Tag Archives: citing

Online Source Citation: my thoughts

8 May

If you have spent any time recently looking at genealogy blogs you will have come across Mark Tucker’s A Better Way to Cite Online Sources video on his ThinkGenealogy blog. Mark Tucker is starting a crusade to get online providers to provide a better system for genealogists to cite information from their databases.

Whilst I agree in principle that citing sources is an essential part of family history, that everyone should cite their sources (regardless of their professional or non-professional status), that it should be made as easy as possible to cite a source and there should be a standard for citing sources, I do however have some reservations about his suggestions.

What I see as the real issue here is that genealogists need guidelines and instruction on how to cite sources, regardless of where that source is found. It is all well and good giving someone a button to press to cite an online source, but what happens when the source is not online?

Genealogists need the knowledge to be able to construct the source citations themselves, so rather than taking it out of their hands, we should be encouraging them to learn to do it themselves.

In my opinion the key reason why genealogists find citing sources so problematic is that there are very few clear and concise guidelines on how to do it properly. I don’t want to knock Evidence Explained but at 885 pages it is probably too complicated and inaccessible for many people (and virtually impossible to find outside of the United States, in hard copy at least).

Now I am not an expert, and my sources are certainly not perfect, but personally I would rather see the online providers spending their time and money (or rather our money) on digitizing and indexing new content and leaving me to deal with how and where I am going to put that information into my family tree.

Why are English websites so far behind when it comes to providing source information?

19 Mar

A marketing email from 1911census.co.uk got me thinking about the difference between the way Americans and the English cite sources. Now I am not talking about specific styles, but rather the fact that a lot more attention seems to be paid in the United States to getting sources cited correctly than over here in England (not sure about Scotland, Wales and Ireland as I have no real experience of them).

I am sure that genealogists the world over are aware of the importance of recording where a particular fact came from, it is just that when it comes to English sources it seems to be very difficult to find out the correct way of doing it.

The email from 1911census.co.uk invited users to complete a survey on their experience of using the website etc. The final section gave some text boxes to fill in (which I normally dread doing) and one of the questions was about improvements that could be made to the site. My suggestion was that information should be included on citing the sources when recording the details in whatever software package the user has.

When I started adding details to my family history software it felt like I had to go out of my way to try and find out how I should record the sources properly, and I certainly couldn’t find the information on the census website itself when I looked.

Just out of interest I went the National Archives of the UK website to see if they had any official guidelines on citing sources. They do provide some information, but it took a while to find it, there is a page in the Your Archives section, the National Archives “wiki” (for want of a better word), entitled Citing documents held by The National Archives, but the usual caveat applies that this is user generated content and not the official word on the subject.

Admittedly most of my experience of American genealogy comes from podcasts and blogs, but an important aspect of much of what I read or hear is the importance of citing sources. In England there are fewer blogs, and certainly no podcasts to my knowledge, the best we have is magazines, and whilst I don’t claim to read every edition of every magazine (I think there are five or six now) I very rarely see any mention of citing sources.

I am sure I could spend all day theorising as to why we don’t promote citing sources in England, but as it is getting late I won’t even attempt to try and explain why.

Finally, I should point out the one website I do find pretty good at giving source information, and that is ancestry.co.uk, but that is probably because it is an American company!

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