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

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The limitations of citing online documents for genealogists

I received the following comment to one of my recent posts on adding external sources to Family Tree with Tree Connect:
Thank you for your informative video. Is there a way to use TreeConnect to show the actual source record when the url to the site brings up a search form and additional steps must be taken to reach the desired record? My research is primarily in the Danish Archives on the website. These records are not indexed by name of person, but by record type (parish records or census), county, parish, and time period. When the correct parish register is identified and shows on screen, a manual search is required to find the desired person. Once the correct record is found, I have not been able to figure out how to reference that particular record with TreeConnect, except, perhaps, to include instructions with the source. I will appreciate any suggestions.
The comment raises a basic issue concerning the use of online sources. The issue is the use of documents embedded in digitized sources online where there may be no direct link to the actual record.

Fortunately, this issue is not new. It is essentially the same issue faced for many years in citing to a microfilmed record of the same documents. The commentator is apparently concerned, in part, with the use of an automated sourcing utility, i.e. Tree Connect, and how to specify the exact document searched. This becomes a problem when, as the commentator has noted, the URL of the source is the entire document, not the page being viewed.

The general purpose of a citation to a source is to provide a way for subsequent researchers to view the record to verify the accuracy of the conclusions drawn from the record or to find additional information not extracted by the original researcher. This purpose is served by specifying the source as nearly as possible. This type of record is covered in the book,

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2007.

The specific example, from the Mills book is at page 555. Basically, the idea is to be as complete as possible. Whether or not you choose to follow Mills or use your own system of citation is entirely up to you, but the basic information should be conveyed to those who will view and use your information.

The form used by FamilySearch Family Tree and incorporated into Tree Connect, certainly does not reflect all of the nuances of the vast number of different citations contained in the Mills book. This alone should tell you that some adaptation is and will be necessary. The fact that there would be any citation is a dramatically valuable step in the process of genealogical research, quibbling about the form of the citation only leads to discouragement on the part of researchers.

I suggest that the commentator has already devised a solution to the problem posed, that is to explain how the record was found in the source cited.

1 comment:

  1. The researcher can also create their own source in the FS Family Tree by crafting it using EE principles andm odels and putting the elements in the correct source fields. We don't have to use the Source Box or the Tree Connect features.