registration district; Bow subdistrict, ED 14, household 9.

The original of this record is held at The National Archives, Kew, and its catalogue entries are arranged in several levels :

Level Reference Title, Creator, Date
1 RG Records of the General Register Office, Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys
2 RG 10 General Register Office: 1871 Census Returns
Creator: General Register Office, 1836-1970
Date: 1871 April 2
3 Subseries within RG 10 – LONDON – MIDDLESEX
4 Sub-subseries within RG 10 – Registration District 20.POPLAR
5 RG 10/571 Registration Sub-District 1C Bow.
Civil Parish, Township or Place: Bromley St Leonard (4)

There is extensive documentation of the parliamentary Acts, instructions, forms and resulting publications at Histpop Online Historical Population Reports.  The RG 10 subseries and sub-subseries follow the order of registration districts in the Registrar General’s Annual Reports. Sub-districts were further divided into Enumeration Districts, an area that could be covered by one enumerator. The enumerator collected household schedules (which generally were not preserved) and used them to fill in the Census Enumerators Books (CEB). The census record we have here is a page from a CEB. There could be one or more CEBs for each Enumeration District, and several EDs for each Registration sub-district.

Before the CEBs were microfilmed, each sheet of paper or folio was stamped on the top right corner of the front side, starting with no 1 on the first page of the first CEB and continuing the sequence through subsequent CEBs. Consequently, the combination of folio number and page number uniquely identifies each page within a sub-district.

To cite the original page following Thomas Jones “who; what; when; where in; where is.” format:

General Register Office; 1871 Census, England & Wales, Census Enumerators Book; 2 April 1871; Entry for George Lucas, line 1 [counted], schedule no. 9, folio 27 [stamped], p. 3, Bromley St Leonard, Enumeration district 14; Registration Sub-District 1C Bow, Registration District 20. Poplar, London – Middlesex, 1871 Census Returns, Records of the General Register Office, The National Archives, Kew.

The thing that is missing from the above is an archival reference, also known as a call number. The reference elements are included, but are scattered. The National Archives type of reference is a well established convention that is widely understood. If you were permitted access to the original, you would quote the reference RG 10/571 for the bundle of CEBs and RG 10/571/27/3 for the page, because that reflects the current archival arrangement and makes it easy for archive staff to retrieve.

Ancestry image page showing refernce elements

Ancestry image page showing citation elements

Now let’s take a look at the Ancestry version of this record. Ancestry often re-arranges records because the website deals with digital images rather that the original thing. Treating each image as a separate ‘thing’ within a series is sensible because each image is a separate file. This is different from the original CEB or bundle of CEBs that comprise RG 10/571. Ancestry’s card catalogue splits the census by year and country into separate collections. Within a collection, the breadcrumb trail shown above the image reveals the arrangement, the last element is the image number at the bottom of the image. A complication for this example is that the digital image was derived from microfilm, of which I have no details.

Citation of the Ancestry copy requires a layered citation, which gives details of both the digital image and original:

General Register Office; 1871 Census, England & Wales, Census Enumerators Book; 2 April 1871; Entry for George Lucas, line 1 [counted], schedule no. 9, folio 27 [stamped], p. 3, Bromley St Leonard, Enumeration district 14; Registration Sub-District 1C Bow, Registration District 20. Poplar, London – Middlesex, 1871 Census Returns, Records of the General Register Office, The National Archives, Kew; digital image from microfilm, Ancestry, “1871 England Census”, database, Ancestry ( : accessed 27 March 2014), London, Bromley St Leonard, District 14, image 4.

I much prefer this citation to the Evidence Explained version. With census records I more interested in “what” rather than “who”, so I might change the order of citation elements or drop the creator. The title in the form ‘Census, 1871, England & Wales, CEB’ would make all my census records appear together in a source list. I could omit the first ‘Ancestry’ and abbreviate common terms. I did not give the full URL that takes you directly to the record because that could change, and it is rather long.

How would you cite this record?

I have previously pondered citations. What do you make of these examples:
Copies of Copies, Citation and Source Evaluation with FamilySearch
Citation and Verification or ‘Where the hell did I get this from?’

Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013)
Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained. Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007)

© Sue Adams 2014


14 Comments on “Thoughts on Mastering Genealogical Proof: Chapter 4 Citations”

  1. Tony Proctor says:

    I agree with you Sue. Much of these suggested census citation forms stems from the requirements for the US census. The level of detail is superfluous for England & Wales (and possibly Scotland now that they’ve retrospectively been given their own codes), and differs from TNA recommendations ( My version, also incorporating UK punctuation, would be:

    The National Archives of the UK (TNA), “1871 Census of England and Wales”, RG 10/571, folio 27, page 3; imaged in database “1871 Census of England, Scotland, and Wales”, /FindMyPast/ ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014); household of George Lucas (age 33).


    • tonyproctor says:

      You can ignore this post as I no longer form my census references in this way. Unfortunately, I have no access to remove or edit it.


      • Sue Adams says:

        Hi Tony
        So you have changed the way you cite censuses. Why would you want to remove your comment? It documents the development of your thoughts. What do you do differently now and why?


      • tonyproctor says:

        There were several problems Sue. TNA was mentioned too many times because I was confused over them being both the creator and the custodian. Also, the field ordering wasn’t correct. After talking with Elizabeth Shown Mills, I adopted variations more like:

        “1851 England Census”, database, /Ancestry/ ( : accessed 25 Apr 2014), household of Richard Hallam (age 33); citing HO 107/2128, folio 93, page 29; The National Archives of the UK (TNA).

        “1881 England, Wales, & Scotland Census”, database, /FindMyPast/ ( : accessed 5 Dec 2013), household of Samuel Rowland (age 24); citing RG 11/3415, folio 76, page 33; The National Archives of the UK (TNA).

        This isn’t precisely what Elizabeth recommended as it was a slight compromise in order to make it more correct without making a book out of each one. One of the remaining issues is what constitutes a “database”, and how that differs from “[digital] image”. I mentioned this in passing on the previous ‘Mondays with Myrt’ since its either an artificial distinction or a misuse of terms. I don’t really know where to take that as people have adopted the EE terminology but the original computer terminology is implying something else.


  2. GeniAus says:

    Sue, So pleased I found your blog via your mention of this post Google+.

    Although I am very sloppy with citing sources I applaud you for this post. We need to be mindful of English standards when sourcing documents from that country.

    Evidence Explained appears to me to be a reference to genealogical citation for the US market and no doubt this is where the author’s expertise lies. It would be most useful to have a similar work written by an expert from the UK..


  3. Tony Proctor says:

    Are you aware of Randy Seaver’s exploration of census citations for England & Wales Sue? ( It’s interesting because Audrey Collins (TNA) gives support to his suggestions. I think my form , above, is fairly similar except that it is a findmypast example.


  4. […] Thoughts on Mastering Genealogical Proof: Chapter 4 Citations […]


  5. I often find using EE for source citations for UK records problematic, partly as it doesn’t seem to take into account the importance of reference numbers in the UK system, and partly as there are few examples so many circumstances aren’t covered. Like others, I have taken EE as a starting point and then developed my own version.

    In the case of this example I would use the following:

    1871 census of England, London, [registration district] Poplar, [sub-district] Bow, [civil parish] Bromley St. Leonard, enumeration district (ED) 14, fol. 27, p. 3, schedule 9, George Lucas; digital image, / ( : accessed 28 March 2014), citing The National Archives of the UK (TNA), reference RG10/571.

    This is based closely on EE’s style for citing a census accessed on microfilm, as to me this presents the different elements in the most logical order (largest to smallest). I include a URL to the specific database on Ancestry in which the image is to be found, but not to the actual image itself.


  6. intriguingnw says:

    Sue and Tony, have you used a citation tool for FH and what standards would you recommend? Asking because looking at a way to capture wider citations and evidence trail for micro social and local histories as well as FH. Sue you connected via G+ today and I think we metup when you were at Strathclyde at WDYTYA couple of years ago? If I recollect correctly you were doing your masters there? anyway looking at a way to integrate with non fh meta standards aand seeing you both on this post thought worth an ask. all the Best.


    • Hi Amanda

      Yes we did meet at WDYTYA in 2012. I remember having an interesting conversation with you.

      Although many genealogy programs incorporate citations, I think all currently have drawbacks. Bibilographic citation styles do not work well for archival and genealogical sources. Evidence Explained is an extension of the Chicago Manual of Style, so is heavily influenced by bibiographic citation. I think making the connection to the archival catalogue is needed to capture the meta-data for sources. Storage of separated citation elements, flexible formating and integration with databases, word-processors and other tools would be ideal. I’m still working on possible solutions.


      • intriguingnw says:

        Hi and thanks, will keep in touch as some projects we are working on may be of interest too, will no doubt be in touch. Keep up the great work nice blog. A


  7. Tony Proctor says:

    I don’t use a citation tool myself. Although I’ve developed some crude software to help with my STEMMA citations, the ones used in my articles are currently created by-hand. You can see from the suggestions above, though, that we’re not all in agreement about what constitutes the “Who”, “What”, etc., in the parts of the layered citation for a census page.

    I very recently asked ESM for her thoughts on a site for providing a searchable list of real British citation samples that we can all work from. This might even be done as some type of “online annex” to her EE book. By sheer coincidence, she happened to be working on the next edition of EE, but she she said she’d come back to the idea soon.


  8. I agree – I find EE doesn’t suit most UK records – and also have problems inputting citations into Reunion (my software). I use APA citations as this is what I am familiar with, and then go on from there.What is it, and where did you get it from obviously.


  9. texasnightowl says:

    I found this thread because I was googling for examples of how to cite UK Census and GRO certificates. I’m in the US and though I haven’t read EE by Elizabeth Shown Mills, I’m not particularly enamored of it. I use the program RootsMagic which contains many, many, many source templates based on ESM’s work. And frankly, I think there are too many leading to indecision over what to use. Paralysis by indecision.

    I also have a problem with RM because it does not cleanly export citations based on templates to GEDCOM so I have ended up using freeform citations. So that is a separate issue, but related.

    So circling back around to census citations, the following is what I’m currently using for UK census citations:

    1891 Census of England and Wales. The National Archives of the UK. Yorkshire (North Riding), Wykeham (digital image,, date); RG12/3969, folio 21, pg 14; household of name.

    Now, I could put in further information such as the Registration District (526 Scarborough) and Sub-District (3B Hutton Bushell) but in terms of finding the actual information, this information does not seem to be required since my understanding is that RG12/3969 with the folio and page number is a unique identifier.

    I’m interesting in having a look at the book being discussed in the hangout video above.


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