RootsTech 2014

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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

How about common sense citations for genealogists?

I received the following comment:
How about a citation guide for the genealogy lay person with some common examples? It seems like there is a big push (rightfully so) to encourage the lay person to cite sources but little information as to how to do so in a proper format. Or perhaps you could just point out some useful sites with this information. 
I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but there is no such thing as "a proper format." The academics who spend all their time writing for journals and other publications who care about the format cannot agree on one standard so there are a multitude of styles and formats depending on whether you are talking about law, humanities, sciences or social sciences. There are also at least two major referencing styles; Vancouver Referencing Style and the Parenthetical Referencing Style. Here are a few of the more common styles: APA style, MLA style, The Chicago Manual of Style, Bluebook, ALWD Citation Manual, ASA styleHarvard referencing, and Vancouver system. Just to make everyone mad, I use Turabian.

Now if the rest of the world cannot agree on a specific standard, then how can the diffuse genealogical community ever do so? What I think is interesting is that the genealogy programs all have built-in methods of citing sources, but few people have any idea what goes where in the citations. 

Of course, my philosophy on the subject puts me outside of polite society into the unwashed masses. I advocate writing everything about the source down and making sure all of it gets into some field or another, never mind colons, commas, semi-colons or periods. OK, that isn't strictly accurate, I can follow a citation guide when I feel it is necessary. Of course, most academics think legal citations are mumbo jumbo. 

So how is an honest genealogist go about making his or her living writing down citations? Well, you could start with 

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

Hmm. Turabian again. This book has been around long enough to have become a classic and/or standard whichever way you want to look at it. Oh, yes, I do know that Turabian is based on the Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed.) and I happen to have a copy of that book sitting right next to me as I write this sentence. See University of Chicago. The Chicago Manual of Style. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 2003. (Turabian again) OK, OK, here is the citation to the book in the Chicago Manual of Style style: University of Chicago. 2003. The Chicago manual of style. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press. Notice the extensive differences? Me either. Wars have been fought over lesser issues than where to put the date of publication. Life is too short for me to care, as I would say about many things when I was in high school and B.G. (Before Genealogy). 

I am sure that my commentator wanted me to take his/her question seriously. So I will. OK now I will move on to more commentary. The lovely Chicago Manual of Style book is only 956 pages. Mills book is only 885 pages. It would be interesting to sit down and compare the two, just for fun, to see why the Chicago book has more pages. But I don't have time to do that right now. Maybe some time. 

What is the real answer to the question I was given? The real answer is make sure you write down enough information about your sources that both you and your readers can find the item again if they want to or have to. By the way, I have linked to all the different Wikipedia articles on on the above styles but I left out Turabian. Her is a link to Kate's article in the Wikipedia.

Oh, and if you are writing for a journal, magazine or other publication, follow whatever style they require so they will pay you. Thanks for the comment.





14 comments:

  1. The Chicago Manual of Style has more pages because it covers topics other than citation. In fact, it has *far* fewer pages that Evidence Explained specifically about citation, but a great number of pages having to do with such topics as manuscript preparation, grammar, punctuation, and so forth. The two books aren't seriously comparable.

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    1. I wasn't really serious. Thanks for the comment. Both books are extremely useful if you need them.

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  2. The easiest creator of citiation has to be one inside Ancestral Quest. I use the feature to create one for each general source. Not sure if that's Turabian style or not.

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  3. I have to agree with your answer write so you can find it again. When I first started in 2008 I did not write things down and now I wonder where did I find that.

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  4. I most genealogists when they first start seriously using citations would like a quick-reference list – only to find that even Evidence Explained (EE) doesn’t cover everything. It is still nice to see some examples but it doesn’t take long to realise that many sources do not fit the “perfect” cases used in those example. Maybe you have a dubious copy of something that is out-of-print, or a copy of something that was intended to be published but never made it, or you have comments about the impartiality or integrity of some author, etc. Discursive notes can be as important as the main parts of a citation. Too many people get hung-up on the punctuation and assume a citation is formulaic. I seem to recall Mills saying in EE that citations are an art rather than a science, or something to that effect.

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    1. Good ideas. I think there is a definite middle ground.

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  5. Your last paragraphs would have sufficed. The entire goal of citation is to allow later readers to find the original source if so inclined. How you do it is nowhere near as important as doing it at all. Legibility is nice.

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    1. That's certainly a major goal but not the "entire" goal Daniel. As well as plain attribution to some prior work, citations allow the reader to assess the strength of your assertions or reasoning by identifying the nature of source, and including any discursive notes when relevant.

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  6. Silicon Computer Genealogy Group (www.svcgg.org) has a booklet available called "Family History Documentation Guidelines" Even though published about 10 yrs ago, it has good information and Source Examples. For what it's worth.

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  7. Even doing as little as who you got something from and perhaps a weblink can help in doing citations. There's no right or wrong format unless you're publishing in some journal - and then, your genealogy software will do citation formatting for you and if you're writing in Microsoft Word or other such programs, there are built in citation formatting systems - you just fill in the blanks.

    A lot of the newer photos in my genealogy have "Photo taken by John Smith on his Facebook stream: [link]" so that I can keep track of where I got the file and can send someone else to find it if they need to.

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  8. When I restarted doing genealogy five years ago I purchased The Master Genealogist to record my findings. With it you can record almost anything you want. I decided to record citations “right.” No easy task, because I could not find right in blogs, books, or examples. However along the way I think I picked up some general guidelines and with that decided on my own version of “right:” (1) Present enough information that someone else can find the same genealogical fact. (2) Be consistent in the presentations.

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  9. James,thanks for your common sense approach.

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  10. James, this is a great and thought-provoking post. As a genealogy speaker, I have encountered people in all stages of research - from the very young to the very old. If I were to insist on a certain style with 10-12 year-olds, they may throw up their hands and quit, thinking it was just homework. Some teenagers may feel the same way. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those that are advanced in age may not want to mess with it either. Some of their information comes from "a bible record that is in possession of ___", or from their own recollections. I encourage them to write down where they got the information from so that it doesn't appear as just something they dreamed up or is legendary. We get as focused as we can. But, to insist that their information follows the proper genealogical citation guidelines might be more than they are willing to handle, or are able to handle.

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