My last word on GeneaBlogging and the Paradigm Shift

I knew when I posted “The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new ‘experts’?” that it might push some buttons. The piece was heavily edited, and it sat on the shelf for almost two months before I decided to post it.

What I did not realize is that the most controversial part of my post would be the last paragraph:

The online genealogy community needs to recognize [that blogs are public]. We need to join the genealogy community as a whole. … Treat your blog the way you would treat anything else done publicly. Put your best face forward. You don’t have to change your voice to sound professional, or anything like that. But at least cite the sources that you discuss in your blog post. Try to learn new techniques and apply them to your research, then write about what you learned. Not only will your ancestors thank you for that, but so will those new genealogists who look to your blog for guidance.[1]

Surprisingly, other bloggers felt that some of this crossed a line. The primary objection was raised by Marian Pierre-Louis in her post “Genre and Genealogy“: that blogs are aimed at a different audience than a scholarly journal, so citations are not necessary.[2]

I would like to respond to these sentiments.

First, I do recognize that there are many different reasons that people blog. For some, a blog is a way to tell stories that their grandmother told them. How do you cite that? You don’t, because you are the source. For others, a blog is a way to communicate back and forth with your genea-buddies. No citation needed for your own opinion.

However, if you are using your blog to report on your research, in my opinion, you should be citing your sources.

I am not the first person to suggest that genealogy bloggers cite the sources that they use. In fact, this subject seems to come up every year. Unfortunately, the geneablogging community decides almost every year that citing sources in a blog post is unnecessary.

I am definitely not one of the genealogy bloggers who believes this. You will see my sources in every post I write.

Thomas Macentee of Geneabloggers has led at least two separate initiatives on the subject of citing your sources.

In the first initiative, in March and April 2009, I believe that Thomas was trying very hard to convince other bloggers of the importance of citations. He even went to the trouble of writing a “Genealogy Source Citations Quick Reference” card, and a post about how to use HTML code to superscript numbers and add hyperlinks to source citations within blog posts. See below for the posts that I could find during this spring 2009 push:

You can find the “Genealogy Source Citation Quick Reference” card at http://hidefgen.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Citations_Quick_Reference.pdf.

In the last of the posts listed above, Thomas expressed the following sentiments:

Always looking to convert a difficult situation into a win for the geneablogger community, I started Cite Rite a source citation initiative since the lack of citations in genealogy blog posts seemed to be at the heart of the issue with Mr. Duxbury’s distate for genealogy blogs.  In addition, I created the Genealogy Source Citation Quick Reference card to educate new genealogists and geneabloggers on the importance of source citation.[3]

The comments to these posts show that several bloggers already cited their sources, and others were beginning to do the same.

In the fall of 2010, a discussion on citing sources in blog posts again occurred, inspired by a post entitled “Bloggers Should Set An Example” by Martin Hollick in his former blog, The Slovak Yankee. Unfortunately, this post no longer appears to be available online. Martin notes on his website: “[this blog] once had over 1,000 posts, but I removed all posts that I thought were opinionated and left those that were pure genealogy, some 600 posts.”[4]

Thomas posted twice on the subject of source citations during this fall 2010 initiative:

Both the tone of the comments and the outcome from this discussion was vastly different than in the earlier one. It was apparent that the “geneablogging community” had spoken, and citations were a no-go for most bloggers. Whereas in 2009 Thomas provided new resources for helping bloggers cite their sources, in August 2010 he provided the graphic seen here.

To me, this is not progress.

I want to be clear that I am using Thomas as an example in this post because he is a leader in the geneablogging community. I am not picking on him at all. I know that he does use source citations in his own research. Most of his blog posts in Geneabloggers do not contain any facts that would need citations.

More experienced genealogists always talk about “if I only I knew … when I first started doing genealogy.” One of the most common phrases is “if I only I knew to cite my sources back then.” With more and more new genealogists coming into contact with and learning from blogs, wouldn’t we be doing them a favor by telling them, “Hey! Cite your sources!” and showing them how (or at least practicing what we preach)? Ten or twenty years from now, they won’t have to look back and say, “if only I knew.” Because they would  know.

How many genealogy bloggers believe that we should cite sources in our research? How many of us painstakingly add citations to our Rootsmagic, Family Tree Maker, or Legacy Family Tree databases using their citation templates? Shouldn’t we practice what we preach? Why is there a double standard?

What’s the difference between saying “my blog doesn’t need citations–it’s just for fun, it’s not a scholarly journal” and saying “my research doesn’t need citations–it’s just for fun, I’m not a professional”? The slope may be slippier than you think.

It’s true, bloggers. You are in control of your blogs, and it is your decision whether or not you want to cite your sources. I hope that even one of you will read one of these posts and decide to start.

SOURCES:

[1] Michael Hait, CG, “The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new ‘experts’?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 16 December 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012).

[2] Marian Pierre-Louis, “Genre and Genealogy,” Marian’s Roots & Rambles blog, posted 27 December 2011 (http://rootsandrambles.blogspot.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012).

[3] Thomas Macentee, “In Defense of Genealogy Blogs,” Geneabloggers blog, posted 4 Apr 2009 (http://www.geneabloggers.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012).

[4] Martin Hollick, “April Fool’s,” The Slovak Yankee blog, posted 1 April 2011 (http://mhollick.typepad.com/slovakyankee : accessed 5 Jan 2012).

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “My last word on GeneaBlogging and the Paradigm Shift,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 6 January 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

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15 responses to this post.

  1. Michael,

    As someone who has been attempting to cite sources on the web since I hand-coded pages in 1998, I agree with you that any blog that publishes research results should have source citations in some format. But I also agree with Marian that the genre of a blog can vary from post to post, so I’m not sure that every post in every blog requires formalized footnotes. Your blog is providing an excellent model. Another excellent model, in a different genre using a different format, is Stephen Danko’s Steve’s Genealogy Blog.

    I’ve never understood the “I have sources; just ask for them” mentality.

    My own fledgling (and heretofore hidden) blog is a hodge-podge. I started out in 2010 with a mixture of links and footnotes in the same post, and have a couple of posts without citations. In retrospect, I probably should have cited sources in those as well, although I could make an argument that I’m not really reporting research results in those posts. I’m moving more toward footnotes only in the way you have modeled.

    It *is* a lot of work, and it requires a willingness to make mistakes in public (you’ll find plenty in the citations I do have online). But the more I write and practice, the easier it is and the better I become.

    You raise an extremely important point, and I hope you’re able to at least move the conversation from “should we cite sources in a blog post that reports research results?” to “what is the best format and/or how specifically do we need to cite sources?” That, I believe, would be progress.

    If we would cite our sources in a book about our ancestors, why wouldn’t we cite our sources when publishing to the web (whether blog or otherwise) about our ancestors?

    Reply

    • Thanks for your comments, Connie. I agree with your next to last paragraph very much. In fact, I did not initially think that there was so much controversy over whether or not to include citations. I thought the main issue was the format. If you look at my posts in the “Source Citations” category (sidebar to the right), I started writing about that. I never realized that people were so anti-citation!

      I just took a look at your blog, too. Great job!

      Reply

  2. I am in agreement with you about citations. I read all the citation posts that were out there during the first go ’round fuss about it. I am one of those that did not always cite in the very beginning, long before I started online research. I worked on it around raising the kids and taking care of home. Now I have notebooks full of “facts” that are useless to me. I have become very careful to add citations to my database. I have no desire to be a ‘professional’, but I do want to help others that will come along looking for my family. The only way they can take my information serious is if it is carefully cited. I resolved that when I had the time to get back to my blog and posted bits of my research I would faithfully add citations for those that come looking. They will be able to find the materials they need to verify the facts. I’ve been very sloppy on my blog, though most are just stories passed down.
    We should all resolve to do the best work we can, professional or not.

    Reply

  3. I find nothing to disagree with on at least trying to cite our sources. I have done this a bit, especially for posts featuring what I considered to be some important areas of my research, but I could probably do much more. In many posts, especially short ones, I try to at least mention/include/describe the sources of my information or even show scans of the documents I have used, but there is a particular type of post for which I intentionally do not include source citations, and those are the surname-meme posts, also known as cousin bait. When people contact me because they have found their family lines mentioned on my blog, the way they write about or react to these posts gives me some idea of how serious they are about their research and how much they are actually interested in exchanging information; when they ask where I found the information or write “Have you seen So-and-so’s pension application, which gives a different date for…,” I know a serious researcher has contacted me, and we can start talking documents. I will still share photos and information with others who contact me, and perhaps at least get a family story or some information on recent descendants, but there probably will not be much serious research cooperation. In short, I’m not offended by a bit of charitably expressed finger-wagging, and will try to do better on that score; however, I do have my reasons for the cases in which I omit the sources.

    Reply

  4. I’m new to genealogy blogging and was feeling a bit guilty about not citing sources in postings that dealt with analysis. I’d create links if I was doing commentary, but hadn’t figured out a good way to do citations for postings where I was doing genealogical aanalysis. The links from Thomas Macentee help a lot so I’ll make sure I cite in my next posting where it is relevant.

    Reply

  5. Michael,

    You really need this to be the last word.

    This whole issue reminds me of the national TV commercial where the executive gives a kid a bicycle and then defines and draws the boundaries (a small circle) where the kid can ride the bike. When the kid tries to peddle outside the circle, she is stopped. The executive represents the gatekeepers of genealogy who want to define and place boundaries on genealogy blogs and bloggers.

    Citations will neither validate or invalidate a blog post; mine or yours. Only our street cred will!

    Speaking for myself; my posts, tweets, and shout-outs are ME. I am the citation! The internet (blogs and social media is simply the internet by another name) allows me the freedom of speech and expression to keep my Ancestors alive and in the conscious memory of this nation and anyone in this world who cares to hear about them.

    I strongly believe that the integrity of genealogy is in no peril if bloggers do not cite their sources.

    I strongly believe that if one has put in 10,000 hours of ‘pay it forward’ genealogy and family history commitment, whether professional or hobbyist, they have street cred. If they present shoddy research or bullshit (the SCV comes to mind), whether professional or hobbyist, they go to the back of the class and no street cred.

    I will not start citing my posts on your say-so or the gate keepers’ say-so.

    My street cred comes from loving genealogy and family history, staying honest and true to my niche and my people – African Americans, African Ancestored, ethnic, Gays, Lesbians, Transgendered, Blended and other non-traditional families. They were not welcomed in the beginning when the standards were created; I can speak from personal and professional experience. They are, however, in my family.

    It’s more important to me to see that all people are welcomed and included in the genealogy community – online or offline – rather than be kept out, excluded, restricted, or admonished for not prescribing to an artificial procedure or protocol.

    Peace & Blessings,
    “Guided by the Ancestors”

    Reply

    • It’s a free country and you are welcome to blog however you want. If you are making genealogical assertions, though, you will have a lot more cred if you cite your sources. Genealogists are taught to be wary of all sources, even legal documents, so no one gets a pass on their claims.

      Reply

  6. Enough.

    Peace.

    Enough.

    Reply

  7. Which footnoting method do you use and how do you get it to work on wordpress.com?

    Reply

  8. I think Michael and Marian both make good points. And they discussed them in an open and respectful way (and they’re making me rethink how I do my blog).

    Geneabloggers now has a history. Michael unearthed some of it, and in this account it certainly sounds like a matter of concern. I expect there are more angles on this history. I look forward to hearing more about this topic (http://livingancestors.blogspot.com/2012/01/youre-not-boss-of-me.html), and it sounds like Thomas will be joining in (http://destinationaustinfamily.blogspot.com/2012/01/on-source-citations-certification-and.html). Those who prefer not to talk about these things can refrain from reading the posts.

    Heck, I don’t even know how to put a link in a comment, much less make it into a footnote! Happy New Year everyone!

    Reply

  9. […] citations to back my assertions as an experiment after reading Michael Hait’s blog posting My last word on GeneaBlogging and the Paradigm Shift.  I will write about what I learned in a separate […]

    Reply

  10. […] Michael Hait wrote a blog posting titled My last word on GeneaBlogging and the Paradigm Shift.  In it he recommends that genealogy bloggers provide citations in their postings when presenting […]

    Reply

  11. Posted by Heather Kramer on January 11, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Hi Michael,
    I enjoyed reading your post and believe you make some excellent points. It was a good read about making a case for citations. As someone with an academic background, I use Chicago style and try to incorporate citations as best as I can. Sometimes I include short hand citations or not at all so as to not confuse the reader on my blog. Given the fact that you included full citations and some were still confused I think it must be a moot point. Perhaps I just need to stick to my guns (I’m in Texas) and continue to cite. Thank you for perspective on how we can continue to grow as genealogists.

    Reply

  12. Michael,
    Back in 2008 I had written a blog post –

    http://sherifenley.blogspot.com/2008/08/genea-blogger-games-final-day-of.html

    and this comment was left:

    “Anonymous said…
    Usually when you document your sources, you use footnotes to show exactly where each piece of information came from. You give a Works Cited list, but don’t show the actual source for each bit of information.”

    So I revised the original post and included hyperlinked footnotes

    http://sherifenley.blogspot.com/2008/10/practicing-what-i-preach.html

    Be sure to read the comments on the second post, then let me know what you think.

    Reply

  13. Posted by Brian on January 12, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Oh, this is *SO* true! I cannot begin to tell you how annoying it is, to go to a genealogy site, that puts up all kinds of information as “facts”, and doesn’t quote a single source! I am expected to believe this is all true just because someone put it up on the Internet!?

    As if!

    If you’re posting research or history or facts on the Internet you need to cite your work. Just like Wikipedia. See [citation please].

    Otherwise you’re just another myths and legends poster. I love a good story just like anyone else. But when it comes to genealogy, I demand sources on anything published.

    Personal trees are a different story. While they should be cited as much as possible, I can understand how you can have lots of unsourced data. But we should all endeavor to rectify the errors and neglect of our early research.

    Reply

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