Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, June 29, 2015

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Eighteen

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter 18: "Documentation and Source Citation" by Amy Harris, PhD., AG.

If you have been reading my blog lately, you probably realize that I have lot to say about this chapter's subject. Here is a quote that sets the tone of my discussions as well as this particular chapter:
In many ways, it is not whether one receives payment or not that sets apart the amateur from the professional genealogical scholar but rather the standard of documentation that one adheres to in one's work.
I am not sure that the dichotomy between "amateur" and "professional" holds up in the context of historical (i.e. genealogical) research and reporting. Failing to cite sources does not make one an "amateur." Also, the term "amateur" does not automatically imply poor or sloppy work. There is a much deeper issue here and that is the need to analyze and properly incorporate sources as well as cite them. As I have pointed out many times previously there is a tendency in certain levels of genealogical inquiry to exalt form over substance.

No matter what your position with regard to the need for formality in citations, there is a absolute need to identify your sources with enough particularity that subsequent researchers can duplicate your searches and verify your conclusions.

This particular chapter has some rather lengthy and numerous footnotes. I might note that very few of the other articles in the book have comparably long and involved notation. Perhaps the author was making a point in including long and overly explanatory footnotes? It is my own style to include all references within the text of my posts (if you haven't noticed). I try to consistently make reference to any source that I utilize, no matter how obscure. Of course, I have no expectation that anything I write in this fashion will be published in a prestigious journal, but I think that footnotes interrupt the flow of the text in some cases and including the sources with the quote or idea is less intrusive.

The author does not discuss other ways of inserting citations. Many currently popular journals require citations to be inserted into the text. Footnotes, as such, are also liable to be put at the end of chapters or the entire document, i.e. endnotes. I think that the way the document incorporates notes and the content of those notes, quickly influence whether or not a reader is willing to plough through the document at all. I am also not particularly a fan of writing the paper in the footnotes. Reading such a paper is like listening to more than one conversation at the same time.

To repeat, I certainly agree that citing sources is necessary. I am currently faced with more than one surname book containing information that cannot be verified due to the lack of citations. I would be grateful for any attempt at telling me where the authors got their information, irrespective of the formality or lack thereof.

You may wish to review some of the preceding chapters:

1 comment:

  1. If you hire me to get documents or files from say Yad Vashem or the Mandatory Citizenship files at the Isael National Archives, there is not much in the way of citation aside from the day I did the job. Citation comes with the documents.

    That does not detract from my professionalism.

    Citation is important in projects. Less so for errands.