Friday, July 15, 2011

Are FamilySearch Citations an Issue?

In response to my post "Citations, the SSDI and the FamilySearch Wiki" I got a comment from the Ancestry Insider (AI) that said, "I need to improve my writing skills. Each of several times you state my point, you are do so incorrectly." Hmm. So, I went back and re-read his post, "FamilySearch.org SSDI Citation Review" to see what I had missed. OK, so did I miss his point? It seems to me that the main point of the post is that FamilySearch (among others) is derelict in its implied duty to provide adequate source citations or a place to put them.

First, I questioned whether FamilySearch or Ancestry.com or any other genealogical organization has some kind of duty to provide "citations to their records." My response addressed the issue raised by the AI  extending the criticism to the citation form of the entries in the FamilySearch Research Wiki. I pointed out that the Wiki is not necessarily a good example since it involves a cooperative user driven format. But the fundamental questions and issues I get from the AI's post involves citations in general.

First I disagree that FamilySearch or any other genealogical organization has any duty that extends to citations of authority. I do agree that citations are not a neutral issue. Ideally, I would like to be able to find the source of the information, but I really, deep down, in my heart of hearts, could absolutely care less about the format of the citation. All I really care about is finding the source and if you read my posts more than once, you probably already know that I have typos and an occasional wrong word because of relying on spell checkers. I also realize that I may have just given several journal editors a heart attack.

Now that I have taken the position that the format of citations don't matter to me, you can probably understand why I could care less about whether you use MLA, Turabian, Chicago or whatever. My viewpoint on citations in the Wiki are even more liberal, I will not correct a citation unless it is wrong, I usually do not spend my time correcting form. Do I think citations are necessary? Yes, since I will summarily conclude that the researcher who fails to cite sources didn't have any. I cannot count the times I wish someone would have provided a clue to where the information came from other than personal records in the possession of someone long dead.

By the way, I think the AI has a valid point about FamilySearch's lack of citations to its own products. But just because the citations are missing or not adequately to AI's standard, that doesn't mean that FamilySearch has some kind of duty to go back and correct over a 100 years of genealogical research. Even if all of the examples given by the AI are true (some are not quite accurate) FamilySearch isn't all that bad. Citing sources is a relatively novel concept to genealogists. You can't validly criticize old printed family group sheets because that was the state-of-the-art at the time. Many citation minded researchers simply turned the sheets over and put all the citations on the back.

I too have criticized New.FamilySearch.org and other FamilySearch programs for their lack of accommodation to sources, but that does not mean that they have some duty to provide the citations. I only ask for the space and opportunity to add my own citations.

As to whether or not the concept of a repository has validity when it comes to online digitized images, that is another post. I think the AI has some interesting thoughts and I certainly appreciate the effort and thought that goes into his posts. I'll think about the repository/source issue and see if something comes out of my head.

1 comment:

  1. From another insider's perspective, the citations Ancestry Insider is criticizing for FamilySearch Historical Record Collections are not actually in Wiki 2.0 format. They are written and regulated by certain staff members who censor anyone who attempts to alter there. They are not written or editable by the public.

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