Genealogy Citations: Good, Better, Best

Genealogy Citations

Weighing in with personal opinion blog posts is not my style.

I wish it was but I’m more comfortable writing about resources available, reporting on conferences (Rootstech Takeaways: High Tech High Touch) and the technical how-tos of a database.   We work to our strengths and that is where I feel mine lie.

But I’m daring to comment on the whole genealogy citations ‘thing’.

There have been provocative and interesting blog posts on the topic recently from several sources including from Kerry over at Clue Wagon,  from Midwestern Microhistory and others and even more.

The whole topic of genealogy citations is a “how to” aspect that seems to have become a dividing camp issue.

I’m in firmly in Kerry’s Church of Citations camp.  I come from a technical background and I am an author of scientific papers.  Citations are important.

That said, I don’t zero in on the nitty gritty of them until we are ready to publish.

The casual genealogist or hobbyist isn’t thinking about citations at all. They are excitably gathering information and sharing it with others.

They don’t know yet that it is important to have citations!

I was there once.  Weren’t you?  My suggestion is not to be to hard on them.

Let’s put it this way.  Compare genealogy citations to the doctor telling you that you need to lower your cholesterol.  How do we do this?  If the doc doesn’t give you suggestions on how, it ain’t gonna happen, folks.

Most of the casual genealogists haven’t even been to the doctor yet!

I have a suggestion. Instead of talking about it, let’s take action.

Good Better Best Genealogy Citations

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.

Not everyone will be interested but in my opinion that’s okay too.  Not everyone is fanatical about genealogy as we are.  Those of us in the avid genealogist category are not superior beings because our levels of interest are different.  The bottom line is any effort on our part to make better genealogy will benefit all.

Education about Genealogy Citations

I also suggest we create a campaign of education about genealogy citations. I’m going to brain storm out loud and perhaps you can join in with comments.

We can get a catchy title and logo, get the genealogy bloggers to promote it (after all we are the new media).   I think Thomas MacEntee was thinking along these lines when he created his “Cite Your Sources” button.

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

Creating Awareness of Genealogy Citations

  • We can start slow and refer folks to the Evidence style Quicksheets so as not to scare them off, especially when a newbie has never heard of a source outside of an online record.
  • We can show people how to use the templates in the various genealogy software programs we use.
  • We can help people by providing concrete examples.
  • We can create a catchy citation song or blogging theme
  • We can hang out where newbies are and help them
  • We can create good, better, best ways of doing it which may suit people at different levels.

I’m just thinking out loud here.  I’m sure the Good, Better, Best methods can be expanded upon greatly.

Maybe we can create incentives to move from good to better to best.

And while we are doing this maybe the technology will evolve in the ways Mark Tucker suggests in his comments on Kerry’s blog post.   Also check out out Elizabeth Shown Mills “thou shalt” comments.  There are great suggestions there.

We can lead by example.  Instead of talking about this let’s DO something.  Let’s make folks aware!

Using this approach, there is a greater likelihood that individuals will grow and implement changes as they move from good to better to best practices.

My two cents,








Author: © Joan Miller - Luxegen Genealogy.

The Luxegen Genealogy and Family History blog presents the family history stories of Joan Miller.