Citing Vital Records

24 April 2014

What are the two unbreakable rules for citing vital records—and why do they matter?

  1. The name of a principal party should be cited exactly as it appears in the record or the index, whichever we cite. Otherwise the entry may not be relocatable in the databases now used for most sets of vital registrations. Our narrative may discuss an individual by the name the individual commonly used, but our corresponding citation must render that name as our source has it.
  2. We must cite what we use. All the vital-records compendiums and databases that have been published are valuable shortcuts. They serve as placeholders in our working notes until we can obtain the actual record. When our derivative source identifies the original document, we are grateful. But we don't cite the original until and unless we use it. When we use a derivative, it's the derivative that we cite, in proper form for the book, article, or website where we found it.

EE's Chapter 9, "Local & State Records: Licenses, Registrations, Rolls & Vitals," offers much more advice for understanding, using, and citing vital records. As an introduction, see EE 9.30, available under the "Sample Text Pages" tab at