Genealogy Software Comparison, Part 3d: Citing a Census Source – Summary

In the last few posts, I have reviewed adding a census source citation in RootsMagic (RM), Family Tree Maker (FTM), and Legacy Family Tree (LFT).  I will give a summary of my experiences below.

In order to provide a thorough analysis of each program’s capabilities, I am going to take a somewhat scholarly approach to the task of developing source citations.  First, it is necessary to clearly state some definitions.  Elizabeth Shown Mills has published single page quick sheet that summarizes the research process and defines the relevant terms.

SOURCES:  Artifacts or books, digital files, documents, films, people, recordings, websites, etc.

INFORMATION: Statements or raw data offered by a source.

EVIDENCE: INFORMATION that is relevant to the research problem.

SOURCES provide INFORMATION from which we select EVIDENCE for ANALYSIS.1

A Citation is a reference to the source, with details (e.g. page number). ”Citations are statements in which we identify our source or sources for a particular assertion.”  Citations appear in Source Lists (bibliographies) and in Reference Notes, either as footnotes or endnotes.  Each citation type has a specific format.2

All three programs use the concept of a master source and source detail (RM and LFT).  FTM uses the terms source and citation detail, but it is the same idea. This concept was very confusing to me the first time that I encountered it.  How does one know where the dividing line is between the master source and the source detail?

The answer is easy in the case of a book:  the source detail is the page number and everything else (author, title, publisher, etc.) is part of the master source.  Census records are a bit more complicated.  It is easy to assume that the year and type of census (e.g. “1920 United States Federal Census”) should be part of the master source and that sheet and page number, dwelling number, family number and person’s name should be in the source detail.  What about city/township, county, state and enumeration district?  I struggled with this for a while.

RootsMagic provides an excellent explanation of this concept in their free, online webinar:  “Sources, Citations and Documentation with RootsMagic” at  I recommend it for anyone who seeks clarity on this issue.

In each of the three programs, I entered a census “fact” or “event” for my grandparents using the 1920 census as my source.  I used a template in each program to construct a citation.  I compared the citation that each software program produced to a citation I built “by hand” using Evidence Explained as my reference.  Here are the results.

Family Tree Maker

1920 U.S. census, population schedule, Ohio, Hamilton County, Cincinnati, Ward 9, enumeration district (ED) 163, p. 232,  sheet 4A, dwelling 51, family 83, Ida T. Ulrich; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1390; digital image, (


1920 U.S. census, Hamilton County, Ohio, population schedule, Cincinnati, Ward 9, enumeration district (ED) 163, p. 232 (stamped), sheet 4A, dwelling 51, family 83, Ida T. Ulrich; digital images, ( : accessed 17 September 2012); National Archives microfilm publication T625, roll 1390.

Legacy Family Tree

1920 U.S. census, Hamilton Co., Ohio, population schedule, Cincinnati, Ward 9, enumeration district (ED) 163, sheet 4A, p. 232 (stamped), dwelling 51, family 83, Ida T. Ulrich; digital images, ( : accessed 1 Oct 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T625, roll 1390.

Citation based on Evidence Explained3

1920 U.S. census, Hamilton County, Ohio, population schedule, Cincinnati, Ward 9, Enumeration District (ED) 163, p. 232 (stamped), sheet 4A, dwelling 51, family 83, Ida T. Ulrich; digital image, ( : accessed 1 October 2012); citing National Archives microfilm publication T625, roll 1390.


RM and LFT provided individual fields for each piece of data contained in the details of the citation.  Each field had help text to guide the user.  The citation produced by RM was identical to the citation I constructed by hand.  The LFT citation differed one small detail: sheet number was before page number instead of the other way around.  Both RM and LFT produce a Reference Note and Source List (bibliography) form of the citation.

FTM did not give field-by-field data entry for the detailed information.  It provided a single free-form text box for data entry along with help text enumerating the information to be entered.  This method puts added burden on the user to enter all the correct data.  In addition to being more prone to data entry errors, the resulting citation does not closely match the citation prescribed by Evidence Explained.  FTM produces only a Reference Note citation and not a Source List (or bibliography) form.

Based on my experience, the winner in the census record source citation category is RootsMagic, followed closely by Legacy Family Tree.  Family Tree Maker was a distant third as judged on ease of data entry and composition of the resulting citation.

1Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Analysis: A Process Map; digital image at Historic Pathways ( : 10 October 2012.

2Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), 42-43.

3Ibid, 240.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *