RootsMagic 4 Citation Quality Gotcha #1

Tuesday, 7 Jul 2009 | by Mark Tucker

I applaud the work the RootsMagic team has done to bring professional-quality research practices to the most recent version of RootsMagic. The work that they (and others) are doing is truly innovative. Just the other day, I awarded RootsMagic 4 an Innovator award for the implementation of research analysis around their citation quality feature.

I strongly encourage users of RootsMagic to use this feature, but in its current implementation there are a few gotchas and workarounds that need to be followed.

The Genealogical Proof Standard & Evidence Explained define research analysis classifications for a source, information, and evidence. A source is an object (or person) that contains (or has) information. A source can be classified as original or derivative. An original source is in its first oral or recorded form. Everything else that comes from an original (or another derivative) is a derivative. For example, a book is an original. Let’s say that it is a census enumerator’s book that he carried from house to house to take the census. Now let’s say that book is microfilmed and stored at an archive. The microfilm copy is a derivative. The digitization of the microfilm is a second generation derivative of the original. Without getting into the special cases of image copies, duplicate originals, and record copies, it is relatively easy to start uncovering the provenance or ancestry of the source you are using for your research back to the original source. The classification of a source as original or derivative helps to answer the question “Is there a better source?” and helps in your analysis as original sources usually carry more weight than derivative.

In RootsMagic 4 on the Edit Source screen, you see both the Master Source and Source Details sections.  The information in the Master Source section is independent of the details recorded when a specific source is cited for a person, family, or fact. 

RootsMagic 4 Edit Source screen

When you click on the Quality button you see the three categories for sources, information, and evidence with their possible values:

RootsMagic 4 Citation Quality

Mapping this screen to the previous, the Source category refers to the Master Source section and the Information category refers to the Source Details section.  I’ll discuss the Evidence category in another gotcha.  What this is saying is that a source is original or derivative independent of the information that it contains.  The book, A History of Emery County, is an original source written by Edward A. Geary and it remains an original regardless of the degree of knowledge (firsthand or secondhand) of the informant that provided the information contained on page 179 or any other page. I can understand putting all three categories on the same screen to simplify things for the genealogists using the software.

In the current implementation in RootsMagic 4 (version the problem is that all three categories are associated with the Source Details section.  This is a problem because this source appears in the Master Source List and can be used to cite multiple sources:

RootsMagic 4 - Master Source List

What that means is that if you set the Source as Original for the first citation, it will not be reflected in subsequent citations.  Creating a second citation from that same Master Source List entry will default the Source to “Don’t know” and it must be set independently.  Let’s suppose you have 10 citations (different Source Details) for a single Master Source List entry.  You could have 5 set to Original, 3 to Derivative and 2 to Don’t know.  And if you change the value for one citation it is not reflected in the others.  Worst case, this is confusing plus requires extra work to make sure all of the sources are consistent.

The current work around is to add a Master Source Comment indicating that this source is original or derivative and then each time you cite this existing source, check the comment before setting the quality classification for Source.

It is my hope that in a future release, there will be a way to set the source as original or derivative from the Edit Source screen off the Master Source List:

RootsMagic 4- Edit Master Source

Then when that source is cited again the Quality screen would default the Source to that same value.  The Source in the Quality screen could be read-only or if editable any changes would be reflected in all citations derived from that same master source.

I hope this constructive criticism is taken how it is intended: to make an important feature the best that it can be.


  1. Hi Mark:
    If you “think” of sources in context, believe you’ll regard RootsMagic’s application differently.
    If a census transcription is used as a source for numerous citations, that entire source (for all of its ciations) can be considered a “derivative”; however, many sources, including some of our most treasured sources, are not so “pure.” For example, Aunt Nellie’s 1877 bible, into which she made what appear timely entries for her marriage and the births of all her children, their marriages, her spouse’s death, etc., but she also recorded the dates of her parents’ births? In that case, I hope you would agree, that the various RM “quality” ratings could only be applied at the citation level.
    In this digital age, a cemetery compilation can be developed from a mix of tombstone photographs, cemetery office records, annotated cemetery maps, obituaries, etc.–so that, again, various ratings seem only accurate at the citation level.
    I’m one of those who opts out of separate source and/or citation quality categorization. While there are other reasons why I opt out, rather than create categories about the source that are only available from the project file, I’d prefer family historians comment “in” the source or citation record, as appropriate. The benefit of including an evaluative notation “in” the source or citation is that correspondence to others then incorporates the evaluation about the source item (in the footnotes/endnotes and or source list, as appropriate).
    Some programs allow you to use “categorizations” to filter the sources/footnotes/endnotes–if those categorizations are applied at the source (rather than citation) level, the program would filter out what might otherwise be important evidence, right? –GJ

    Comment by GeneJ — 8 Jul 2009 @ 6:12 am

  2. [...] gotcha #1 we looked at the issue of having the Source quality associated with the Source Details instead of [...]

    Pingback by RootsMagic 4 Citation Quality Gotcha #2 | ThinkGenealogy — 8 Jul 2009 @ 10:03 am

  3. Thanks for this discussion! I’ve “copied” it for studying. I was somewhat stunned by the amount of source work (reformatting, etc) that I had to complete after upgrade from RM3 to RM4.


    Comment by Jack — 15 Mar 2010 @ 8:33 am

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