Are genealogy citations overdone?

Citations Overdone

YouTube viewer deck-o cards asked: I’m curious to know what you think about sourcing & citations, etc. I’ve watched the videos by Crista Cowan and, in my opinion, I think that there is too much redundancy. For instance, all the documentation that she does–which is fine, if you enjoy that and want to do it. However, I feel that when you save a source, such as a census, you don’t need to type everything up that is there. I’d like your opinion on that. Maybe, I’m just lazy but what is the point? Maybe you can share what you do and what you know. Thanks!”

I appreciate Crista Cowan’s videos on YouTube. She’s a colleague and I hope I understand why she ‘types everything up.” In the video response to this viewer question, I provide a full explanation of what I think. In a nutshell, here’s my response.

The amount of effort you put into ‘all the documentation’ depends on to what level of research you are doing.

For casual users, I invite you to find a quality source for each fact (name, date, or place) that you place on your family tree. A quality source could be a government record, a church record, or even a home source. A family tree is not a quality source. It is a clue. Work towards finding sources to build your trees rather than the trees of others. The bonus for users of online trees with record collections, whenever you find a source and link (or attach) it to your relatives, the citation for the source comes with it. Hooray! No extra stress or effort. You can focus on gathering and evaluating sources.

For genealogy enthusiasts, I invite you to gather enough sources to answer a research question, especially when records conflict. You’ll want to use laters of evidence such as a birth record, census record, and death record to determine when an individual was born. These records aren’t the only records that prove or disprove a fact, but it’s a step up from the casual researcher who only looks for one record.

Evaluate the evidence you find and leave notes or write conclusions on your findings. With FamilySearch, you can share this information in the “Reason to” boxes. With other online platforms or genealogy software, you can write up your conclusions in the note fields associated with each individual you research.

For professionals or professionally-minded researchers, you’ll attempt to leave no stone unturned and gather all possible evidence. You’ll analyze and correlate your information and then write about your findings. You can still use online trees and software programs, but you might write reports when the cases require.

Depending on the requirements for your report or article creation, you might have to craft more thorough citations.

No matter your research interest level, the one thing I hope you take away is the need to remind yourself and inform others where you obtained the information you used to build your family tree. Otherwise, you’re creating a fantastic work of fiction.

This video explains more about citations, abstracts, and transcriptions in addition to explaining further about the levels of genealogy interest and your use of citations.
Click here to watch the video on YouTube.
Photos are great on online family trees. Be sure you maintain the citation of who originally shared the photos. It helps with collaboration. #genealogy #ancestry #onlinegenealogy
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

2 thoughts on “Are genealogy citations overdone?

  1. I bought a well-respected genealogist’s book on how to cite our sources, and quite frankly, it makes me sweat. It’s way more complex than I can handle. Since I’m not even pretending to be an expert on anything, I cite enough to help someone else find the source. I can’t get hung up on the punctuation and order of information.

    1. Wendy, if it makes you feel better, I have a lawyer friend who feels the same way. She said lawyers are known for being nit-picky but genealogy citations top the charts.

      In this day and age, are you able to find a book like How to Win Friends and Influence People? Yep, you type that into any search engine and it’s going to come up. For the most part, you need enough information to find the source again. If your citation accomplishes that goal, you’re done!

      One other thought… there are citation generators for APA, MLA, Chicago, and other styles. Why isn’t there a simple one for genealogists? The closest thing I have found is RootsMagic has a few notations of which format style their templates follow. (You have to know where to look though).

      As you can tell, I’m not a fan of overly fussy citations, same as you. Who cares where the comma goes?

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