Find a Genealogist
Springboard Blog
BCG Education Fund
About BCG
Contact Us
Become Certified
Certification FAQs
Genealogy's Standards
BCG Publications
Work Samples
Educational Preparation
Associate Login

Skillbuilding: Citation on the Source

From OnBoard - Newsletter of the BCG
Printer Friendly

Amy Johnson Crow, "Citations on the Source," OnBoard 6 (May 2000): 14-15.

While there are established formats for citing the source, there are numerous ways to cite on the source—recording the citation on the photocopy so that later the researcher will not wonder, “Was that the 1828 or 1832 tax list? Was it for Hopewell Township or Thorn Township?” This article will take a look at a few popular methods, with advantages and disadvantages for each.

Writing on the front:

The simplest form of recording the citation on a photocopy.


  • Ease of use—just write the citation somewhere on the front of the photocopy.
  • The citation stays visible when the photocopy is copied again (for the researcher’s file or to share with another researcher later).


  • If the document has little white space, the citation may become lost or, even worse, becomes confused as being part of the document itself.
  • Cramped space may cause the researcher to abbreviate portions of the citation, which can lead to confusion later.

Writing on the back:

This method is literally the flipside of writing on the front.


  • Ease of use—just write the citation somewhere on the back of the photocopy.
  • Because the back of the photocopy is usually blank, there is plenty of space to record the citation.


  • The citation may be lost when the photocopy is copied again if the researcher or client does not copy the back.

Using a rubber stamp:

There are several companies that offer rubber stamps that have a place for the document title, author, publisher, and other citation elements. Custom stamps can also be designed and ordered at most office supply stores and printers.


  • It serves as a visual reminder of what needs to be recorded.
  • It can lead to more complete information being recorded.
  • The stamp can include the researcher’s name and address.


  • More equipment is needed to purchase and carry—at the least, a rubber stamp. If the stamp is not self-inking, a stamp pad is also necessary.
  • The ink can bleed through to the front of the document.
  • Over time, the ink can fade, degrade the paper, or bleed so as not to be legible.
  • The fields are inflexible on a stamp.
  • Like writing the citation on the back, the citation can be lost on subsequent photocopies.

Using labels:

Many researchers have developed custom labels to use for their source citations. Similar to using a rubber stamp, these labels have lines for recording the pertinent information allowing the researcher to write in the information.


  • It serves as a visual reminder of the necessary information to record.
  • Easy to develop different labels for use on different types of documents.
  • Labels can be placed on the front, being careful not to cover necessary information. The citation stays visible when the photocopy is copied again.
  • Unlike writing on the front, it is not necessary to have white space since the label can cover a non-pertinent portion of the page.
  • The label can include the researcher’s name and address.


  • There is the need to design the label and to print the labels.
  • The label can fall off. When it does, the source citation goes with it.
  • The adhesive can discolor the photocopy underneath. If put on the back of the photocopy, when discoloration occurs, that portion of the document may become illegible.

Photocopying the title page:

This is a very common method for recording a citation.


  • Because a photocopy is made, there is one less opportunity for a transcription error to occur.


  • There is added expense and effort required.
  • The copy of the title page must be attached to the photocopy. As when a label falls off, when the copy of the title page gets separated from the photocopy, the citation is lost.
  • It is easy to miss an important element of the citation. Some title pages do not include the publishing information if it is a reprint.


All of the methods mentioned have similar problems. Do you record the citation on each page or just the first page? Do you put an abbreviated citation on subsequent pages? Do you use pencil or pen? Black ink? Blue ink? Red ink?
There is no single “perfect” method for recording a citation on a photocopy. But all researchers should agree that the citation needs to be recorded somewhere on the photocopy—or take another trip to the archives to see if that tax list was from 1828 Hopewell Township or 1832 Thorn Township.

Amy Johnson Crow, CG

This article was originally published in OnBoard, BCG's educational newsletter and is protected by copyright. Individuals may download and print copies for their personal study. Educators are granted permission to provide copies to their students as long as BCG, OnBoard, and the appropriate author are credited as the source of the material. Republication elsewhere is not permitted.

© Copyright 2007-2015 Board for Certification of Genealogists ®. All Rights Reserved.