Archive for the ‘Source Citations’ Category

Source Citation Blog Posts – the Link List

This blog post is a response to the series “31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog,” at the Tonia’s Roots blog. This series is based on the Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) e-book 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.

This week, Tonia gives the following reasons for why bloggers should write “link posts”:

  • Linking out gives something valuable to your readers.  There is a lot of great information out there, but who has the time to sort through it all?  When you share a post or a site that you have found valuable, your readers will be appreciative.
  • Linking out builds your credibility.  Building on the above bullet point, by sharing the valuable information you have found, you establish yourself as an authority.
  • Linking out builds relationships with other bloggers.  They’ll appreciate that you are sending traffic their way and if your post builds on their ideas, it could lead to a continued dialogue and ongoing interactions.  Plus, it’s just a great way to support others in our community.
  • Linking out may help your search results.  Search algorithms consider outbound links to related content as a positive thing, so it could help you appear higher in search results.

These are very good reasons. I would like to emphasize the second.

Writing a “link post” – a collection of online resources, whether blog posts or others – helps to establish your own interest in the subject. Eventually this interest should develop into a specialty, and the specialty becomes expertise.

For example, many of you have read my posts on Source Citations:

But have you read the other blogs that have written recently on the subject of source citations? Not all of them agree with my philosophies and formats, but these posts should still be read. When blog posts do not agree, in fact, I feel that it is more valuable to the discussion. So go ahead and read all of these posts, and make up your own mind.

[UPDATED, 6 Jan 2012. I have verified that all of the links below still work, and added several new posts (some older, some newer).]

For this to be a real resource of value, I will continue to update this list as new posts are published!

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part four

I thought that I was finished with this series. But somehow, the concept of standardized source citations remains a bone of contention. To read the earlier posts in this series, use the following links for part one, part two, and part three.

This past Sunday, 17 July 2011, James Tanner posted “Looking towards a rational philosophy of citations,” in his Genealogy’s Star blog. In this post, Mr. Tanner describes a “broad spectrum of attitudes towards citations,” with one end being the casual researcher who is completely uninterested in the whole source citation issue, and the other end being the “super-professionals, journal editors, former or present academics” who cites everything in a “formal ‘acceptable’ manner.” Mr. Tanner identifies himself as being “firmly at the academic end of the spectrum.” Nonetheless, he concludes his post with the following passage,

So where does that leave us in the genealogical community. Here are some observations and suggestions:

1. We should be fully committed to the idea of citing sources. Most (all?) of the popular genealogical database programs have adequate to very good citation provisions. There is no real excuse for not having a citation to a source if you are using one of the newer programs. However, even PAF has an adequate source citation method.

2. When we write, speak or teach, we should always include a commercial announcement about citing your sources.

3. We should try hard to consistently cite sources in our own materials.

4. We should be charitable about others’ lack of source citations and remember that not everyone even knows that citations exist.

5. When we see a citation that is poorly written, contrary to our own version of a citation or otherwise bad, we simply ignore it and go on with our lives.

6. If we are in a position of deciding on the format and/or content of citations for a publication, online post or wiki or whatever, we try to be as liberal and inclusive as possible without undermining the integrity of the publication.

7. Let’s try not to argue too much about colons, commas, spacing and capitalization.

It is difficult for me to discern which of these are intended as observations, and which are intended as suggestions. As I read them, they appear to be a set of “best practices” regarding source citations.

I can absolutely agree with the first suggestion. We should all be committed to source citations. I would also add that we should be committed to educating others about source citations. However, the second suggestion is a little much, in my opinion. We do not need to have a “commercial announcement” about citing sources in every presentation or article. In these situations, we can teach by example. By properly citing all of our own sources in every instance, we can indirectly teach others to do the same.

Unfortunately, the remaining suggestions fall far short of what is intended by the Genealogical Proof Standard, in my eyes.

Regarding number three, it is not enough to “try hard” to consistently cite sources. We must do it. Furthermore, I have the sneaking suspicion that “consistent” as intended in this context does not refer to a consistent format, but only to a consistent presence.

As to number four, I agree that we should be charitable about others’ lack of citations. This is doubtless to ignorance about the importance of source citations, and we have all been there at some point in our careers. However, “charitable” stems from the word “charity,” that is, “giving.” We should use these opportunities to give these others a solid education about why source citations are important.

The fifth suggestion, in my opinion, is irresponsible. If we ignore others’ mistakes, without alerting them to the presence of these mistakes, then the mistake becomes perpetuated. This other genealogist, the author of “bad” source citations, may teach someone else to construct “bad” citations. However, if we show them how to create “good” and sufficient citations, then they can teach someone else to do the same.

Again, the sixth suggestion is irresponsible. Editors should not try to be as inclusive as possible. In no other academic field are editors inclusive. Take the time to look at the writers’ guidelines for academic journals in any discipline, whether a social science like history or a harder science like physics. Editors are extremely particular about the format of every aspect of an article, especially the source citations. If the editors of genealogical publications continue to be “liberal” and “inclusive,” those genealogists who have dedicated their lives to attaining the same level of respect given to other academic pursuits will continue to be lumped in together with those casual genealogists who “do” genealogy by clicking on shaking leaves, with no regard to citing sources.

And finally, we come to the last suggestion. The point is not to argue about punctuation.

When we were in elementary school and learning to read and write, our teacher taught us how to construct a sentence. We learned about the parts of speech, punctuation, capitalization, etc. To ignore this as an adult is unacceptable. We are expected in all segments of our life to follow these rules.

Source citation is the same. We do not live in those dark days 100 years ago when very few source citations appeared, and the few that did were not constructed in a consistent manner. Even if we did not have Evidence! or Evidence Explained, we still have the Chicago Manual of Style, which was used to create those EE citation styles. There are accepted standards of source citation.

Why do we use Evidence Explained, or even Chicago, as opposed to MLA or APA? What is the difference? Isn’t one as good as the next? Quite frankly, no. Let’s take a look at these styles, in the words of their creators:

  • Modern Language Association (MLA): “All fields of research agree on the need to document scholarly borrowings, but documentation conventions vary because of the different needs of scholarly disciplines. MLA style for documentation is widely used in the humanities, especially in writing on language and literature. Generally simpler and more concise than other styles, MLA style features brief parenthetical citations in the text keyed to an alphabetical list of works cited that appears at the end of the work.”[1]
  • American Psychological Association (APA): “The best scientific writing is spare and straightforward. It spotlights the ideas being presented, not the manner of presentation. Manuscript structure, word choice, punctuation, graphics, and references are all chosen to move the idea forward with a minimum of distraction and a maximum of precision.”[2] “Among the most helpful general guides to editorial style are Words into Type (Skillin & Gay, 1974) and the Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press, 2005).”[3] So even the APA recommends the Chicago Manual of Style.
  • Chicago Manual of Style:  According to a wonderful article by Yale University, that I will address separately, “Chicago style is especially popular in historical research. When developing a historical explanation from multiple primary sources, using footnotes instead of inserting parenthetical information allows the reader to focus on the evidence instead of being distracted by the publication information about that evidence.”[4] For an example of just how widespread this style is for historical research work, consider the following, from the writers’ guidelines of the Journal of American History, published by the Organization of American Historians: “All text, including quotations and footnotes, should be prepared in double-spaced typescript according to The Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press).”[5]

So why do we, as genealogists, use Evidence Explained and The Chicago Manual of Style?

Well, first of all, MLA is designed to primarily cite published work, especially for literary criticism and the language arts. We as genealogists are taught specifically not to rely on published work, but to review and cite the original record. So MLA Style is clearly insufficient for our needs.

APA Style is designed for scientific research, especially psychological and other behavioral sciences. They even refer their own readers to the Chicago Manual of Style, when the simplified APA Style does not address a specific issue! Again, this clearly does not fit our citation needs.

The Chicago Manual of Style, on the other hand, is the most popular style guide for postgraduate research, especially historical research. Unlike the other two styles, CMOS does provide citation styles for original records. This is what we need as genealogists. Unfortunately, the citation needs, in terms of the level of detail, of historians are much less specific than the needs of genealogists. This is why Elizabeth Shown Mills spent years compiling Evidence Explained: so that we could cite a specific original record (or multiple records) as our source(s) for the specific biographical details that we discover in the course of our research.

No other style does it better.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part four,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 21 Jul 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

SOURCES:

[1] “What Is MLA Style?,” Modern Language Association (http://www.mla.org/style : accessed 20 July 2011).

[2] American Psychological Association, “About APA Style,” APA Style (http://www.apastyle.org/about-apa-style.aspx : accessed 20 July 2011).

[3] American Psychological Association, “Why is there a specific APA Style?,” APA Style (http://www.apastyle.org/learn/faqs/why-specific-apastyle.aspx : accessed 20 July 2011).

[4] “Why Are There Different Citation Styles?,” Yale College Writing Center (http://writing.yalecollege.yale.edu/why-are-there-different-citation-styles : accessed 20 July 2011).

[5] “Article Submission Guidelines,” Journal of American History (http://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/submit/articles.html : accessed 20 July 2011).

The top 5 books on my bookshelf

Once again, I am taking a “page” out of Marian Pierre-Louis’s blog Marian’s Roots and Rambles; this time it is a different post, and I am not the first. Please take a look at Marian’s post, “The Top 5 Books on My Bookshelf,” and the post “My Top 5 Genealogy Research Books,” from Greta’s Genealogy Blog. These two posts–and hopefully others to come from other bloggers–provide recommendations for their 5 favorite genealogy books.

Here are my five, in ascending order:

5. Marsha Hoffman Rising, CG, The Family Tree Problem Solver: Proven Methods for Scaling the Inevitable Brick Wall (Cincinnati, OH : Family Tree Books, 2005): This book is the only standard methodological text that I consider absolutely necessary for every genealogical researcher. Ms. Rising goes through many different methods. There is also a newer book by the same author, entitled The Family Tree Problem Solver: Tried and True Tactics for Tracing Elusive Ancestors, published in 2011. I have not read this book yet, and do not know whether this is the same text or entirely new material. If it is new material, then I would once again have to recommend it.

4. The Board for the Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah : Ancestry Pub., 2000): The BCG standards require a high degree of thoroughness and accuracy in your research, but isn’t this what we all strive for? After all, who wouldn’t hate to discover that after years of research, you had been tracing someone else’s family? Many of the standards also deal with the work products of genealogical research, such as compiled genealogies and research reports.

3. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, editor, Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001):

2. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd Edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009):

I admit it–I cheated a little bit. There are really 6 books on my list, because I could not decide which of the next two books was more important. So first place is a tie between these two books.

If you have read these books, you will understand. If not, you must read them. Though I had years of research experience before I ever read them, these two books changed the way that I look at evidence and genealogical research in general. I am proud to say that I have now met both of these authors personally.

1. Christine Rose, CG, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, Third Edition (San Jose, Calif. : CR Publications, 2009): This is an updated third edition of the book, but I originally discovered the second edition several years ago. The small book uses examples to show how important it is to (1) conduct a search for all pertinent records related to your genealogical problem, (2) fully and accurately cite your sources, (3) analyze and correlate all relevant information, (4) reconcile all contradictory information, and (5) form a logical written conclusion based on the evidence.

1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997): This book was the precursor to Evidence Explained (see above), written ten years previously. It discusses how researchers should evaluate their sources. It also contains the first citation models for commonly-used record types, though most of them have been adjusted in at least minor ways in EE. Both of these concepts were expanded in EE, but I actually prefer the discussion on evidence in this book.

You will notice one difference between my list and several of the others: I do not name any location-specific or record-specific books. These are important, and I would recommend that every researcher have them, but the best books in this category will vary from location to location. I have many in my library, mostly concerning Maryland, but also several related to Virginia, New York, Delaware, South Dakota, and other states. Your library’s needs in this area are up to you and what you research.

But the research skills that you will need are foundational. Research guides and finding aids will help you in a specific area, but your basic research skills will be the same whether you research in New Hampshire, Florida, Washington (state), or New Mexico, or even Saskatchewan, Galway, Istanbul, or Zimbabwe. For more on this, read my post “Shouldn’t we all be ‘Primary Care Genealogists’?

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “The top 5 books on my bookshelf,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 8 Jul 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part four

In the last post, part three of this series, we discussed the logic behind citing a census record. However, we only cited part of the record we used. As selected in the last post, we chose to use the following sample record:

So that you can all see what record I am citing, I have included a link to an image of the 1860 census page containing my 3 x great-grandfather, Calvin Hait: http://www.footnote.com/image/#87912598 If you do not have a paid subscription to Footnote.com, you can sign up for a free 7-day trial to view this image. The image is also available on Ancestry.com. The free index entry on FamilySearch.org (while not the image) is available using the following short link: http://bit.ly/muMV9U

The citation for this record as it stood at the conclusion of the last post is as follows:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household …

So where do we go from here?

We have already cited the record itself–or more clearly stated, we have cited the census household. But we have not fully cited the actual source that we are using. In order to fully cite the source we are using, we have to specify what we are actually looking at.

For example, if you are looking at the actual original paper census record, you would cite this as such. For most of us, this is not the case.

My first exposure to census records came as a teenager at the National Archives in Washington, D. C. In those days, before any of the microfilm had been digitized, we would cite the microfilm. The National Archives microfilm publication for the 1860 U. S. Census is M653. So we would cite this as

NARA microfilm publication M653

As with the census itself, this is akin to a title, but is not a title, so it would not be italicized.

M653 consists of 1,438 rolls of microfilm. So, of course, it is necessary to indicate which roll of microfilm holds the record we are using. In this case it is roll number 865.

The full citation for this census record, as I read it on the National Archives microfilm years ago, would thus be:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household; NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 865.

Of course, unless you lived near Washington, D. C., you probably did not view the original NARA microfilm. Most researchers were more likely to use the Family History Library microfilm, which would have been indicated by citing “… FHL microfilm no. 803,865.”

Today, few people actually still use the microfilm–either the NARA publication or FHL’s copy–to access federal census records. Instead, we use the digital images provided online by Ancestry, Footnote, HeritageQuest, etc. This is how we would cite these:

First we must specify that this was a digital image (as opposed to a transcription, database, or some other format). The easiest way to state this is plainly.

We previously discussed the elements to citing a website, in part two of this series. These are no different in this case than in any other.

In the case of a digital image of a census record appearing on a website, the website itself is the publication. Think of it like you would a book, with the census image being  an article or chapter within the book. Again, we must remember that the census record does not bear a title, so it would not be enclosed in quotation marks the way a traditional chapter would be.

Using the principles outlined in part two of this series, we would cite the creator, title, and publication information (URL and date accessed) of the website publication. In this case, the citation would appear as follows:

digital images, Footnote.com (http://www.footnote.com : accessed 25 June 2011)

In this case, in order to provide the most accurate information possible, we would also want to cite the source of the digital image, as cited by the website itself. This is indicated by the use of the word “citing.” Footnote includes the source information as seen here:

This information includes the microfilm publication number, but not the roll number. So in this case we would state exactly what Footnote cites:

citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll not identified.

Here we also get into proper use of punctuation. According to the Chicago Manual of Style Online (16th Edition), a semicolon is used for various reasons:

In regular prose, a semicolon is most commonly used between two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction to signal a closer connection between them than a period would.[1]

When items in a series themselves contain internal punctuation, separating the items with semicolons can aid clarity. If ambiguity seems unlikely, commas may be used instead.[2]

Both of these apply in this case (and many others). First, we are combining multiple clauses into the formation of the full citation.  The citation of the census household is one clause, the citation of the digital image is the second, and the citation provided by the website is a third. These multiple clauses should be separated by semicolons. The second reason cited above, for a series containing internal punctuation, also applies. The first two “clauses” both contain internal punctuation, and therefore must be separated by semicolons.

Evidence Explained, by Elizabeth Shown Mills, specifically addresses the use of semicolons in this context:

When we use a published source that cites its own source, our citation will focus upon the derivative that we actually used. However, it is good practice to record also where our source obtained his or her information. Depending upon the complexity of the situation, we may need to separate the two with a semicolon, … or we may separate them more simply with a comma ….[3]

Given all of this information, the full citation for the 1860 federal census record for Calvin Hait, as viewed on Footnote.com, would be as follows:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household; digital images, Footnote.com (http://www.footnote.com : accessed 25 June 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll not identified.

Future posts in this series will discuss other common record groups and citation formats.

SOURCES:

[1] The Chicago Manual of Style Online (http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html : accessed 25 June 2011), chapter 6.54, “Use of the semicolon.”

[2] The Chicago Manual of Style Online 6.58, “Semicolons in a complex series.”

[3] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), p. 88.

Read more:

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part three

In the first two parts of this series, we explored the logic behind citing a publication and a webpage. You can read these articles here:

Derivative sources such as books and webpages, however, are among the easiest citations to get “right.” Far more difficult are the original sources that make up the bulk of our research.

For this example, we will use a U. S. federal census record. After all, census records are often the most-used of all genealogical sources, as a general record group. So that you can all see what record I am citing, I have included a link to an image of the 1860 census page containing my 3 x great-grandfather, Calvin Hait: http://www.footnote.com/image/#87912598 If you do not have a paid subscription to Footnote.com, you can sign up for a free 7-day trial to view this image. The image is also available on Ancestry.com. The free index entry on FamilySearch.org (while not the image) is available using the following short link: http://bit.ly/muMV9U

In order to cite a record using the correct format, it is necessary to understand why the citation is organized in the manner in which it is organized.

If I am citing the 1860 census record for Calvin Hait, I must ask myself: what exactly am I citing?

  1. When citing a book, you are in actuality citing the book’s author, as published in the book. This does not apply to a manuscript record, which has no author. What you are citing is the record itself.
  2. In order to cite the federal census, you would start with the title, in precisely the same way that you would cite a book with no author. Unlike a book, which is known by a specific title, this record set does not bear a specific title, so you would not use italics. The title is a descriptive name for the record group.
  3. The 1860 U. S. Census, as microfilmed by the National Archives and Records Administration (microfilm publication M653), contains 1,438 rolls. Obviously, we need to be more specific in our citation than this. The key is to understand how the census is organized. As you can see by referring to the descriptive pamphlet for M653, available online at the NARA website, the 1860 U. S. Census is organized by county. So the next element that needs to be included is the county and state.
  4. Within each state, the census is further organized by schedule. For each state, the population schedule for each county appears first, followed by the slave schedule for each county. This manner of organization dictates the specification of the schedule next.
  5. What we have recorded to this point are the specifics to the record subset that we are using. We now have to get more specific as to the entry. In keeping with the general form of citations, proceeding from the largest group (i.e. the author) to the smallest group (i.e. the specific book, then the page number), we will proceed from the largest unit to the smallest unit, increasing in specificity as the citation continues.
  6. When you look at the specific page on which your record appears, you see a field at the top that provides the name of the town or municipality. This would be the next element in the citation. Following this would be the name of the post office, provided on the last line of the header.
  7. The 1860 census also includes a field for a specific page number, so you would include this page number as well. Then on the page, each household is identified by both a dwelling number and a family number. All of these would be included in your citation.
  8. Finally, for clarity’s sake, you will want to also specify the name(s) of the person or people that you are specifically examining. In most cases, this would be the entire household.

So, here is the first part of the citation for the 1860 census record for Calvin Hait:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household …

This citation will be continued.

Read more:

Source citations in your online writing

The funny thing about WordPress (the platform that hosts this blog) is that it will try to find other related blog postings, and link to them at the end of each new post. On one of my recent blog entries concerning source citations, WordPress recommended the post “The new citation,” originally published on 29 March 2010 in the (non-genealogy) blog Brave New World. This blog is written by Tania Sheko, the “Learning Enhancement Coordinator and  teacher librarian at Whitefriars College in Melbourne, Australia.”

In “The new citation,” Tania recommends using hyperlinks to sources rather than footnote or endnote citations. In her words,

The hyperlinked citations are much more than an attribution of cited sources; they are also:

  • a direct link the the source itself
  • a solution to wordy explanations which interrupt the flow of the sentence
  • a dense and complexly charged way of writing

She concludes,

What I like best about hyperlinked citation is that it leads me to places I haven’t discovered, giving me the option of following new research paths, often serendipitous. It’s an exciting way to learn – not didactic, not limiting, but opening up options for independent learning.

Shouldn’t we start to teach students this new way of reading and writing?

This is an extremely interesting concept for writing online, especially in blogs. You will notice that many bloggers already do this exact thing, when writing their blog posts. In this post, for example, I include hyperlinks to both “The new citation” and to the home page of Brave New World.

But is this really a citation?

In some ways, yes, and in some ways no, from the perspective of a genealogist.

For the purposes of connecting to an original online source, a hyperlink is efficient, and should be used wherever possible. As Tania calls it, hyperlinked online writing is certainly a “new way of writing.”

On the other hand, it neglects to take into consideration the mutable nature of the Internet. Simply put, websites change. Pages and the resources held on them move and sometimes disappear. When this happens, will you be left without a citation?

If you are citing an online record source–whether it is an image copy, an abstract, a transcription, a family tree, or an article–you still need to provide a full source citation. As discussed in the post “Source Citations: Getting It ‘Right,’ part two,” a proper citation for Tania’s blog post, as part of a bibliography or “Sources Used” list, would be

Sheko, Tania. “The new citation.” Brave New World. Posted 29 March 2010. http://tsheko.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/the-new-citation/ : 2011.

This citation provides the name of the author, the title of the article, and the publication (blog) name. In addition to this, it would be proper to note the date of the post (just in case she decided to post another article with the same title). And then of course the URL (the publication location) and the date on which the article was accessed. This second date reveals a recent date on which the particular item was located on the cited webpage. As mentioned in my earlier post, if the page moves or disappears in the future, it may be possible to access the item using the Wayback Machine or a similar utility.

All this being said, I do also agree with Tania’s point. The capability to embed a hyperlink to the source directly in the text is there, so why not use it? My recommendation would be to use both methods. Hyperlink within the text itself, but also include a source list (or numbered endnotes) with the full citations. This solution would allow the independent research described in Tania’s blog, but also meet the standards for citations expected by genealogists.

I would like to hear the thoughts of others on this topic.

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part two

In the first part of this series of posts, “Source Citations: Getting it ‘Right,’ part one,” we reviewed the format for source citations for books. However, books are not the only kinds of publications. There are magazines and journals, of course, but webpages are also considered publications. In terms of resources available for genealogical research, websites may have overtaken even books as the most popular. In general, citing a webpage follows many of the same principles discussed in the last  post, for publications. Please read this earlier post prior to reading this one.

As noted in the first part, publication citations contain the following elements:

  • Creator
  • Title
  • Publication Place
  • Publisher
  • Publication Date

The format puts these elements in the following order, for use in a “Source List” or “Bibliography”:

Author (last name first). Title. Publication Place: Publisher, Publication Date.

A web page would be cited in a similar manner, with one exception. The author and publisher are likely the same, so they do not need to be noted separately. In some cases, the author name and title of the website are the same, and these can also be combined, such as in Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

Here is an example of a website citation:

Genealogy Trails. http://www.genealogytrails.com : 2011.

Only rarely, however, do we have need to cite an entire website, in the manner shown above. In most cases, we are citing a single part of the website, such as an online article, database, or digital image. The individual item that we are citing would also have to be cited, just as we would cite an article in a magazine, or a chapter in a book. In a Sources Used list or bibliography, this would appear as follows:

“Documents Regarding Slavery.” Washington D. C. Genealogy Trails. http://genealogytrails.com/washdc/slaverydocuments/documents_regarding_slavery.html : 2011.

We will most often create citations for specific facts, using footnotes or endnotes (whether in a narrative or in a genealogy software program). The format for notes differs slightly from the format for a bibliography, most notably by requiring much more specific information, similar to a page number in a book:

John G. Sharp, “Certificate Of Freedom, William Winters, August 7, 1816,” online article and transcription, Washington D. C. Genealogy Trails (http://genealogytrails.com/washdc/cof_winters_w.html : accessed 30 May 2011).

The various parts of this citation might need to be explained:

  • Once again, it is important to remember that we are citing the author of the resource first. On this particular page, the author is identified. In some cases the author of a website may not be identified, just as the author of a book might not be known.
  • The next item that would be cited is the title of the article. This is cited in the same way that a magazine article would be cited, using quotation marks.
  • We also need to note the type of material that this. Is this a digital image, an abstract, a transcription, a database of extracted information? All of these carry their own unique qualities, that can only be recorded and conveyed by noting the type of resource you used.
  • This one article is not the entire publication–the Washington D. C. Genealogy Trails website, with all of the various sub-pages, is the name of the publication. Like all proper titles, italics are used to designate the titles of websites.
  • Of course we need to provide more information, akin to the publication place, company, and date of a book. Websites, of course, are not physical objects that you would locate in a library or bookstore. On the other hand, you can locate them in a very specific online place–the URL. For this reason, the URL serves the purpose of the publication place. Websites are also extremely mutable. They can be changed at any time of any day. Rather than citing the date of original publication (which we often are not able to discern anyway), it is more important to note the date on which we accessed the information. Using tools like the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we can actually visit many websites on a specific date in the past. These details qualify the title of the website, so they follow the title within parentheses.

There are other variations on websites, depending on the type of material being presented.

So far, this series has focused on two relatively simple types of citations. Of course, they can get far more complex. We will continue to look at other citation models, as well as the reasoning behind them.

Read more:

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part one

As discussed in my recent series on “Why Form Matters,” many of the issues that genealogists have in writing source citations stem from the pressure to “get it right.” I described in that series why the form of the citation is important, but that there is a learning curve involved in creating accurate source citations. As a means of trying to help any genealogists out there who are struggling with “getting it right,” I will present a series of articles discussing the basics of the source citation format commonly accepted in genealogy. Hopefully, you will find this useful.

The most basic format to use is the publication format. This is pretty easy to learn and actually forms the basis of many of the citations that we create as genealogists.

This format contains several parts:

  • Creator
  • Title
  • Publication Place
  • Publisher
  • Publication Date

The format puts these elements in the following order, for use in a “Source List” or “Bibliography”:

Author (last name first). Title. Publication Place: Publisher, Publication Date.

To give you an example, this is how I would cite my most recent book:

Hait, Michael. Records of the Slave Claims Commissions, 1864-1867, Volume Three: Journal of the First Maryland Commission. Harrington, Delaware: Hait Family History Publications, 2011.

One important aspect to note, especially when dealing with self-published books, including many nineteenth-century books that were published prior to many of the large publishing houses, is that the Publisher is not the same as the Printer. For example, I use Lulu.com as my printer. However, I could just as easily take the same content to any printer. The Publisher would be my own publishing imprint. Self-publishing is popular with genealogy resource books (derivative sources), so be sure that you are citing the author’s imprint, not the name of the printer.

When writing a footnote, a key point to remember is that the footnote is in the format of a sentence, and should follow the same rules of punctuation. Citing the same book above, in the form of a footnote:

Michael Hait, Records of the Slave Claims Commissions, 1864-1867, Volume Three: Journal of the First Maryland Commission (Harrington, Del.: Hait Family History Publications, 2011), pg. 23.

Just as in any sentence, there is only a single period, at the end. The other elements are separated by commas. The publication information appears within parentheses, with no comma between the publication information and the title. After all, the publication information refers to the specific publication being cited. Finally, you would cite the page number after the publication, again separated with a comma. Some people do not include the word “pg.” or “page” to specify the page number. I choose to, simply for clarity’s sake.

Part of understanding how to form a source citation is understanding what you are citing. Using this simplest of formats as an example, here is the thought process behind the formation of this citation:

  1. In your text, whether a compiled genealogy, a case study or article, or a research report, you state a fact.
  2. You are citing the source of this fact. This would be in the form of either a footnote or an endnote. This way, anyone reading the text would know that this specific fact came from this specific source.
  3. Ultimately, the source of the fact is the author of the book being cited. So this element, the author, comes first.
  4. Now you have to explain where the author provided the information being cited. In this case, it is a book, so you provide the title of the book.
  5. For clarification about the specific book, you will provide the publication information. This is important in case there are multiple editions, which may contain slightly different layouts, etc.
  6. Within the book itself, you must then cite the page on which the information appears.

The same principles will apply to all forms, though there are distinct differences.

Read more:

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part three

In recent posts I have been discussing other bloggers’ comments about source citations, and generally why I disagree with some of them. In this post, I want to go in another direction, and discuss two recent blog posts about source citations that I agree with to some extent.

The first is the post “Genealogy Citations: Good, Better, Best,” in the Luxegen Genealogy and Family History, posted on 6 March 2011. Joan writes,

As I mentioned in my comments on a couple of blogs, my philosophy is good, better, best.

We all strive to do our best but start out as ‘good’ and become ‘better’ along the way to ‘best’.

I feel the genealogical community can put a positive spin on the citation issue by helping newbies grow.

Most newbies (or casual hobbyists) simply don’t know how to do it better because they haven’t been exposed to better or best yet.

A kind, gentle approach to educating them is the key.

I suggest using a toastmasters approach which is sharing what they are doing well, offering constructive suggestions for improvement and leaving them hopeful and wanting to help build the best research possible. We can offer suggestions that provide concrete examples for others to follow.

Contrast this with slamming them for what they don’t know they are doing wrong now, and you can see why issues don’t improve.

Perhaps, if we do this in a kind, humane fashion, the casual genealogists will buy into being part of a community that is striving for the good of all. Being part of a community can be a big draw. …

My suggestions are to create a Good, Better, Best Genealogy Approach

GOOD might be – copy the link to where you got the source into the notes section of your genealogy software program

BETTER- photocopy or scan all pertinent identifying documents (title page of the book flap, ISBN number, publisher, page numbers, etc).  Have a log book of that microfilm record; copy the pension record source down, etc etc.  (insert myriad of examples here).   We would also need examples of organization systems to keep track of the information.

BEST – Evidence Explained to the letter

I agree with Joan’s assessment that part of the problem is a lack of education on the part of the beginning genealogist. I also agree that learning to cite your sources properly involves a steep learning curve. Joan offers a productive level-based philosophy toward improving source citation skills.

This also brings to mind the “Genealogical Maturity Model” developed by the Ancestry Insider last year. You can view his GMM levels in the post, “Rate Your Genealogical Maturity,” posted on 6 March 2010. The levels he defines for Source Citations are as follows:

  • Entry: “Captures URLs for online sources and citations for published sources.”
  • Emerging: “Increasingly captures necessary information for manuscript sources.”
  • Practicing: “Typically produces complete source citations.”
  • Proficient: “Gives complete and accurate source citations including provenance and quality assessment.”
  • Stellar: “Overcomes limitations of genealogical software to create well organized, industry standard reference notes and source lists.”

Personally, I would actually reverse the positions of “Proficient” and “Stellar.” I don’t use genealogy software for any of my client research projects, and I believe that this is the case for many professional genealogists. The use of genealogical software is completely unrelated to source citation skills. But this is beside the point.

Both of these posts display the development of the skill of source citation. It is important to note that genealogical skills, like all skills, do take practice to develop into proficiency.

On the other hand, I also believe that some might be settling a little short of the end goal.

When you are learning to drive, parallel parking might take a lot of practice before you can do it well. But you don’t really have the option of saying, “It’s too hard,” or “This is good enough.” You have to keep practicing until you get it right.

This is how source citation should be treated. It is a vital part of the genealogy research process. Not only for the end result of the finished citation, but the actual process of creating the citation. The citation-creation process involves a level of awareness about the record you are using that makes the process itself extremely valuable.

The second post I wanted to mention, “Is Mills Style Necessary?,”  is part of a series of posts on the subject of source citation also written by the Ancestry Insider. I would recommend that anyone conducting genealogical research read the entire series. I actually agree with almost everything that he has written in this series, so there is no need to comment further here.

In the three parts of “Source Citations: Why Form Matters,” I have discussed why a consistent format for source citations is necessary. I am sure that not everyone agrees with me, especially among some beginning hobbyists that are only researching their own families for their own entertainment. The points that I hope that everyone comes away with is that (1) source citation is necessary, (2) a consistent format for source citation is necessary for purposes of clarity, even if you will be the only person who ever looks at your research, and (3) the skill of developing proper, consistent source citations is achieved through practice.

We are extremely fortunate that Elizabeth Shown Mills took the time and energy to adapt the Chicago Manual of Style citation format to address the citation needs of genealogists. Just a generation ago, there was no commonly accepted, consistent format for genealogical source citations. This caused confusion, which is exactly why Ms. Mills wrote first Evidence! and later Evidence Explained.

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part two

In an earlier post, I mentioned a discussion on the Transitional Genealogists Forum mailing list regarding a comma vs. a semicolon within a source citation. This discussion was followed, apparently coincidentally, by several blog posts related to the importance of form in source citations. (I originally, mistakenly, believed that this was not a coincidence at all, but was corrected by the author of the first such blog post.)

Two related blog posts appeared in other blogs shortly after the first.

On 16 February 2011, Kerry wrote in the post “Source Citations in Genealogy: Church or Cult?,” in her Clue Wagon blog,

Source citations are important. I believe this.

What I don’t believe in is the Cult of Citations. The Cult is different from the Church. The Cult is so intense that it freaks people out. It accepts no compromise, no continuum, no baby steps. It will say in public that people who don’t agree are wrong wrong WRONG. Nobody wants to join a cult, and when people see members of the Cult, they run. They run far and fast, so that the cult can’t catch them. The problem is that when they run, the Church can’t catch them either. So they remain unsaved heathens who don’t cite their sources.

Now, why would that be a good thing?

And the thing is, the members of the Cult of Citations are right. They’ve worked hard for the past 30 years to clean up the field, and they’ve done an admirable job (truly). They’re upset that there’s still so much crap out there. They’re upset that after all that work, the internet has allowed the pile of crap to grow exponentially. They’re upset that people are poo-pooing the idea that nobody can appreciate your hard work on your tree if they can’t evaluate where the information came from. They’re right when they say that we all need to cite sources in the same standard way, with the stuff in the same order, so that it’s not a big sloppy mess. Cult members: You’re right. You’re right on every point. I’m not arguing with you.

But when you are condescending, people run away. When you express your frustration with the nonbelievers in public, people run away. When you say, “The comma goes here, not THERE. That was 1972,” people run away. When you imply that every source must be in the perfect Evidence Explained format from the get-go, people run away. And when they run away, they don’t come back. We lose them. And then we have crap trees with no sources, and it’s our own fault. People who aren’t yet saved see that gleam in your eyes, and they become hypersensitive to what you say. They know you’re trying to convert them, and they don’t like it (even though they really do need converting). They think you’re making things hard. They don’t understand your zeal. …

See, when I talk to people about why they hate citations, I find that it’s not the gathering of the citation information they hate. It’s the formatting. People find that getting it in the right format is hard, and they don’t want to do it. We need to make it abundantly clear that it’s okay to sin in your own files in terms of the formatting. It’s okay if the page number and the publisher date are reversed, as long as you have the citation information. The goal is to be able to find the stuff again…not to be a formatting saint. It would be delightful if everyone’s files had perfect citations in them, but they don’t, and by implying that that’s even an appropriate goal, we’re losing people. It’s not working.

The other thing I think we need to stop doing is talking about the mechanics of citations on all of the well-known public listservs. Way, WAY more people read those than I ever imagined (far more that the subscriber numbers would indicate, I believe). When they see the dialog about citations and semicolon placement, they get the idea that that’s all the glitterati cares about. They see people rigorously debating how a citation would appear, and even when the people involved know each other and are fine with the tenor of the dialog, to an outsider, it can appear contentious. I know that that’s not always true, but the perception is definitely out there. Beginning and intermediate genealogists see those discussions, and they’re intimidated. They turn away. It’s not working. If I were crowned queen, I’d create a list just for source citation questions. That way, the semicolon placement specialists could parse their brains out, and we could all benefit from their wisdom…without having a disproportionate emphasis on the mechanics of source citations on the professional lists. People who truly need help could get it, and we could make sure that we aren’t overwhelming people who aren’t yet members of the Church (and in fact, I think most real churches keep their doctrine discussions fairly private for that very reason).

Later, on 17 March 2011, The Ginger Jewish Genealogist posted “Jewish Genealogy – The Anti-Cult?” In this post, she wrote,

Go to an IAJGS conference (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who has heard of Evidence Explained or knows what the Genealogical Proof Standard is. Sure, there are a few that do; those who have been in professional genealogy for a long time, the rare certified or accredited genealogist in the crowd, or someone from outside the Jewish genealogy world who’s “visiting” us that year. There might even be a vendor selling copies of EE. But the general population of attendees has no idea. …

Clients don’t care about source citations. I have never had a client ask me where I found a record, or where I searched and didn’t find a record. Of course, this information is already in their client reports. With the exception of the one company that requested EE-type citations (and they completed them for me), other genealogists I’ve worked for also seem to be unconcerned with detailed source citations. The most I’ve been asked (only once) was, “On what film did you find the record?”, to which I replied, “It’s in the file name.” Ever since NGS, I have added that information to all my scanned file names and been a little more specific with my sources, but still not remotely up to EE standards.

I am obsessive about keeping track of my sources for my own research and my clients. If I add a person or an event to my own database, there is a source for it. Just like everyone else, some of my earlier work had no sources, but everything was eventually given a source in one of my revisions.

While some genealogists may freak out when they read that I don’t follow these rules, I hope they realize that I do have citations for everything, just not in their style. If it wasn’t important enough to mention at the IAJGS conferences, I didn’t much pay attention even if I saw it online, and I just haven’t switched over. That doesn’t make me a bad genealogist, it just means I don’t follow all the “rules”. I can check any information in my database to find the source, whether it was from a primary document, a census, or from a relative, to compare with any new information and determine what source should be more trusted.

Will I ever change my source citations to the EE-style? Possibly. But not today.

I’m not sure that I like the analogy of a cult vs. a church. Because I may be considered part of the cult. I admit that I will (and have, as the TGF discussion proves) debate the placement of a comma or period or semicolon, whether something should be capitalized or italicized, or placed in quotation marks or parentheses. In my experience, these issues are far more important than some might realize.

The difference comes in experience, I believe. Not the number of years of experience per se, but the variety of records with which one has experience researching and citing. If you are citing a journal article or a book, the citation can seem plain and straightforward. It is not difficult to tell which element is which, and any old citation will allow the article or book to be located. For many amateur genealogists, most of their research is conducted in articles and books, so this will do. There is simply no need to learn how to develop proper citations when you only use a few types of sources. To these genealogists, the placement of a comma or semicolon is indeed tedious.

Once you start using microfilmed or online digitized records, the citations become a little more complex, but the format still does not seem all that important. As long as the reel number or the website URL are included, the source can be found, so it appears sufficient.

The problem starts to arise when you begin dealing with original records, which may be parts of multiple sub-groups as parts of larger collections of records held under an even larger record group. There is no easy author/title, microfilm reel number, or URL that can easily identify this record. So how do you accurately and fully identify this record?

You can “wing it,” of course. Just make up your own format on the spot, and record your improvised citation.

Now imagine that twenty years have passed, and you decide to go back and check your own work. Can you make sense of your own citation? Unless you have an impeccable memory, the answer will probably be no.

Or suppose you get stuck at a brick wall and decide to hire a professional. How is that professional to be expected to identify the source that you used? Will you be able (and have the time) to explain to the professional your makeshift citation format?

Wouldn’t it be easier and more efficient in the long run to simply take the time to learn a consistent format for source citations that everyone can understand?

This discussion will be continued…

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