Please do not edit out inline citations! <ref>...</ref>

+120 votes

Sources are critical to genealogy, and providing sources is an obligation in our Honor Code.  

Our Help page on Sourcing reminds us that "As you become more experienced and start to collaborate with other WikiTreers you will need to learn how to create references, i.e. footnotes, endnotes, or citations. After stating a fact for which you have a source, surround the reference with these tags: <ref> ... </ref>"  

Using inline citations helps the reader know which fact came from which source.  My impression is that inline citations are optional for post-1700 profiles, preferred for pre-1700 profiles, and really becoming mandatory for pre-1500 profiles;  the older a profile is, the more complicated it is to find facts for it, and the more important it is to know exactly which facts came from where.

An offline discussion among several of us revealed that many of us have had the experience of well-intentioned WikiTree members stripping out the <ref> ... </ref> that marks an inline citation, perhaps because they didn't know what they were, or thought perhaps they were GEDCOM garbage.  They are not garbage!  They are a vital part of documenting profiles!

Recently I had the experience of a surely well-intentioned person wasting four hours of their time carefully removing in-line citations from a profile and replacing them with a list of sources at the bottom.  Knowing how carefully this had been done, and how much time the Changes tab showed had been expended, I felt horrible having to Restore the profile to what it had been before the work started -- but the profile needed its inline citations to show which facts came from where.

So I enter my plea -- if you don't understand <ref> or don't like them, that's OK -- but please don't destroy the work that others have done!  Inline citations take some work to put in and are a valuable part of the profile!

in The Tree House by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (385k points)
edited by Robin Lee
Hopefully, you contacted that person that made the change and 'nicely' stated the above.  If not, the person will continue to do that on other profiles and people may not realize that the changes were made.

Thank you for posting.
I added to the title, because if they are editing them out, they probably don't know that they are in-line citations....
I  wish the inline citations would show up at the bottom in edit mode once they are entered. Imagine editing  a research paper with your footnotes (bodynotes?) right in the middle of the page.
I believe I may have encountered that same member who Jack found going to great lengths to remove inline citations. The member I encountered knew exactly what they were doing, and they did it because they do not like the appearance of text that has footnote callouts -- footnotes get in the way of telling a pretty story. But all too many of those pretty stories are mythology. The stories that good genealogists assemble often are not pretty -- they contain inconvenient uncertainties and inconsistencies. We absolutely need footnotes to indicate where the details in a story came from.

I have had some stiff offline discussions with someone that clearly dislikes the inline citations. Some folks really feel passionate about them.

From a referencing perspective it is actually incorrect to "only list sources at the end". Sources hardly every cover the full biography. They usually only refer to a few facts and as such should be linked to those (if you follow scientific writing guidelines, see eg this rather gentle paper) If you want to add 'further reading' or See also links, those can go at the bottom as they do not relate to a specific fact.

@ Ron - Hi, I'm not sure if you know already, but if you click on Turn on Enhanced Editor when editing a profile it highlights the citations, so it makes it a bit easier to tell citation from biography text.

Also really handy to ensure all your <ref> and </refs> are lined up correctly.
I have had the same happen, agree with everyone that has posted.  One additional thing that a person or two has also done on a few profiles, has been to go through a few profiles and add their "Ancestry" source as inline cites, it was almost as if they just put it right before or after my cites.  And when you click on their Ancestry link ... yea, you got it no sources listed, just one or two personal family trees.  I pointed out to them to look under help, and advanced editing, but also pointed out that Ancestry by itself ... is not a source.  As for the person that told me they did not like reading all that inline cites, I just told them not to click on edit mode, just read it like shows when you first click on the profile.

10 Answers

+11 votes
Best answer
I fully agree with the comments about not changing a profile's prefered layout. I like a neat time line in date order, unless I have any other details rather than a few census returns and a BMD. Then and only then it's story time. But there is a whole gamut of the "Story" type profiles that range from masterpieces to truly awful.

The John (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(8)(9)(10)(11) Smith (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(8)(9)(10)(11)(12)(13)(14) lived at London (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(8)(9)(10) before he moved to Bristol etc etc are the really awful ones.

Totally unreadable and unnecessary especially as it is gleaned from splitting a couple of census returns into their component parts. It really is important to give clarity.

 As long as I dont have to waste ages searching for information buried deep in irrelevances everything is fine with me.
by Chris Hoult G2G6 Mach 2 (22.3k points)
selected by Cindy Van Dam

The only profiles I have found with that multiple numbers for each fact are usually the result of a Gedcom import as most stand alone genealogical programs seem to attach each source to any fact. An example of the is which I found on Suggestion 867 Too many Inline Citations. It is the result of a Gedcom import in 2014 and been basically left alone since then. Very unreadable and is actually effectively unsourced as the only sources are actual Ancestry Public Trees. 

My point is that sometimes those terrible looking Inline references style profiles are not the result of deliberate design and sometimes the result of generated profiles. 

So that multi numbered every fact style profiles could quite easily be cleaned up so the actual source is lined up with only the needed facts and not for stuff that isn't needed. That would still keep the profile in the same style but clean it up a lot. What happened to the question asker (and others) sounds like a disregard of their preferred style that they have taken responsibility for looking after.

I am beta testing an app to help with this type of problem and will see what it does with this if it doesn't get edited by someone else first.

That profile is an interesting test case for my WikiTree AGC extension. I have made a local copy of the data for my regression tests. I should be get it to remove a lot more of the duplicate facts and sources.

Though as Darren says, there is a limited amount of improvement that can be done automatically when there are no real sources.

Good heavens, Darren!! How long did you have to look to find that perfect HORRIBLY sourced profile to use as an example! I am duly impressed!!
Hi Carole it didn't take long at all. I clicked onto the suggestion tables, clicked on the 867 too many online citations open suggestion, found an orphan profile then checked the start info to check it was a Gedcom import profile.

I have done quite a few of that suggestion and it seems to have been a feature of Gedcom imports that generate multiple numbers for each fact. I find when working these profiles that a search of the generated Span code helps identify where the source is repeated and identify which individual citations are excess and which need to stay.
It's totally amazing. 131 citations and yet it's basically unsourced. The machine-generated references look like a Cartesian product.
The original import that this profile arrived with has at least another 50 similar examples lurking in the suggestions list, that I have found so far. I think most are orphaned. The profile manager was active in 2019 but is taking a sabatical. We all get very busy I had to let go for a while.. Do you want access to the list Hilary  :-)  or do I guess you already know how to get there?  I think this would be an ideal testing gound for your app.
+43 votes
Thanks for the reminder Jack.  I've come across this twice in the last 3 months and in one case the person didn't understand what they were and in the other case, the person didn't like them.  I'd recommend to everyone that if you see anyone stripping out the <ref> tags from a profile, refer them back Jack's post here.
by SJ Baty G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
+33 votes
An important request. Luckily restore is a very useful function but only if the changes are noted.  If the history of the member involved  shows that this is not a one off incident then I think you should look to involve a mentor.
by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (390k points)
+9 votes
Generally I do not do that.  But I had someone go in and add incorrect inline citations to profiles I manage.  I took those out because they were not correct as to where the information came from.  And one actually would have changed the meaning of the information.  

Just saying there could be another side to why this is done.

I added a note that all of the information came from the primary source and listed it.  

 In line sources are not useful in all profiles.  Some are better because of all of the disagreeing sources to have sources listed with their respective arguments.  

I have not removed any in quite sometime but sometimes removal is not a mistake.  It is the PM's desire.  

I use them when and where they make sense.  Not on a profile with a single source.  That makes no sense.
by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (711k points)
But in this case the person is removing them from several profiles, that the profile managers have chosen to format the biographies, using inline sources.  Choosing to not use them in a profile that you are manger of is fine, but we should let others use  their preferred sourcing style in the profiles they manage, and not remove the persons work.

"I have not removed any in quite sometime but sometimes removal is not a mistake.  It is the PM's desire.  "

And yet, Profile Managers do not own any profile. Rather than having to guess which facts are born out by sources (or read through the whole source to figure it out), in-line citations explicitly show which facts come from which sources. 

Incorrect information is another thing, correcting to show correct information from correct sources makes sense. (and then might be added to Research Notes)

I agree, inline citations should not be added or removed but source changes should match the style of the profile.  

Since the original post was not as much a question as it was a request to use a style I wanted to get clarification that it goes both ways.  

I have also seen a few that had a confusing mixture of both inline and prose styles.  Those in my opinion should use what will make the information clearer.  Which is a subjective view.  

Yes, someone who is taking them out for no good stated reason needs to be made aware of what they are and how the work.
Jonathan I agree no one owns the profile but generally we are asked to follow the PM's lead as to style and not to substantially change a profile without first contacting the PM.  I am not in a place I can look up those policy statements but if you need me to I can find them. .
Laura, you make a good point, but what if someone wants to add information from a different source? How is that person supposed to indicate what source their information came from? Using only one source and stating that all of the info on that profile comes from that one source effectively prevents others from adding to that profile without messing it up.
Hi Edie that is a good question.   I am thinking of some specific profiles I manage that are for people who lived 4 to 6 centuries ago.   We have been looking for more sources for centuries.   We in this case encompasses local historians,  later family members and current members of an international organization based in France of which I am an elected official.   If someone found a bona fide additional resource we would be thrilled.   In that case the person adding a source would be perfectly in the right to change that note to read The following data fields are supported by this source and list what was originally filled in.   Or if the source supports something the first source also supports a note could simply be added that says this source also supports and name the field.   Since no additional sources have yet been found my fear would be is it real?  It could be or it might be a secondary source that  actually references the source already cited.  

If someone wants to use inline citations in this situation they wiuld need to first direct everything already on the profile to the listed comprehensive source.  Then add the new one.   I personally would welcome finding such a new source.

Great question!
+19 votes
Thanks to everyone who has weighed in on this!  I did not intend to object to removing superfluous citations. (and of course it's often a judgment call as to what is superfluous!)  But if a birth date has multiple citations including a parish record, a published genealogy, and several links to personal genealogies, the personal genealogy citations certainly can go.  But as with everything about collaboration, making minor additions to a profile is a "just do it" thing, but the desire to make significant subtractions should trigger some kind of contact with the profile manager(s).  If I plan major changes, I usually ask to be on the trusted list, which is a way of saying, "please put me on the team for this profile."  A few times in the last 5 years the answer has been "no", in which case I am alerted that the profile requires extra sensitivity, and proceed accordingly!
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (385k points)
And Jack you have my permission to work on any of mine because I trust your judgement.  You know that.  But I don't give that out lightly!  You earned it by how you handle these things and I truly appreciate what you do.  

Just wanted to clarify that because I am a fan of Jack.
+4 votes
This is a question not an answer to those who prefer inline references. Why if you have a primary reference would you use more inline refs,?  

Example- If you have one or 2  primary birth reference that shows correct information, Why would you use a lot of inline references to census etc, that show varied information not always correct for birth or birth place. For me it makes it more difficult to see if the information is from a reliable source . (not a fan of inline refs as i find  often too many refs to unreliable conflicting info instead of just to the reliable sources. "Over sourcing to conflicting information is of no benefit when you have a source")

I can see why some prefer them, when there is no primary sources, they can be useful to show different possibilities or your conclusion.
by Jean Skar G2G6 Mach 1 (16.8k points)
I would want one reference for birth date, possibly two, no more, and these would be the best references I could find -- primary birth record, etc.  

Since a census record gives you a glimpse of what the person's life and family were like at a particular time, I generally put the census information under a separate heading for that year in the person's life -- where he/she was, what their occupation was, where they were living -- and most importantly, what their family composition was at that point.  That's where I would put the citation for the census data.

Of course, if I could find no primary record for age or birth year, and calculated it from the census, I would put a citation to the census after the birth information as well!
Jean I sometimes add some that are in conflict, usually put that part into a research notes section

A lot of profiles are far from complete - works in progress, so you have to look at what you have and hope to find more later to solidify the facts
As was stated above, many profiles that have 10 citations for each 'fact' has come from a Gedcom, but you can also find half a dozen 'different' sources on family search for a marriage.  Some might have different spellings, different dates (marriage intention vs actual marriage date), different locations (spouse lived in different areas, so both are sourced), some have one or both parents of each person, different spellings of one or both names, etc.   Those are all valid, to me, because if you only put one or two, and those disappear, you could have nothing, but when they have different information, it is important to have them.  

I have seen multiple birth sources for similar reasons because some may have no parents, one parent, or both parents.

Personally, I don't put census as a source for birth, other than the 1900 census since it has month and year of birth and that would only be when there is no existing primary birth source.  That census also has approximate date of marriage, so if no source exists for marriage, it is a source.
+7 votes
I just found an example of this, and when I looked at the person's contributions, it appears that is all they have been doing the past few weeks.
by Ron Rowland G2G6 Mach 1 (16.5k points)
edited by Ron Rowland
They may be thinking they're making an improvement, but if what they are doing is deleting all the inline citations, that is vandalism.
If it is happening on multiple profiles, someone should create a Mentor Intervention, giving examples of the profiles that have been changed.

I'd recommend for folks to follow the problem with members protocols.  You might find a solution that is lesser than an MIR.  I'd recommend to reach out to the other member first and supply them a link to the specific help page.  If after that, if they don't reply, they disagree, or they reply in anger, then an MIR may be warranted.

+7 votes
I'm all for directly supporting individual facts with an inline cite. It shows the reasoning with a click, but is not distracting to the reading if that's what you are doing. They serve their purpose.

However, links in the body of a biography - actually a form of inline citation - as well as good old text, also serve their purpose. If I am introducing or discussing the implication of various facts in the text of the biography, and to my knowledge there is nothing wrong with that, and then drop a link directly below that discussion to freely available online sources, I don't see what the violation of WT policy is. Yet someone recently went through a profile I was working on that very day (that I am still working on) a profile no one had paid attention to (literally - no one had touched it until I made a connection two days ago) in the 9 years it had been on WT, with no notice before or after, and took out narrative and links and put them in a footnote. Did not make the profile more understandable. Not collaborative.
by Ellen Curnes G2G6 Mach 7 (79.4k points)
edited by Ellen Curnes
+6 votes
In all it would be nice to notify the profile managers before removing anything especially people. Or at least post a comment or message on the profile explaining their objection or why it needs correction.
by Betty Kennedy G2G5 (5.9k points)
I agree!
+4 votes
To many people look at the profile in Edit mode, where the inline references can be distracting and intimidating. Fortunately the WT Wizards gave us the enhanced editor that highlights the refs and lets you read the text....

However there are also people who put EVERY reference on every fact, for example they will put the birth information in, then EVERY reference to that person's birth, census years, marriage refs, death certificates, you name it. I've had people I've seen with 10 or 15 footnotes after their birth line. It gets worse when all of them are Ancestry links that go nowhere.

From time to time, I will replace an inline ref with a better source, (for example: a link to the actual census page online instead of some interpretation of a page.)

I also try to follow the lead of the Profile Manager - it they don't seem to like inline refs, so be it... If I am the manager, I footnote anything and everything where I can find a valid source, even if it is sometimes derivative. When you are dealing with New England in the 1700's, you take what you can get. sometimes.

by Roy Lamberton G2G6 Mach 5 (54.4k points)

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