Evidence Explained, 4th ed. by Elizabeth Shown Mills: Book Review

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review and I have received other books from Genealogical Publishing Company, also for review. However, my opinions are my own and not influenced by outside sources.

It’s not often that a classic reference book is given a massive update, but Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA, has done just that with Evidence Explained: City History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 4th Edition.

Not to worry – All of us using her templates from earlier editions don’t have to start over!

What has always been true remains so: Evidence Explained is built on one core principle: We cannot judge the reliability of any information unless we know exactly where the information came from and the strengths and weaknesses of that source.

What has changed? Well, for one thing, the 4th edition is about 100 pages shorter than the 3rd edition, Revised. Some of the source citation examples have been moved to different chapters and a few examples like Family History Library microfilm and DAR application are now more generally included under the terms ‘microfilm’ and ‘lineage society applications.’

While those are minor updates and changes that I noticed while moving all my color-coded tabs from the 3rd Edition, Revised to the 4th edition, they are indicative of the massive increase of digital resources available online today. Mills has accordingly expanded the examples of online records that need to be cited in our research.

The 4th Edition opens with a QuickStart Guide, introducing the basics of citing our sources.

The Table of Contents provides an overview of the types of records that researchers will seek out and need to cite in their work:


QuickStart Guide
1 Fundamentals of Research & Analysis
2 Fundamentals of Citations & Style
3 Building a Citation/Templates 1-14
4 Archives & Artifacts
5 Business & Institutional Records
6 Cemetery Records
7 Census Records
8 Church Records
9 Governance & Property: Local Records
10 Governance & Property: State Records
11 Licenses, Registrations, Rolls & Vital Records: Local & State
12 national Government Records
13 Publications: Books, CDs, Maps, Leaflets & videos
14 Publications: Legal Works & Government Documents
14 Publications: Periodicals, Broadcasts & Web Miscellanea

1 Glossary


Although the Table of Contents provides an overview, each chapter has an opening page of its own called Guidelines, which allows the reader to easily locate the type of citation in the chapter. Here is the Guidelines page for Chapter 2:

Chapter 3 – Building a Citation – is a completely new chapter. The Basic Seven Building Blocks for a citation are explained as are the methods for crating layered citations.

Also found in Chapter 3 are the newly simplified 14 templates that can be used to cite any and every type of item of which a genealogical researcher might need. Therefore, the crux of this new edition is Chapter 3.

The remaining chapters discuss the various types of records and items to be found under each of the chapter headings with citation examples provided for them. The excellent addition to each of the examples is the inclusion of WHICH of the 14 templates is to be used to create the citation.

Elizabeth Shown Mills spent almost a year working on Evidence Explained, Fourth Edition.; she has done a fabulous job!

I really like this “slimmed down” version of the best guide out there that teaches us how to correctly record all the necessary details to build accurate citations for our genealogical research.

I have to admit that the earlier editions of this book felt a bit overwhelming, especially for a beginning genealogist. There was so much to take in, I approached the book with somewhat of a tunnel vision point of view – my goal was to find what I needed as quickly as possible and then to close the book.

The Fourth Edition, with Chapter 3 leading the way, makes the process of creating source citations seem much more manageable. I understand why Chapter 3 was placed after Fundamentals of Research & Analysis and Fundamentals of Citation & Style, but Chapter 3 will become the initial “go to” chapter for most of us as we seek to master citing our sources.

Evidence Explained, Fourth Edition should be in every researcher’s reference library! Experienced researchers will want to integrate these new templates into their work and beginners should definitely start down the research path building excellent research habits, which include accurately citing their sources.

Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained, Fourth Edition can be ordered online from Genealogical Publishing Company. The $65.00 cost is worth every penny!

One thought on “Evidence Explained, 4th ed. by Elizabeth Shown Mills: Book Review”

  1. How fortunate to receive a copy for review! I’m waiting for my birthday, as I told my husband I wanted it. 30 more days.

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