Good and bad citations

+12 votes
749 views

Some key points: In-line sourcing does not mean only footnotes, and Wikitree footnotes are often very badly done. In many cases, Wikitree editors should be using quite different citation styles. Think about the AIMS of this project, and consider which style is best. Don't be too quick to assume an unfamiliar style is against some rule.

Background: the concern. 

1. Many editors on Wikitree seem to misunderstand what is normally meant by the term "inline citation". This causes problems.

2. More generally, practical problems arise on Wikitree from the big range of conflicting ideas about what is allowed/not and what is good/bad in sourcing. 

3. This can become particularly problematic in articles which require a bit of explanation about one or more of the facts, for example about why an old/common idea should now be considered wrong. But many profiles should have such explanations, because as genealogists we all know that misunderstandings spread around the internet. The only way to stop them being reinserted is to make the reasoning clear. 

In fact, one of the reasons I work on Wikitree is that many editors here are making a worthy effort to add such explanations to profiles, and stop the viral cycle. But problems with these misunderstandings about sourcing rules constantly seem to get in the way. Hence this post.

I will therefore explain my understanding, based partly on how sourcing is judged outside of Wikitree, in order to fill in the gaps and give some perspective. (Good genealogy and good sourcing can not be something different on Wikitree.)

First, "inline citations" does not mean "footnotes". It means citations within the body of the text. Examples:

*Using footnotes: The father of Anselm was Walram of Berk.[footnote(s)] Publications from before 1950 often say his father was Walram of Brik.[footnote(s)] However in 1950 Prof Taylor demonstrated that a Royal charter of 1180 names Anselm's father clearly, and makes it clear that Walram of Brik was his cousin.[footnote(s)]

*Using parentheses and abbreviations: As noted by recent scholars such as Smith (in his "Knights" book, p.110) the father of Anselm was Walram of Berk. Publications from before Prof Taylor's 1950 "Barons" article, such as Complete Peerage (Vol. 10, p.300) often say his father was Walram of Brik. However in 1950 Taylor (p.135) demonstrated that a Lewes priory charter of 1180 (Salzman ed. nr 11) names Anselm's father clearly, and makes it clear that Walram of Brik was his cousin.

Obviously in the first style, there is potentially a lot of complexity being moved to the footnotes. Sometimes that makes sense. And in the second type of inline sourcing, although you keep the complexity mainly in the body, you at least need longer explanations somewhere about what "Knights", "Barons" and "Complete Peerage" are. There are many ways to do both these things. Many publications even create standard lists of short names for frequently used sources that apply to many books and journals in the same way. 

This should be easy. Compared to the old book publishers, it is easier for us to be neat because we can also use wikilinks.

You can hopefully see why the second type of inline sourcing, which moves some information about sources into the main text, can sometimes be preferable, if the differences between past scholars are actually part of what we need/want to explain to readers and fellow editors, thus allowing them to follow properly. 

The first type is of course fine when you have a simple sequence of statements which each need only one source each. But it quickly becomes clumsy when each statement requires a comparison of several sources to back it up, meaning that the footnotes can become bigger than the body text, and sometimes unreadable.

Bad example of how to handle such a case, as all too often found on Wikitree:

*The father of Anselm was Walram of Berk.[footnote] Alternatively it was Walram of Brik.[footnote] Alternatively the two Walrams were the same person.[footnote]

Hopefully it is obviously NOT good to try to explain a simple little story about the history of the topic in this even more simple way. Furthermore the above type of bad example generally hides very poor sources amassed in the footnotes, such as Wikipedia articles, an old Rootsweb pages, or non-scholarly books like Burkes. (Or, I often see footnotes which encompass a series of citations: Burkes as cited by Wikipedia as cited on someone's Geni page or whatever.)

So secondly, how can you judge if a style is good/bad in each case? It is normally judged according to at least 3 criteria, which are honestly not difficult to understand and use:

*Readability for as many types of readers as practical must be a major priority. Length and repetition. One very obvious (outside of Wikitree at least) aspect of this is that texts (both inline, and within footnotes) should not be longer than needed, and certainly should not contain blocks of texts which are repeated over and over again for no good reason. For example, creating a 100 word citation for a book, and then repeating it 20 times in order to cite different combinations of pages, is not good, and such formats are never used in publications.

*Transparency and "verifiability" is another major priority. This means that fellow editors will be able to understand what the original sources really said, preferably even what the primary records said. And if necessary, others should easily be able to go check them for themselves.

*An easily editable format is important for online collaborations such as Wikitree, because all our work should be possible to improve as easily as possible. This means very intricate sourcing formats which "break" when they are adjusted, are not good.

Too often on Wiktree the experienced editors (perhaps especially the experienced editors because they become insensitive to it) do not seem to think in terms of these 3 simple goals. In fact I have had discussions which confirm that some very experienced editors are quite comfortable to say these are NOT goals or priorities they want to follow. 

Hopefully there are not too many people who think that way?

in Policy and Style by Andrew Lancaster G2G6 Pilot (107k points)
edited by Andrew Lancaster
I am finding this a bit hard to follow. Can you give a synopsis of what you are trying to say (or ask)?
Yeah, it is just a long synopsis :)

I will try to add something at the top.
Andrew I am filled with great admiration for the advanced training of historical geneologists in general and I'm filled with awe for those of you who have the training/ability to condense facts after navigating through differences in language, writing, country context, legal rules and narrative style (to name some) in the pursuit of profile development. How many of you manage to accomplish that feat (as evidenced by the profiles themselves) seems like sheer wizardry to me.  :-)

Re: Post 1600 profiles and your 3 style criteria

I have a simple rule of thumb (I apologize for this odd expression which may be outmoded ) that helps me when diving into a complex set of facts to digest and formulate into a narrative: brevity, precision and accuracy. BPA for short. Those rules help me edit a sentence into a finalized readable style which (hopefully) better communicates what I'm trying to say.  Writing a (non-fictional) narrative isn't simple but it can be made to look so upon completion (versus, say, a 'high Victorian style which produces a sentence you have to read several times in order to remember all the individual moving parts).

As a side note: I personally always enjoy 'hearing' from you in G2G.

Leigh Anne, sounds good to me. 2 points:

  • I am not sure what the difference is between precision and accuracy in your rule?
  • I think a difference with concerns I wanted to express is that within your rule of thumb there is nothing about making sure your work makes it easy for future editors to cross check and improve. Of course if your profiles are short and accurate then they'll probably also be easy to check anyway, but I do think there is an extra target to consider there which is specific to this being an online community trying to do something a little ambitious. 

Like many online things, with our big anonymous community, we need to "trust but verify" as the saying goes, but also we all need to be easy to "trust and verify". Let's face it, genealogy has always involved a certain amount of fraud, and internet communities always involve a certain amount of fraud too. So we need to make our real sourcing "transparent" as well as short and clear, so that we can maintain trust between each other, and with anyone who wants to use wikitree. Too often I see massive footnotes which actually hide where the ideas really came from.

Thank you Andrew.
The typical distinction: say someone was born on 1 August 1802. If a gravestone says they were born on 12 February 1810, that is precise, but not accurate. If it says they were born in 1802, that is accurate, but not precise (although more precise than “around 1800”, which for a long-lived person could still be viewed as accurate.)
Thanks Barry. My brain must not have been working. That makes sense.

11 Answers

+10 votes
 
Best answer

This is a wiki and we must accommodate for the more computer illiterate members as well. There is no need to make things so complicated only a few gurus are able to use the site. Even the basic inline citations WikiTree recommends may be too much for some members. There is also no need to explain differences in sources inside the body of the text. we can use the research notes section for that. Below is an example of a profile I sourced today. i usually leave the biography to the PM as I am not very good at them. The list of sources at the bottom follows his life chronologically through his life. I left the sources already on the profile when I began last in the list.

https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Holmudd-6

by Juha Soini G2G6 Pilot (101k points)
selected by Robin Lee

I am not proposing more complexity in the mark-up. Quite the opposite. 

Coming to your remark about not explaining the differences between sources, except in a separate "research notes" section, I strongly disagree. 

Keep in mind I am not against research sections, but the basic definitions about who a profile is about, need to be made clear early. This can't always avoid mentioning the scholarly discussions. For many profiles, the newest scholarly theory is relatively unknown and editors will  "correct" it if there is not a very clear note at the top that at least gets the basics on the table.

For profiles before about 1200, I guess 90% of profiles are like this, and for most people there are almost no certain facts.

From what I've seen, attempts to follow the approach you describe in that period tend to lead to cases like the example I made in the original post:

The father of Anselm was Walram of Berk.[footnote] Alternatively it was Walram of Brik.[footnote] Alternatively the two Walrams were the same person.[footnote]

That is totally useless as far as I can see. And yes we have such things, and they are not just ugly and meaningless but they lead to real problems such as all parents being disconnected (because such a text hides the fact that one idea is the old one, and the other is the new one).

But from your remark I think you can't have much experience writing profiles? Probably you are also not thinking about pre-1500.

There is of course the opportunity to use the Research Notes before the actual biography.

Harald Blåtand "Bluetooth" Gormsen

I've been told we're not supposed to do that, but on the other hand how would this solve any problem? Which problems would it solve to simply change the order of the two sections? (Actually I think the Research notes are supposed to be a sub-section?)

Concerning the issue being discussed here though, please keep in mind that some Wikitree editors would say that not only is the sequence change not allowed, but also that basically all of what is in the example article you show should be in Research notes, because it is a detailed "scholarly" discussion of uncertain things. (I disagree with that interpretation of our rules, at least for profiles from early periods, or any article where all the facts need some context to be explained with them.)

There is a kind of basic question which this in turn raises, which is why our main sections are supposed to be called "Biography". But this has been raised many times.

In many medieval articles I would say that if we have to move everything uncertain to a "Research section", then the whole article should be labelled as a Research section, because any Biography based on simple facts without context is generally going to be a waste of space, or even very misleading, purely there as a formality.

You write articles on encyclopedia type sites like Wikipedia, but biographies on genealogy sites like WikiTree. They are just different concepts. Wikipedia does not allow primary sources where WikiTree endorses them. Wikipedia is for the nerdy and/or scholarly inclined contributors where WikiTree is primarily for common users who are interested in their roots. That is why we need to keep it as simple as possible.

You can read for yourself in Help:Biographies that the Biography is basically information about the person's life (where you can put "he said/she claims" -type remarks). Research notes are about genealogical research. The Research Notes heading is recommended to be under the Biography heading, but not a sub-heading. Recommendations are just guidance and if you really need to explain how you have come to a certain conclusion before the reader gets to the biography, then by all means, put the Research Notes heading first. It is after all a part of the total biography section.

Research notes are much needed when there are genealogies that have been proven wrong floating around the internet.

Hmmm. I think you're not really focused upon anything we were talking about, but here is some food for thought.

1. Biography is an English word in the dictionary. You can't redefine it for Wikitree, or yourself. And if you do, you certainly won't be doing this to help keep it "as simple as possible" for "Common users who are interested in their roots". Whatever Wikitree writes in its rule books is still going to be dominated by the English language.

2. The concept of differences between a biographical style or some other style is clearly not something people find simple to understand at all on Wikitree. People on Wikitree don't tend to write biographies, because they come here for genealogy. When they try to write biographies it is generally terrible. This makes sense because it is not an every day thing "common" people do unless they are, erm, nerdy.

3. Trying to get back to the real examples I am concerned about articles about people who lived 1000 years ago, and which (according to the rules of Wikitree) need to be properly sourced, are clearly not going to be able to be "as simple as possible" unless you want to encourage them to be wrong. Those articles are going to be "nerdy" or else Wikitree should not even be trying to handle them.

4. As you say, we use primary sources whereas Wikipedia uses are not allowed to, because that is too scholarly. So we need to be more nerdy, not less.

LOL, when I think about how other people who I know would read this discussion it is funny. Normally people would say genealogy is a nerdy and even scholarly hobby - even if the scholarly aspect is kind of lower level. laugh

Juha I think I should say something about the original topic because I feel you've misunderstood it.

I am certainly NOT suggesting Wikitree needs more rules, more complexity etc. It is the OPPOSITE. 

I am concerned there is a movement on Wikitree which writes, and tries to enforce, "rules" that demand complex "pseudo-academic" styles that 

(a) are not the real styles academics use, which make more sense, allow more options, and are more logical and driven by goals that academics understand and share

(b) do not work here well, partly because they can make even short articles unreadable, and partly because people are not used to the logic of how to use them.

So I suggest that we need more focus in our community upon what all those rules or guidelines have hopefully been aiming at in the first place, such as:

Clarity, brevity, a simple structure that can be easily edited, footnotes which clearly say where information came from instead of presenting a smokescreen, etc.

The topic of the "rules" that say we have to move some parts of a short article to a Research Section are, in my opinion, a similar problem where the rules are sometimes being taken too seriously, and without common sense. But it is a different topic. 

I am not computer illiterate but wow, if I had read anything like this when I joined WikiTree a year ago, I would have run away in terror. 

There is no need to make things so complicated only a few gurus are able to use the site. Even the basic inline citations WikiTree recommends may be too much for some members."

I have provided sources for every profile I have created and am now doing so for almost 200 adopted profiles, but if there is an expectation that all sources on all profiles will follow this example, it isn't going to happen.

Unfortunately I don't really understand which examples you refer to and what you would prefer, but in any case I think most responses to my original post are missing the point it was making:

Citation formats can and should be adapted to work in the contexts of the articles we work on.

We should be critical and careful, but we should NOT aim to be complicated or to appear "scholarly".

When wikitree editors try to appear scholarly they are doing the opposite of what a good scholar does. We should use some common sense, as scholars also should. This means we should make formats clear, short, easy to understand and use.

M. Ross I looked at some of your editing and I think one point you should work on is making the sources more specific. 

For example, "England Births and Baptisms" is not really a clear description. There must be literally millions of webpages and printed sources with similar titles. I am guessing this reference means you got the information from one of the files on familysearch or ancestry.com? But if I wanted to find it, how would I find it? Please make sure we can all work together and understand where information came from. 

"Say where you got it"

Andrew; I agree with you many of my profiles lack an online citation and I working on that; but "Say where you got it" doesn't always mean providing an online citation, as we all know links to websites whether Family Search, Free BMD and many other websites break. 

If someone wants to check information I have on a profile; it is more important for them to know how to find it. Accurate information on the profile such as date of birth, baptism, marriage, death, residence location plus other information such as occupation and family members, allows another researcher to find the records that support the information provided on the profile. 

If the researcher doubts the accuracy of the information provided on the profile, a better tactic is for them to search for other records for similarly named people in the appropriate time and location. Plus, the online citation link perhaps to a census, only means that the information is assumed to be accurate for the people listed on the census not that the record actually belongs to the person on the profile. 

This allows them to say: You are wrong, you have confused Henry W Smith 1850-1901 with Henry William Smith 1848-1903.  

We all want the information provided by profile managers to be accurate, and to have good sources, providing additional information about the person in a biography and/or research notes helps others verify that the sources/citations do actually belong to the profile. 

I have an academic background but certainly do not want to cite sources the way I did when I was writing my thesis, it is far too complicated. 

I also agree that for pre-1500 profiles sources need to be something other than documents that are for lack of a better description, family histories mostly written many years after the events described took place. 

I'm glad we agree. But I do think that even just naming a parish register would be better than "England Births and Baptisms" . :)

It's all a work in progress!
+7 votes

Thanks for the good and complete description of the differences between footnotes and citations.

I come from a natural science background, in which footnotes are not used (or better said: discouraged). If the author needs to add something for the argument, then just add it. It is called 'discussion' in a standard paper.

Inline citations for me are crucial elements, better called "link to the source" or "reference". They are descriptions of where you got all information from. All means: anything you did not measure or invent yourself. They should be placed as precisely as possible, at the point in the text that is backed up by that source. So there is a massive difference between sources listed in the source list, or inline citations/references to those same sources. There is even a difference between placing the inline reference before or after the final dot at a sentence. I do not know any science journal that allows for a source list without inline citations...

But.... this is WikiTree, based on the idea that we all improve the work of others and be gentle about it. There is the rule that one can even add profiles without any source at all, as long as the profile is younger than 1700... So I learned that it is not my work environment and these perfections are something for the few.

I am sure your post helps in the long term quality improvement of WikiTree.

by Michel Vorenhout G2G6 Pilot (223k points)
+4 votes
Ah! Citation neep!

My initial aversion to inline citations came from its use in print publications, where a single sentence of text could have two or three citations inserted at various points, many of them longer than the sentence. A page could be 90% citations, making the text itself unreadable. (I don't know if this is still being done. I hope not.)

ETA: Reading Michel Vorenhout's answer: apparently it is.
by Lois Tilton G2G6 Pilot (128k points)
edited by Lois Tilton
This can be a problem in some cases somewhere, but in my honest opinion many of Wikitree's editors are currently biased very much in the opposite direction.

Some editors see it as good practice to avoid all inline discussion (discussion in the body) about the differences between secondary sources.

This approach makes it impossible to present any convincing case to readers and future editors, for why old viral mistakes should not be reinserted into Wikitree.

In one recent example I also found that comments by another editor about sources which could be used were deleted as well. I don't know how often that happens but you can see that even the possibility of it happening does not show a high priority being placed on having a transparent paper trail on our articles - but we can't accept that if we want to be than just one of the many websites where the viral genealogy spreads around.
The sources are rendered at the end of the document, not in the footnotes, in the natural sciences/humanities. That is a big difference with the footnote rendered citations/style used often in theses in social sciences. I also dislike the latter (but had to learn to work with it).
Yes but as far I can see there is nothing forbidding us from using a system more similar to the one you mention. For a complex discussion of secondary sources, a general reference list can back-up short form citations which are either footnotes or parenthetical. It is very hard to make a sensible text otherwise in some of these cases.

OTOH, if people really want to use only footnotes, Wikitree still tends to do it in a crazy way: with citations 10 lines long, repeated completely for every different page referenced to. This would NEVER be accepted in any publication in any discipline but it is NORMAL on Wikitree.

Can you give an example for that repetition?

For a simple, non related, example of a natural science publication what I am talking about: https://acp.copernicus.org/articles/20/12211/2020/ with a section 'references' with a nice mix of types of references.

For a chapter from the Humanities with a mix of footnotes and a bibliography: https://www.degruyter.com/downloadpdf/book/9783110440171/10.1515/9783110440171-009.xml

And an example with massive footnotes mixed with references to sources (not per page, but at the end) https://books.google.nl/books?id=5Mgr4pkoCCQC&pg=PA39

It is impossible to say what these texts looked like when they were written by the authors. Each will have used their own tool, most will have used citation software that uses a library (We love DOI), some will have done geeky LaTeX, others will have made footnotes themselves...

When I find this problem, and if I have time to do more than just see it, I try to fix it. I also want to try avoiding posting examples of specific detailed cases which might make it look personal.

On Wikipedia they make it easy to cite old versions of documents so that you can compare different versions, but I think that functionality has been removed on wikitree?
Yeah, you can only see change sets. I understand your point to not link to a page. If you want, you can scroll through "my" profiles and discuss those. Some of the older ones might fit your description of 'ten lines'.
Maybe you have an example to look at?

Well, I can only give you cleaned versus non-cleaned profiles.

Clean(ed): https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Netter-43

Non-cleaned: https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Van_Zwol-19

The non-cleaned does contain a mix of styles and might contain duplicated references. But that is not how I tend/try to keep profiles.

By the way, to be clear,

1. We all sometimes make things which are sometimes imperfect and I am not demanding any kind of perfection. We should do edits which improve articles even in small ways, but this does not mean any edit which makes an article bigger.

2. I am also not demanding one specific new model of footnoting. Quite the opposite.

I am worried about a tendency that people are feeling forced to work in a certain way which makes sourcing worse (in the various ways explained, which are not always appearing in the same combinations).

(And in some cases I think this impression is being spread deliberately and forcefully.)
Thanks for those examples, Michel. Very helpful.  Your first is an excellent example of the kind of thing I find unreadable.  Your second is very nicely readable.
Lois did you perhaps accidentally reverse your comments? I would have said the exact opposite. I'd say the first one (Netter) is now clear, simple and useable.

This does not mean either is perfect, because perfection is not my concern in this thread. But it means it can easily be improved. The other one (Van Zwol) is difficult to help for anyone who did not make it.

(This is a key concern for me, because this is a wiki. Everything we make should be left ready for others to work on when they want to. I don't see that enough of us are training each other to think about this.)

Andrew - different set of examples.  This  https://acp.copernicus.org/articles/20/12211/2020/  is what I find unreadable, what I was describing in my first post here.

OK, I have no problem with it personally and it is hard to avoid it if you are writing for example about genetics or economics. However I would tend to avoid it on a wiki, only because others don't like it.

On the other hand, an older style which is very common in genealogy is the one historians use, where short names are used in parentheses (not years). I think that at least for very commonly used sources, this is used a lot outside wikitree and is not so hard to understand.

Of course that history system requires some common sense, but normally this is possible. For example if you have a work called Book of Fees clearly marked in the bibliography, a parenthesis saying (Fees, p.110) after a quotation is not too hard to work out?

More generally, if there is one book by someone called Sanders in the Bibliography I see no problem writing "According to Sanders (p.46)". I see that as sourced, clear and verifiable. Using more words and complex formatting would not add anything to sourcing itself. But I often get the feeling Wikitree trains people to see this as "too easy".

I guess because it creates no new footnote, then for many people on Wikitree it is not even an "inline citation", and maybe not even "sourcing". But you'll see it in academic journals.

The van Zwol one is the result of a GedCom import; I have not modified the bio in there after the import (I did change the Bold style to headers), nor the citations list.

Lois, I find it interesting you do not like the Copernicus style. It uses the extremely common (author, year) citation style, but lack the links to the actual reference in the list (no idea why). Can you describe in more detail what you do not like about it? Or is the the general small cramped letter type?

Where I come from, you simply listen to the style dictated by the publisher. You have to give the DOIs and the formatted text for sources without DOI. Then they simply do all the formatting. When you have to deliver a style, you select the style with a button in your citation software et voila!

But a Wiki is about freedom, that is what I have read a lot here. So anyone can choose what to use. I feel it is really about sourcing: describing where you got the info from, and putting the citation at the spot in your text that you figured out with that source. Putting them all in the bottom is saying: "Oh, I copied all information from all these sources and they are all the same". But... that is what I tell in courses.
Michel - for me, the text is primary. The citations are there to validate the text, not interrupt and obscure it. As I've said, that format, to me, makes the text unreadable.

Now, as a writer, if a publisher dictates a house style, that's what I use. Here on WikiTree, if I'm a member of a Project that has a preferred style, I use it. But I could definitely conceive of opting out of a Project if it insisted on a style I found unwieldy. I'm not getting paid to do this.
+9 votes
We are using a format that can take advantage of hyperlinks, and as such, the more verbose form of inline citation you suggest is unnecessary and clutters the page, impeding readability.

Quality of sourcing is entirely independent from the way one lists the source for each fact, and poor sources could propogate regardless of which style is used.

This is a style choice, but I would not choose to prescribe a form that adds additional effort for no gain. The use of ref tags resulting in ordered lists of sources works just fine. There is no confusion about which source is used, as the reader can immediately jump to it by hyperlink.
by Jonathan Crawford G2G6 Pilot (105k points)
Yes.  Once I saw how well the inline citations worked with hyperlinks, I was convinced.  It is in particular an improvement for the reader.

A lot of the tension over citations involves the conflict between the convenience of the reader and that of the editor.

As an editor, lots of hyperlinks make my eyes cross and I have to go back frequently to correct errors. As a reader, I appreciate it.

Jonathan, not sure if this would require a longer discussion, but there are clearly a lot of specific habits on Wikitree which do consistently create clutter for no good, and my experience is very clear that this DOES systematically make poor sourcing harder to identify and fix, not only for fellow editors but even more so for genealogists using Wikitree as a trusted source of information (if anyone does that yet).

I actually suspect that sometimes, perhaps often, this correlation between cluttered styles and the types of bad sourcing which propagate most insidiously is deliberate.

I am posting here after several years of experience and many attempts to discuss specific cases.

I have mentioned one specific type of example of a style which clutters for no (good) reason: the use of very long formats (publishing house of the original book, publishing place, reprint date in the US, date that the website with a copy was visited, even which wikitree editor visited the website!) many times per article (let's say 5 or more times, but I've seen a lot more than that), - only to show variations such as different pages. 

There are many simple ways to show the full reference once, and then have short notes for specific pages. Do we all agree on that?

Such cases also often have "nested" sourcing. In other words, they cite a source which cites a source, and when you look it up you often find that the real source was something else again. Many footnotes on Wikitree DO seem deliberately written to deceive. 

A second bad sign is that such footnotes are all too often used as a sort of debating tactic, in conjunction with other disruption strategies: outrage can easily be expressed when someone removes or even shortens a footnote. It sounds much worse than removing a controversial claim.

...So no, I do not think these problems are independent of the viral genealogy issue I mentioned. I think they are to a certain extent a new strategy people are using here to "protect" "their" information from other editors. And unfortunately I don't think pre-1500 editors are immune to such temptations.

I think editors often use extended (overextended) citations because they think they will be criticized if they don't.  I've seen more cases of editor-editors editing citations to make them longer and more complex than of edits that shorten a footnote.
Right, and I think it is worth having some discussion which questions this approach. I agree that some of this trend is an innocent misunderstanding.
I hear your point, that contextual qualitative analysis at the point of the citation, can provide valuable information to the reader.

I think some of your concern is also that if wikitree is archived and no longer hosted, do the "inline citations" provide any value? Is that correct? (i.e. if inspected as a simple text file, what meaning has <ref name="curmudgeon" /> to anyone?)

Where I definitely do not agree though, is in your statement that "sometimes I remove sources"....why would you do that? Even if derivative, it may be helpful for someone, and could lead them to better genealogical information. Qualitative discussion of the source within research notes or even within the true citation would be helpful, even if dismissive of the source's value, but removal only invites a different editor adding it back without the benefit of the reason it was considered suspect.

1. Context is sometimes even absolutely necessary in order to understand what a simple-seeming statement actually meant. We should all realize this from our normal daily lives. Imagine if whenever we talked with our friends we told them they'd have to check their e-mail for the context in order to understand what we were saying.

2. No I wasn't thinking of the effect of the mark-up on people using it outside Wikitree. I was thinking of cases within Wikitree work, where it is difficult to edit some profiles unless you first rebuild the footnotes into a simpler format. And to be clear, from the other side I have been pressured to make my footnotes more like that, and told that it has to be like.

3. If you think we should never delete sources, I suppose you think every source which is added always makes the article better? You are mistaken, but this is probably through lack of experience. I think you misunderstand the types of situations which occur. I am not talking about deleting good sources.

On Wikitree, as you go further back in time to people with more descendants, profiles were original made from merging masses and masses of private gedcoms. One of the problems we have are articles which are (or were) enormous, and have masses of links to things like  ancestry trees and 19th century Burkes editions. In pre 1500 we have to do a lot of pruning.

I do not automatically delete ancestry links or Burkes, but keep in mind we are talking about profiles that also have 100s of ancestry and geni equivalents, all copied from each other, just like the gedcoms that started Wikitree off. For many of these articles there are also dozens of good scholarly sources we can add, new and old, and this in turn makes it important to add discussions about why they differ. (That context question.) We need to fit all that and explain all that.

So where do we draw the line concerning the cheap copies? She we stop at 10 or 20 or 30? What value do we get from linking to anything and everything, when they often only differ according to the number of copy-paste mistakes they contain? I can tell you for a fact that if you want to preserve everything like that, most such articles will never be useful to anyone, because the junk will dominate. There is a lot of work still to do, and please believe me that deletions have to be part of it.

Benefits: Search engine optimization from masses of links pointing to this site, ability for users to find related information that they might not otherwise have found, robot scripts trawling the web will follow those links, etc.

As to "more sources" = "better", no, but a more complete picture. I would include everything if possible, but i understand your point about some of the pre1500 profiles being pointed to by darn near everywhere. Perhaps an archival free space instead of pruning them entirely?

I'll give you an example, i have seen that the Peerage is no longer considered to be a valid source for pre1500s, but I havent seen anywhere that states why that is so? I am sure there was a discussion, probably a very reasonable and scholarly one, but I was not part of it, so I dont have that information.  If those links were there with an explanation (or reference to a page explaining, so it wasnt repeated) why it was not considered a quality source that would help the layperson (in this case, me).

i have seen that the Peerage is no longer considered to be a valid source for pre1500s, but I havent seen anywhere that states why that is so

by Jonathan Crawford

Possibly because of too many errors. 

I've said I'd like this discussion to be about trying to think in terms of what our shared mission and priorities are. SEO is kind of a good example to consider, and it comes up surprisingly often on G2G when ask questions like this. Thinking about SEO is kind of in I guess.

Should we ever compromise the quality of the genealogy for SEO? I think not. And I don't think it would work anyway. I think any such attempt would be in very direct conflict with genealogy.

Concerning the Peerage website, I don't recall the conversation but I'm sure there was one. I think for sure the concern about such sources, especially as Wikitree's quality starts to improve, is that they are not good sources as such. Following them as authorities can only bring us down. So I absolutely understand the problem that we have with treating them as authorities. This does lead to problems and misunderstandings.

I suppose one day we might consider having a category of "convenience links" which are NOT considered reliable sources, so we should NOT follow them as authorities, but which we know people want to be able to compare to just for convenience. But this could become a slippery slope. Would everyone understand what this category was for?

Just to be clear what we have problems with is poor quality sources being used instead of better sources. It is sometimes very hard to avoid such problems if you don't set a relatively strict rule, because not everyone has the same amount of common sense. I suppose that was what happened here.

It is because the peerage has sources like this
 

  1. [S1221] Michael (deceased) Ashworth, "re: Palmer Family," e-mail message to Darryl Lundy, 18 December 2004 - 3 November 2005. Hereinafter cited as "re: Palmer Family."


which are nothing more than emails

however in my case I know who Michael was and I know exactly where he got his sources from.

But other people seeing that would not

+7 votes
I agree with including discussion of sources and support for disputed facts directly in the text rather than putting them in footnotes. HOWEVER, that has nothing to do with using footnote citations v. parenthetical citations. In hard copy articles, that is simply a difference in style, where different academic disciplines use different approaches. Law review articles, for example, which discuss sources (ie prior cases) directly in the text perhaps more than any other discipline, use footnotes. In online articles, hypertext footnotes (when done well) are clearly superior to non-hypertext parenthetical citations.

Re repetition of footnotes - This is, of course, bad in a hard copy article, but not really an issue online with hypertext footnotes. Different media support different styles.
by Chase Ashley G2G6 Pilot (220k points)
edited by Chase Ashley
Chase I disagree. Consider my point about us all needing to make our articles easy to understand and change, for future editors.

Also consider that I am especially concerned about very large and complex footnotes, that for example struggle to fit in an editing box, and which will fill pages of printed paper if any of our readers would dare try print it. (Which they should be able to do.)

You may not realize I am seeing cases where there are large numbers of such footnotes, with different ref tags for each different combination of pages being cited, and each of those ref tags used several times. As soon as you break one of the defining ref tags, the system falls apart and you have to work through thousands and thousands of words of this to find a fix.

I am also talking about cases where this happens again and again, but nothing changes because there is a belief that this is DEMANDED by Wikitree's sourcing rules.

See what I mean?
Andrew - I think this is in very large part because the Wikitext system does not have an effective way to deal with citations of different pages from the same work (ie, a book), plus the current pressure to use the named citation method for multiple cites of the same work.

I am sure there are cases when editors will come along and change repeated citations of a book to named citations without realizing each cite is for a different page and thus should be a separate citation.
Agree to disagree, perhaps. I have not found the issues you highlight to be problems.

Can you provide a link to an example of a profile that uses the system you prefer?
@ Lois - "I think this is in very large part because the Wikitext system does not have an effective way to deal with citations of different pages from the same work (ie, a book)," - I agree with that. Every system that has been proposed to deal with that issue has some downside - eg increased editing complexity, redundant footnoting, less convenience for the reader, etc.
Chase and Lois, the problem with both your statements is that you both talk like there has been lots of efforts and unfortunately it never worked.

This is completely incorrect. The real problem here is that no one tries, and many people either think or pretend to think that they are not allowed to. If we can encourage "trying new things" the problem will disappear.

It is very simple to make one full reference at the bottom of the page (which applies to the whole article) and then make all footnotes short, and linking to the general reference. It is also possible to do parenthetic inline citations which link directly to the general reference. There are a million ways to do these impossible things, but no one is trying.

Also remember Wikitree mark-up is based on the same mark-up Wikipedia uses. We do not have to reinvent wheels here.

You see why we need this discussion?
Andrew, would you happen to have any links we could review to see what you are referencing in regards to complex footnotes and how these are restricted by WikiTree Sourcing Standards?
Andrew, I think it is simple to do, a way that is commonly done in other media, and I do it here.  In fact, I've seen it discussed here more than once.

I don't often see on Wikitree the sort of repeated citations you're talking about
As remarked to Michel, I fix examples when I can but on Wikitree you can't post old versions. I also hope to make this discussion more about trying to agree about aims rather than complaining about specific cases from the past.

I am confident that some editors will recognize the style I mean, if they've worked on earlier medieval profiles where discussions about old books versus recent scholars are most complicated and difficult.

So back to that, Lois, I take it you have no problem with having (as just one possible solution) one long reference citation, and then shorter footnotes to specific pages?

I hope its clear I'm not demanding everyone do that. I am just saying that there are a lot of citations styles possible which resolve many of these types of issues, and we should not be too negative about "non standard" styles if they help tidy up a difficult article.
Andrew - that's exactly how I do it in the cases of multiple page #s.  Full version of the first citation, subsequent cites: Author, pp. # - ###. Or, in case Author has multiple works discussed:  Author (2010) p. X.
That sounds fine to me. I think a lot of Wikitreers feel uncomfortable with that, or do you see others trying such ideas?
+4 votes
Good or bad is a moot point. There are way too many profiles with no source in any form (well, there are some with embedded text in the biography that might tell you they were maybe in such and such census but not called out as either a ref or a reference).

Information about genealogical research belongs in the Research Notes. See https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Biographies
by Kay Knight G2G6 Pilot (421k points)

Good and bad is not a moot point, but your remark kind of reflects the type of approach which concerns me.

We often seem to lack a clearly shared commitment to aim, in the end, at good genealogy. Citations should be judged according to how well they help achieve that more important aim.

...instead we have drives to add stuff into the footnotes sections of articles. 

...Because on Wikitree, in effect, text written up in a certain way in the footnote section is "sourcing" and that is considered good. There is a strong push to add, not subtract. 

I sometimes remove sources.

Within those drives I've seen profiles tagged as having "no sourcing" because detailed discussions of clearly named sources in the main body are not "in line citations". This makes me concerned that such drives, and this way of defining "sourcing" are disconnected from the aims of genealogy.

I think Wikitree is great at creating quantity at the expense of quality, but in fact other genealogy websites are even better at it. But I would not be working on Wikitree if it were "the best" at that, because this is not a good aim.

What I like about Wikitree is that there is a hint that it might do something a bit better than just filling up empty spaces with stuff copied and pasted from around the internet. (Which is inevitably what gets tidied up and slipped into the footnotes if quantity is the community's aim.)

In this, Andrew, I agree with you wholeheartedly

Okay, I missed your focus on pre1500.... Your example, however makes me think that the second form should appear in the Research Notes, even if you have already included an inline ref in the Biography... perhaps even a Disputed Parents section.

Linda provided a good example below -- the Family Genealogies and Sources by Location... It would be pretty clunky to have the full book citation, see what Simon says.

There is a diverse member community, with a wide range of background and skill sets (my own encompasses including full source lineage for geospatial information with mechanisms to manage and transfer that data, for example). Ideally each fact attributed to a person would be substantiated by an associated reference, hopefully in a manner that others can locate and understand that reference. If you randomly look at profiles, you will find a wide range of styles.

There are guidelines for what is Unsourced, and clearly those with text in the biography do not qualify. This profile does NOT qualify as Unsourced. The following profiles are unsourced: https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Combs-184 https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Jones-18723 https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/White-10515

You said "I sometimes remove sources." On profiles that you manage? If not, do you "remove" them by placing them under Research Notes with an explanation why they do not apply to the profile or coordinate with the PM or managing Project first?

Have you seen the Unsourced Profile lists from August? It was too big to fit on one space page. It's been a while, so hopefully the list is getting shorter.

1. Concerning the examples of sourced and unsourced I agree with those.

2. Concerning deleting sources, and indeed deleting text, you've probably got the wrong idea because I am mainly talking pre-1500, where there is often no shortage of things pretending to be sources, and text which has been copy-pasted into a gedcom decades ago and then merged with the gedcoms of hundreds of other people, each containing their share of basic mistakes (including mistakes which happened during merges), frauds, myths (literally, myths) etc.

There are many totally uncontroversial deletions and other radical changes needed, and being done by those of us working in that area in coordination with the relevant projects. There is even some time spent on keeping note of more important myths and frauds, and trying to understand how they started - although this is something we need to be careful of in my opinion.

...but I do want people to think about the fact that yes, sometimes sources NEED to be deleted. Quantity is easy. Quality is difficult, and it means deletions are sometimes necessary. Adding material, even sources, is NOT always good.

An example would be profiles which contains lots of links to online trees on ancestry etc. There can sometimes be a large number of links, and many are dead links, or relicts from the past. But I tend to check to see if any contain anything apart from just copy-pasted material from all the other similar profiles.

In any case, there should be a possibility to have discussions about such things when needed. It should not be possible for a Wikitreer to "own" an article for people from long ago, and use "sourcing" as an excuse to stop other editors fixing a profile. (Obviously everything I am saying here does not necessarily apply to very recent generations for example in the 20th century.)

Best Regards

Andrew
+5 votes
As someone who believes strongly in sourcing, this discussion is way deeper than most people will even read all the way through. As an English major, I understand your points but I do not think we need to make it this difficult for everyone. I am usually happy to find any sources on profiles - and if I can help to correct them or add to them, I do.

One caution - you mentioned that there is no need to repeat all of the information when a source is used more than one time. True, but please do not use the Latin "Ibid", etc. for referring to the previous source. Our open profiles can be  added to and changed by anyone thus displacing or aligning citations into a different place which would then render "Ibid" useless. That works in a print version but not in an ever-changing format.

I agree with a previous answer, "Good or bad a moot point". Let's just get sources added.
by Virginia Fields G2G6 Pilot (705k points)

Possibly you are not working on the same range of articles which are the main source of concern to this thread: pre-1500.

However, by definition good and bad should never be moot points. If you don't care whether the sourcing you add is good or bad, then what on earth is the reason for adding it?

Wikitree as a community needs to think more about whether this way of talking about "just adding" is really the right community aim to have.

But I agree we should avoid ibid and idem. Funnily enough though, the existence of these old words shows how old this problem is, and how long there have been ways of avoiding full repetition of inflated citations.

I do care very much about my sourcing being good. Was just stating that until there is a way found to have absolutely everyone adding sources to every profile they enter, then we should not discourage the profiles being added with at least one source. This needs to begin at the beginning - in the explanations easy to understand for those who have not had to write sourced papers.

In pre 1500 sources already need to be added when a new profile is made, and your point clearly applies to more recent generations.

I agree with what you're saying although there are some devils in the details that can (I think) be helped by considering how we teach each other and what priorities we emphasize. 

One example I already mentioned which is relevant to more recent generations was concerning profiles with inline sources, but no footnotes, being tagged during sourcing drives as having no sourcing

(It would take just as long to create a simple footnote by copy-pasting the sourcing notes into footnotes. But you have to step back and ask yourself what the point of that is. If people are worried about formatting perhaps there should be formatting drives too, but THEN we'd need a discussion like this one here first, to decide whether unfamiliar citations formats are really something we want to spend a lot of time on removing. I think not.)

Virginia I have been thinking about this subject of the sourcing drives. I've already mentioned that it is a bit different in the medieval area, but still, we are talking basic principles that should somehow match in different parts of the wiki. So I'd like to offer the following, which is more based upon my professional experience:

If we want a team to work well, we often say we want them to "buy in" to a project. Companies and teams of all types use this language because they've ALSO learned that it is generally not good enough to just set a formal target. Formal targets on their own tend to make people go for quantity and not quality, and creates the wrong incentives. So in companies for example you see people stretch out tasks, or sales people getting customers who they know will become bad debts.

It is so critical to make the whole team think about the big picture and what the "real" goals of a project are, and not just the formal goals which are intended to achieve the real goals.

And do you know what is even more important? Knowing what the real goals are makes it much easier to enjoy the work. And we are volunteers.

Perhaps indeed it is my experience in such areas which makes me very frustrated at the pushing (sometimes) of formal rules, which often seem to have no visible common sense connection to the project's overall aims.

I hope this helps explain this discussion.
+6 votes

You also have to consider that the 'majority' of people that are active on wikitree are just starting their journey on wikitree, trying to learn and understand how it is different than having a family tree on ancestry, myheritage, familysearch or any other site where they are trying to link their family members to ancestors.

Yes, we want sources, but wikitree also states that people can have flexible styles in their biographies.  Many of us wish everyone could do inline citations, but there are many, many people that just do not understand and don't want to learn how to do it, as simple as we can show them it can be.  Many people just want to add sources to the profiles, without adding the 'facts' or anything else into the biography. Adding sources is very important.

Have you looked at the Family Genealogies Sources or the Sources by Location pages.  These are like an 'index' of many online sources.  Each space page is 'normally' using the 'Span ID' format which can be put into the Sources section is the complete citation for the source.  They also have the related 'inline citation' example that can be used, so the inline would only have a short indicator of the source and the related page.  There have been 'recent' discussions about the use of the 'Span' being allowed or not allowed on wikitree, but the 'format' of the Source entry doesn't have to include the 'Span' for it to be used.  

There are plenty of profiles that do have the full source stated once and the subsequent ones have only the author and page, but there are plenty where that is not done.  Unfortunately, if a profile came from Gedcom and has not been cleaned up, we have the same source being repeated without using the 'ref name'.  

There are different levels of expertise on wikitree, which is allowed and encouraged, so you can't expect that everyone is going to start using a new method of sourcing.  There are plenty of people that work every day to clean up profiles, to correct problems found, without now saying, everyone has to follow a specific 'directive' on sourcing.  Flexibility is one of the things that people like about wikitree. 

by Linda Peterson G2G6 Pilot (534k points)
This is well-stated and in my opinion it agrees with everything I am saying. I am not sure if that is obvious so I'll say it this way:

As a community we all train each other, and we are constantly finding new ways to work. Quite often, we even have clear drives and trends and fashions and even official declarations and so on which guide the overall direction and the priorities.

My post above is intended to be an appeal for consideration of what priorities we teach to newer and less experienced members of our community.

I am NOT opposed to sourcing drives, but if we have people declaring that it is ONLY important to "just add" and it is NOT important if it is good or bad, we are not going in the right direction.

OK, my focus here has been on relatively complicated sourcing in medieval areas, but even there I feel that these same types of choices about community priority are constantly having an impact on all my attempts to edit.

Where these community direction cause the most problems it is also not just about passive newbies but more about those who are more forceful about demanding certain standards that don't officially exist, such as inline sourcing having to be a certain type of footnotes.

As a community we have to try to work out what we really want and spread those ideas around. Clearly, for now, there has been a push by some to enforce and spread some ideas which not everyone agrees with, for example about what inline citations are.
+3 votes

Thanks Andrew for this assessment of citations on WikiTree.

I came across a Wikipedia how to article about Inline Citations which is an interesting add on to your comments, particularly the sections; 'When you must use inline citations', and then following sections on 'Citation density', and 'Text-source integrity'.

Wikipedia don't seem to care what referencing/citing style you use, as long as it is consistent within the article, but that's what I sometimes find difficult with WikiTree.  People on WikiTree who are familiar with some form of academic referencing will use the style they are most comfortable with, and even though most referencing styles in terms of inline/intext citations are either author/date or endnote/footnote, there can be innumerable differences in formatting.  This can make collaboration difficult, if the referencing style used is one I've not come across before.

Lastly, I promise I don't have shares in Wikipedia, (if that is at all possible), but this article of Gonzalo Núñez de Lara is a really good example of a Disputed Origins section in the biography, rather than in a Research Notes section, and why that is probably important to the rest of the article to have that discussed first.  Either way there does need to be inline citations to identify where the information was originally stated.

by John Atkinson G2G6 Pilot (482k points)
Thanks John, that raises a few interesting points. I guess this also reflects the fact that you are experienced with pre-1500 profiles.

1. Actually on Wikipedia there has been a slow moving away from what they call Harvard inline citations. These are basically the ones like Michel and I like (see above), and it is going to create some stress in some scientific areas. For me, and I suppose others connected to Wikitree, the main concerns are with population genetics articles, because they require complex discussion of research reports written by teams who have often written many reports on the same topic. I suspect the resulting tests will still have to refer to the years of those reports, and just add footnotes, which will be messy.

This is because recently there was a deprecation decision, as Wikipedia calls it. Unlike Wikitree, such decisions are made following a systematic and open procedure involving a period of public statements and voting. I voted against.

2. In practice, an important difference with Wikitree is that Wikipedia uses more templates. One of the most used sets of templates are the ones used for citations, and this has, simply through convenience, led to some standard formats for citations. How these work is that you put the information into the template, and the template makes the citation for you. So in this case standardization happens in a sense, but there is no policy decision needed.

3. I've been thinking about the Research Section comments in this discussion and perhaps I should explain my point this way: For many articles, strictly using Research Sections for all uncertain information could be logically interpreted as meaning that there should be NO Biography, and ONLY a Research section. Of course people are not doing this, and I suppose this is why we get frankly bizarre sentences like "A was B; Alternatively A was not B" which try to avoid all "research" and therefore can't say anything meaningful.

As a side point to that last one, a better way to write the Biography for articles where there is general uncertainty is to use attribution for reporting facts: "According to Keats-Rohan, A's father was." This is one of those style points which is very normal outside of Wikitree, but where I often feel pressured to avoid it here.

The best way to approach these issues of uncertainty and dispute will in my opinion often depend upon whether there is a clear "leading" proposal or not. I think we should treat such cases differently to cases where there is an evenly matched uncertainty, in which case it is generally necessary not to take a side. But using a leading proposal, if there is one, can be very useful because it gives us a standard which allows us to connect profiles (marking that as uncertain) and also explain more simply what alternative scenarios are possible.

In the common cases where there is no certainty about anything and the article is short, then I don't see the point of having a separate Research section. You could say, and I do say, that Biography is not a good title for the main section which has to be in every article, but that is another discussion.
+4 votes

I use this link that I put together to explain sourcing. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Sourcing_Primer_-_Instructional

This one shows the text box orders. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Biographies#What_is_the_proper_order_for_the_text_sections_and_other_elements.3F

And this one helps me with those pesky inline ref statements. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Sources

Those 3 should cover 95% of profiles unless you want to imbed images, go sticker crazy, or put a ton of categories.

Hey, I made a spreadsheet. It has an info tab!!!! https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1jlRaiRtaMEpsPdeuRLS2ids4HAXJyGVCKiQyEMh4NNE/edit#gid=1869015104

by Steven Tibbetts G2G6 Pilot (299k points)

Steven, I am not sure if you read the original post, but commenting:

I find the first link worrying. It is basically encouraging our community to get information from other websites which already exist. While all of us can and should compare to the work of others, it surely can't be seen as "best practice" or even "standard practice" for Wikitree to be entirely based upon this approach??

More to the point, in the context of this discussion right here, this approach is certainly not up to the standards expected in pre-1500 profiles.

Second link. It is another discussion, but I think Biography is not the right name for the basic section which has to be on all profiles. For 99.999% of profiles on Wikitree there is not enough information to write a biography, and attempts to make "stories" lead to terrible profiles.

Third link. This explanation gives our editors two options: ref tag footnoting, or a general reference at the bottom of the page in a sort of bibliography without anything in the text box to point to the reference. So it is creating a false choice between a standard approach and a crude approach. 

I feel such explanations to our community lead them to believe that anyone not using simple ref tag footnoting is being a jerk and does not understand how sourcing works. I am tired of that.

When we are working on pre-1700 profiles and we sometimes have 20 or more footnotes, including repeated references to different combinations of items or pages in the same works, the above two choices are just not enough. 

I am kindly asking Wikitreers as per my original post:

Think about the AIMS of this project, and consider which style is best. Don't be too quick to assume an unfamiliar style is against some rule.

In the same light, people who write rules should consider what side effects their explanations might have.

Yes I read the original post and if the directions on that first link were followed to have great sourcing or targeted great sourcing then WikiTree would be vastly improved. I did however state this would cover about 95% of profiles. There will always be outliers in anything. The biggest thing is avoiding sourcing that just says "Ancestry" or "marriage certificate" or similar.

As far as being worried about getting sources from other existing websites worrying you then getting it from genealogy books and whatnot must also worry you. This would limit us to official documents only. While these are usually the best, they are often hard to obtain and very unlikely to be linked to. And if you are using the source (not the profile itself) from another website you should really use the citation if they provide one. It tends to avoid legal issues.

As far as adding sourcing to already existing biographies I personally recommend the bulleted sourcing which is "Great Sourcing". This doesn't mess up the original layout and gives whomever is maintaining the profile the option to incorporate it however they chose. Otherwise information will just be lost. I never advocate for random people to totally rewrite a profile due to new sources.

One further note, many on WikiTree never went to college or had to write a thesis. It is better to have the info with links to supporting documents than to have a format approved by college professors with no information. This is why we have a "Bio-builders" group. It is also why pre-1500 profiles need approval before you are allowed to work on them. Also WikiTree has very few rules, most are guidelines.
So we're just doing stamp collecting and we don't care if the information is real or not? And whoever grabs a profile first can put anything they want there? Of course you will say this is not what you mean, but I don't see how you avoid those being the practical effects if everyone works that way on Wikitree.

If we are doing real genealogy we need to encourage and teach people how to go to those original documents, or at least to publications or online compilers who we have some real reason to trust to report what the original documents said.

There is no other way. All the websites that copy-paste from each other are only moving information in circles, and corrupting it along the way.
+4 votes
Andrew you asked about lists of suitable vs questionable resources.   

We have tried to do that in the Pre-1500 Resource Page managed by Joe Cochoit, John Atkinson and myself.  The idea is that people can submit the idea of a source and it gets vetted and if it gets added there is some info added about it.  

There is a section that address myths and frauds.

https://www.wikitree.com/index.php?title=Space:Pre-1500_Resource_Page&public=1

We typically do not add people to the trusted list thereby maintaining control over what gets added and why.  

We created this in the hope of helping newbies to the pre-1500 world find usable resources other than pop culture type of sources so often seen used.  

As we are all painfully aware there are sometimes no primary sources for certain areas and time periods.  Or very few that have so far been found.  So while works like the Peerage and Medieval Lands are not perfect they are generally more usable than stuff you find on the internet, on other Genealogical sites, etc.  

One of the problems we have are things like copyright issues so we can't always upload an image of a real record.  Often the only thing that exists are indexes or a snippet of info included in a charter or other text alluding to older texts that seem to have disappeared into the mists of time.  

So while we prefer primary sources we do include some secondary ones as their contents may give us other research clues.  

For pre-1500 original is always going to be harder to find, harder to read. and will take much longer to research than more modern profiles.  

Some projects have their own lists and some of the contents are for our purposes actually questionable as they contain sources we chose not to add to the pre-1500 resource page.    

Hope this helps.  At least it gives a bibliography of sorts that the names and descriptions of the source can be copied and used along with its annotations that may help future researchers.
by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (675k points)

Hi Laura, I afraid that my original discussion point has been swamped out by completely different ones, as often happens on G2G. 

This was not a thread about good or bad sources as such. I am aware of the work to collect good links etc, and try to help a bit as well.

I am very concerned about the advice being spread around more widely about how to make citations. This is leading to editors such as myself being told that I am not making footnotes properly, because many editors have learnt some "rules" but apparently don't understand what the actual aim of the footnotes is, or which variations exist.

But the question of WHICH sources to use only came up now because of the links posted by Steven Tibbetts above, which show people how to make profiles sourced by going to Ancestry etc! That is obviously concerning.

I think the advice we give on Wikitree is often more complex than it needs to be, but also, more to the point, quite often "missing the point".

The aim of all different citations formats is to make it clear to all other editors and readers where something came from. 

After several years and many conversations, I get the feeling many editors on Wikitree don't actually think about it that way, ever, and are surprised and annoyed when told that the result should also be easily readable, and easy for other people to double check and edit. Too many people see it purely as a formal demand from Wikitree, and something to do with copyright law.

Sorry did not men to hijack the thread.   Just wanted to respond to your question in Ithe above comments.

Honestly, I understand your concern.   I find a lot of style guide helps to be contrary to what pre-1500 or several cultures find workable.  

I try to use inline sources more as a guide to the sources section but I often have more sources listed in the Sources area than just those I happened to use for an inline source.

Pre-1500 as you know is nothing like working with modern data points.  Often we are coming to a conclusion of what to use based on reading multiple texts that may agree or disagree or have only partial information.  

I try to use a combination of types of sources.  Some of which are accessible via a URL but many are pointing to primary sources behind a pay wall.  In that case I will copy a small snippet so as to make the point or I will rewrite the findings of several sources which may look like I copied it from one source since at times 3 or 4 sources can have very similar wording.  

WikiTree is not meant to be a full blown research paper and I often create a free page to display more in-depth view of this situation than what I do in a profile.  

I wonder if it would make sense to create a set of style  examples on a free space page of what we like vs what we don't like and why.  Because we can privacy lock the free space page we can resort to using the old paper version of ibid without too much worry about someone moving sourcing data around.  Just a thought...

Yes there are certainly some parts of this tree that are different in the way you have to approach sources (not only in pre-1500); and it is an understandable problem in these discussions that a lot of people have little experience with that. 

One reason I like keeping my citations as simple as possible is to help others use them, learn from them, and if necessary correct them. But the push within Wikitree is not really towards simple and clear.

What is less understandable is the way people on Wikitree are all so assertive that no improvements or changes are needed.

(Side issue: we can't avoid doing some "research"=genealogy on this wiki, even for recent generations. I suppose many people think they are doing genealogy when they are just copying stuff from others, but like I said above "All the websites that copy-paste from each other are only moving information in circles, and corrupting it along the way." So those of us who add something to the circle are essential to trying to make Wikitree a bit more than just one of the many.)

I think in terms of helping teach people, which is a great aim, we can really do better. I think indeed examples can help. I think it is good to show people what kinds of solutions exist in the bigger world, to certain types of standard sourcing challenges.

But the other perhaps more important point is making sure our advice writers always try to express things in terms that make it simple and clear WHY we do certain things.

Andrew do you like the idea of a free space page of example of sourcing for Pre-1500?   If so I can create the page and give access via trusted list to only those with the badge.  

This page would not necessarily be this is right and this is wrong but showing what the different styles look like and we could have a discussion on the page about why we like or dislike each version.  

If people think this is a good idea I am happy to create it.  

Just let me know.
I'm not sure. I think the various advice pages we have are not working, at least for the concern I originally raised, and just adding to them won't necessarily help much.

Concerning the medieval resource pages etc I have no complaints and they are helpful to those of us who know why we want them in the first place.

The concern which I had was that there are some really basic starting points needed for any good discussion about citations, and these are missing in Wikitree's collective consciousness.

This community needs a better shared understanding of the aims and the reasoning behind sourcing. For example, I am not against citing people's online trees in appropriate cases but which are the appropriate cases? I would say it is cases where it looks like the creator or creators of the material did a new job in terms of putting pieces of a puzzle together. The point is that simple rules won't work to guide people unless they have shared aims to guide them.

What I see in the threads I've tried to start on G2G about basic principles is that for many of the people who are pushing advice around on Wikitree, genealogy is just stamp collecting, and citations, as part of that, are just something you copy from the same Ancestry pages where you copied everything else. The key point for them is to do it in a certain form. It seems to be wikitreers at that level of understanding who are telling others what to do.

Wikitree needs to work on that very basic type of understanding, and helping the majority of wikitreers understand and contribute to one greater project. I am confident most people here are willing and interested to be genealogists and not just stamp collectors.
Laura thinking about the sourcing pages I think improvements could be made to make it more convenient and then also easier to read and work with. It is more "technical".

For example, we use the longest possible titles for the special pages on sources, so then we win nothing by pasting in the special page as a wikilink in our bibliography. We only clutter our editing box, and that of future editors.

Long special names for much used sources probably also don't help us find them when we need them.

It seems to me logical that those source pages should have short handy names, so they can be quickly found or even memorized.

"Dugdales Baronage", would be easier to remember and type than "The Baronage of England, or, An historical Account of the Lives and Most Memorable Actions of our English Nobility".

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