Back in April 2009, I created a video that showed my dream for how citing online sources should be done (see blog post). It would be a partnership between online record repositories and desktop genealogy software. I created a prototype close enough to the real thing to prove that it could be done and to help others visualize how it would work. I even created a survey to get feedback from others.
Over 300 people responded to the survey and at the end of the trial period I sent a copy of the results to all participants that provided an e-mail. I planned on blogging about the results but got discouraged at the time.
Two events have happened this week to get me thinking about this again. The first was a comment on my blog by Bruce. He has a website for his personal family history and wanted to know how to go about setting up the site to do citations like the video demonstrated. It saddened me to tell him that it is not possible to do this yet without cooperation from the desktop genealogy software vendors. The second was a direct message via Twitter from fellow genealogy software innovator, Dean. He contacted me to say that my blog was mentioned in a discussion today at RootsTech on how to handle sources.
Maybe it is time for me to publish the survey results from 2 years ago.
What type of people responded to the survey? People like you and me. The majority are non-professional researches (plain Jane/Joe family historians) many of whom belong to local genealogy societies. Some have visited courthouses, the National Archives, or the Family History Library, but almost all had done research on the internet in the last week. They used sites like Ancestry, Footnote, and FamilySearch and desktop software like RootsMagic, Legacy, Family Tree Maker, and PAF. Over 99% thought citing sources was important but 75% thought it was difficult to do it. Over 90% thought that there should be one standard citation guide and 57% were using “Evidence Explained.” When asked if they were interested in the solution provided in the video, 93% said they were interested.
There are more details and nuggets in the survey results.
Maybe we can explore them more in future posts.
Phoenix, AZ – April 20, 2009. Every genealogist and family historian from beginner to professional will at some time confront the issue of source citations. Although great advances have been made in recent years to standardize and simplify citations, it is still too difficult. Today on ThinkGenealogy.com a video was released that proposes a better way to cite online sources.
This 7.5 minute video consists of two sections. The first section discusses some of the current issues with citing sources especially when it comes to online sources. The second section demonstrates an approach to quickly and accurately cite online sources. The technology needed to accomplish this exists today. The changes proposed by this video requires collaboration between various providers of genealogy software and services.
As a genealogy community, we have at times united to get our voices heard in such areas as records preservation & access, NARA fees, and other topics of key concern. You are invited to watch the video, provide feedback, and learn how we can work together to make citing online sources approachable to all researchers.
ThinkGenealogy.com is a blog created in July 2007 to discuss ideas and innovation in genealogy and genealogy software. It was recently recognized by ProGenealogists, Inc. as one of the 25 Most Popular Genealogy Blogs for 2009. To learn more, visit: www.ThinkGenealogy.com
Most have heard some variation of the question:
“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
There are various view points as to why the answer could be “yes” or why it could be “no”. One I find interesting is that the tree falling makes a vibration, but it doesn’t become a sound until some creature is close enough to translate those vibrations into sound.
I have been thinking a lot lately about sources — specifically those used in genealogy to help identity our ancestors and further our research. Let me see if I can process the recent comments on this blog and the APG list and correlate it with my past thinking.
A source is a thing. So it must have a creator (or recorder).
A source contains information. So it must have an informant.
Very often the creator and informant are two different people.
This next award is long overdue. The second winner of the ThinkGenealogy Innovator award is Legacy Family Tree version 7. When the innovator award is presented for software innovation, it is for a specific feature. The innovative feature that is being recognized today is Legacy 7′s source citation templates following Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.
Previous versions of Legacy allowed for source citations, but not anywhere near this level. So this improved citaion feature can be considered an incremental innovation. Evidence Explained (or EE ) is 885 pages and contains around a thousand citation models for U.S. and international documents. Just reading the book is an accomplishment in itself but then translating that into software? Amazing!
The winner of the first ThinkGenealogy Innovator award is Elizabeth Shown Mills and her book, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.
Ten years passed between the publication of Evidence Explained and its predecessor, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian. Even with the passing of a decade, I consider Evidence Explained an incremental innovation that has caused some beneficial side effects.
Whereas Evidence! simply gave citation examples for primary, subsequent, and bibliographic entries, Evidence Explained gives citation examples, explanation of record types, and QuickCheck Models:
In a continuing effort to have the best user experience possible, Footnote is making visits to a few homes in Arizona cities this week. I heard about this back in early February from Dick Eastman’s newsletter and decided to volunteer. Today I received a visit from Dick and members of the Footnote team. The group had representatives from software development, design, management, business, and marketing. The visit lasted a little over an hour and I enjoyed the chance to participate and provide my feedback. Everyone was very nice and interested in my opinions. I had only used the Footnote site a few times before the visit, but I was able to navigate around and uncover most of its features. The group asked me questions and let me think out loud as I used the site.
One point that I brought up in today’s visit that is an issue with not just Footnote, but also FamilySearch, Ancestry, World Vital Records, and other online database/document sites is that there is a lack of consistency with source citations. For example, the same census document could have different citations on different sites and none of the citations follow the format in either of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ works: Evidence! or Evidence Explained. When I download an image from one of these sites, I should get automatic source citation in my desktop genealogy application as well as additional details such as source provenance. It should be very easy. To modify a phrase from an action movie: “With great source repositories, comes great responsibility.”
It is very encouraging to see companies like Footnote take an interest in what its members and potential members care about. I was impressed by the Footnote team and site and get the feeling that the innovation hasn’t stopped yet.
As an added bonus, I got to meet Dick Eastman. Overall, what a great experience!