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

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Citations, the SSDI and the FamilySearch Wiki

I could not resist commenting on The Ancestry Insider's (AI) post, " SSDI Citation Review." I especially would like to address his comment that, "I expect more from a professional genealogist than from a hobbyist. In this review I’m going to nitpick details that you don’t need to worry about. and FamilySearch have a responsibility to create your citations. That’s a major reason why I am not pulling any punches."

Do and FamilySearch have some innate duty to provide a "correct" citation for anything in the Historical Record Collections, much less for the SSDI? Who decides what is "correct?" Apparently, the issue from the AI's point of view is that the citations provided by the FamilySearch Research Wiki (the Wiki) volunteers don't match those he proposed for  It seems that there is a underlying issue here characterizing the Wiki as somehow directly created and controlled by FamilySearch. This is not quite the way it works.

It is true that the sponsoring organization of a wiki has some ultimate say-so as to the content and conduct of the wiki, but in the case of the FamilySearch Research Wiki the relationship is not quite as direct as the demand from the AI would seem to indicate. The main control exercised by FamilySearch, as an organization, is contained in the "Conditions of Use." These Conditions deal with the following:
  • FamilySearch/Genealogical Society of Utah Licenses
  • Registration Obligations
  • Conditions When You Contribute (Creative Commons License)
  • The User's Right to Submit Contributions
  • A Code of Conduct
  • Publishing Your Name
  • Legal Status and Jurisdiction
  • Limitations of Liability
  • Disclaimers
  • Notice for Claims of Intellectual Property Violations
I don't see anything in there about FamilySearch exercising control over the method of citing sources, even from the Historical Record Collections. In fact, the FamilySearch Wiki:Policies page would lead me to believe that the content of the Wiki, as long as it did not violate the Conditions of Use, was pretty much up to the contributors.

Jumping ahead to my conclusion, if the AI wants to have the citations in a certain format, he is free to make any changes he wants to the Wiki. Otherwise, it is going to be pretty hard to convince the other thousands of contributors to follow his guidelines. Being as the Wiki is about as close to a pure democracy as you can get when it comes to content, he has a long hard row to hoe. When you get right down to it, right now, there are only about 22 people, almost all totally volunteers who are Wiki Maintenance Participants. How about joining the group?

Assuming that there is "someone in charge" of the Wiki is one of the more common issues we face in educating people about how a wiki works. It sometimes drives people crazy that no one is in charge. In fact, the issue of citations has been a topic of discussion in the Wiki Forums in eleven different threads dating back to January of 2010. A working reference citation proposal was proposed in a thread dating back to April, 2011. I started the topic on the connections between the Historical Record Collections and the the Wiki also back in April. I don't recall hearing from the AI on this subject before. We have been working towards a consensus and anyone is invited to participate.

Do I agree that there should be some standard format for citations? Yes, but I don't necessarily agree on the format. By the way, none of the citations suggested by the AI agree with Mills. See
Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2007. Pages 625-626. Also, by the way, the citations on the Wiki page for the SSDI don't agree with Mills either. 

Now to the main issue, does the suggested citation on a Wiki page have to agree with anyone's idea of the ideal citation format? I can't believe that achieving that goal would be possible in this lifetime. Is FamilySearch, as an organization, responsible to see that some idealized citation format is used in the Wiki. Not as far as I understand how the world and wikis are put together.

Let's not get stressed over citations. There are worse things to worry about. How about formatting County pages?


  1. I'd be happy if folks just put in SOME reference! This arguing over form is counter-productive in my opinion. If folks get hung up on an exact format, then they will just not cite at all. Can't we KISS on this?

    Just my two cents!

    Onward To Our Past,


  2. Perhaps a different take ...

    Form and style aside, I just don't get the logic behind "wiki-a-source." In that spirit, I questioned the FS decision enabling open edit of the content fields in the citations presented. (I feel the same way about the wiki pages detailing information about each historical collection.)

    I'm guessing there are best practices for archivists.

    You would know better than I if standards of care exist relative to identifying the various films or records.

  3. James,

    I need to improve my writing skills. Each of several times you state my point, you are do so incorrectly.

    -- The Insider

  4. Try editing the citations Ancestry Insider mentions Mr. Tanner. You'll see that you get censored immediately by FamilySearch staff. Those citations are their product and even though they theoretically opened them to public edits, in reality, they won't allow changes made to them.

    Another insider