RM9 and Multiple Sources and citations

I am trying to determine the best practice using RM. A good example would be a census, say 1930 US Census, this can be found on multiple sites such as Ancestry, FamilySearch, etc. If I am understanding correctly, the document is the source and no matter what site that document is the same. I would enter it as a fact and can document it with a copy of the census. I would use a citation say for Ancestry. But when I find the same info on FamilySearch, is it shown as a new source? Or a new citation referencing the same document?

Take a look at Evidence Explained. Shown Mills has great examples for multiple US census years and explains different citation formats.

If you don’t have the book, I’d suggest getting a copy. It can be a little over-the-top but probably anything you’ll want to cite will have a couple of examples for the first footnote, follow-on footnotes and bibliography.

Referencing the same document? That is the question. Quite often you will find that Ancestry scanned the microfilm and FamilySearch also scanned it. While it is the same original, would you count the scans as two separate documents? Personally, I don’t. I also don’t add both versions as a source. If I have the Ancestry version and it is clear and readable, then I don’t bother with the FS version (or any other site that might have it).


We are probably talking more about best practices doing genealogy than best practices using RM. That being said, RM can help you with best practices. In particular, many of RM’s source templates are based on Evidence Explained.

In the case of census, the most applicable source template for your question is probably Census, U.S. Federal (online images). If you just use this template and fill in the fields, you will pretty much be following best practices.

But again that being said, my opinion is that this particular source template has a design flaw. Namely, the variables [WebSite] and [URL] are Master Source variables and they appear in the footnote sentence to the right of some Source Details variables. I think the sentence is fine and the list of variables are fine. But I think that [WebSite] and [URL] need to be Source Details variables. If I were going to use this template, I would make a copy of it and change those two variables to Source Details variables. That would leave you compliant with Evidence Explained (a best practice) while keeping Source Details variables to the right of Master Source variables in the footnote sentence.

The reason this is so important and the reason I think this template has a design flaw is that if Master Source variables are to the right of Source Details variables in the footnote sentence, the footnote sentence will be mangled if this source information is sent to any genealogy software other than RM using GEDCOM. The mangling occurs because Master Source variables must be placed in the GEDCOM’s SOUR tag and Source Details variables must be placed in GEDCOM’s PAGE tag. There is no way to do that without mangling the sentence. I’m pretty sure the same mangling occurs if the data is sent via direct interface instead of GEDCOM, such as with RM’s interfaces to Ancestry and FamilySearch.

I have looked at the list of RM’s source templates for census data to see if there is another one that might be appropriate to use in your situation that does not have this design flaw. There may be one, but I didn’t see one.

Finally, the [WebSite] and [URL] variables are extremely germane to your observations about using multiple sites for basically the same information, where you might get one census image from Ancestry and another census image from FamilySearch. I understand the logic for putting those variables in the Master Source. But if those variables are in the Master Source then they need to be to the left of all Source Details variables in the footnote sentence, which I believe would make the sentence fail to be compliant with Evidence Explained.

I think that sentence contradicts the rest of your argument. Maybe you meant “to the LEFT… will be mangled” OR “to the right… will NOT be mangled”

Oops. What I really meant to say was “… if Master Source variables are to the right of Source Details variables …”. I have made the correction in the original note. Thanks for the good catch.

I always cite where I find it. That being said, if I find the census on FamilySearch, I will go and locate it on Ancestry and copy that URL and cite that one because I like the Ancestry interface better.

Also, about the templates, I always copy the template and use the copy (change the name so you know it is a copy, I put an _ in front so it sorts to the top and I know it is my copy.) I have used their templates before and later wished I could edit them for consistency for other sources and you can’t.

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IMHO, the source for a census is the NARA with Ancestry and Family Search as repositories. The law says the Census Bureau (the original author) is to turn its records over to NARA upon completion. So the NARA can be reported for our use as the author and where we find the work is the repository. Maybe I’m too simple.

Maybe I am reading this wrong BUT sorry I am going to disagree-- NARA IS A REPOSITORY-- the author IN MY OPINION would be the 1850 Census or 1850 Census Bureau

That said-- it’s okay to disagree— there are suggestions on best practices for writing a citation etc BUT in the end how we decide to do it is totally up to us…

I tend to agree that NARA is a repository (and also with the idea that it’s ok to disagree!).

It seems to me that this is a case where layered citations come into play. To wit, Ancestry and Family Search are repositories at one layer, and NARA is a repository at a deeper level. And at the deepest level, the Census Bureau is the author. I don’t see a conflict in having two levels of repositories.


I believe this is all explained in Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained, along with multiple examples of how to construct layered citations as Jerry has mentioned.

If you are a serious genealogist, this book should be in your library. It’s a beast of a book but it has answered almost 100% of my citation questions. As I look at it now, it has at least a dozen post-it notes used as bookmarks to my most referred to sections.

Just ordered it. Thank you. It looks like what I’ve been trying to find. Came across her website as well that I can’t wait to explore.

I think we have to keep in mind the real reason for sources and citations: to allow anyone who follows us in researching our same families to follow our trail and locate the same information we did so that they can (hopefully) arrive at the same conclusions we did. The object of the information we put in our sources and citations is to get them to where we found our facts. We can try all we want to try to word them exactly the way we are told to, but if we mess it up a little, it won’t really matter in the long run - as long as the end product serves its purpose - to provide a roadmap to the actual documentation.


I agree with this. I also want to be able to go back and find sources easily again myself. I have found that as I discover more information, a small detail that meant nothing to me at the time might now have significance. I am also trying to “future proof” the sources - urls, websites, and source access points can disappear, so I look to find the root source and document that as much as possible.

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You just succinctly described the difference between a source and a repository.


Amen. That is a primary reason never to ‘attach’ any source to your tree online, but to download it to your offline storage where you will have access to it if the online repository loses their access to it. Or you decide not to pay for it.


sorry — I did chuckle when I read this because awhile ago I had thinking about the same thing. You may find a copy of the same Census on 3 or more places (Family Search, Ancestry, MyHeritage and so on – usually NARA had it before them but the Original census was the author before NARA go it. Of course some of this is semantics. Not the qualities of the image quality varies Sometimes there is little difference but over all Ancestry seems to do better (ultimately to Census Page is still the census page (12B 1950 etc). I am about to begin my journey on rebuilding my sources from scratch.(I have about 10K of media for Marriage, Birth, Death, Residence, Census and so on). Thinking about a SQL scripts to do some of that work