Easier and cleaner sourcing with 'References First' method (plus easier Ancestry import cleanup)

+12 votes

Credit goes to Dale Byers for the idea, Gaile Connolly (love your bio!) for the presentation of it, Chase Ashley a strong proponent of it, someone else for the bulleted facts, and Deborah Pate for exposing it to me.  All I'm doing here is running with their ideas!

First, some history - Deborah mentioned it here, and I quickly recognized its excellence, especially at cleaning up Ancestry imports.  So I presented it here and in a free space page, ONLY to find out the idea behind it was well known and well discussed (embarrassing, no!?).  Gaile had already presented it in the 'Ultimate Solution' thread, where it had been thoroughly discussed.  More discussion is here and a great tutorial on tags hereI strongly recommend reviewing Gaile's work, and the full discussion.

Whether you call the method References First or Ultimate Solution or Dale's system or something you like better does not matter.  It's all about gathering the sources into one place, and only inserting named references in the biography.   References First refers to putting them first, at the top before the Biography, whereas the Ultimate Solution puts them in the Sources section, before the <references /> line.  Either way is fine, although putting them at the top allows you to put them in the order you like, while putting sources in the Sources section makes more sense to many.

In WikiTree's Edit mode, embedded references make a bio look very cluttered, hard to read, and unorganized (even if it's well organized).  The References First method is not perfect, but almost completely cleans up the bio, makes sourcing MUCH easier, and self-organizes the whole thing.  Plus, when applied to Ancestry GEDCOM imports, completely cleans them up, easier and faster than any other method.

Basically, the difference is that instead of copying the citation into the text of the bio, you copy it to the top of the bio, before the "== Biography ==" line, then name each one, and refer to it whenever necessary by that name.  This allows you to organize them chronologically at the top (or by any system you like), and removes all of the clutter from the bio text.  You can still add items in the "Sources" section, but don't need to, as every single source can be grouped at the top.  They won't display at the top, only at the bottom in the Sources section, just as they always have.

How you order them or format them at the top is up to you, as there are a number of ways to customize them. Deborah did them one way, I did them a little differently, and the examples show other styles.  I liked Deborah's use of bold (see the profile that she did, in Edit mode, for her naming and her use of bold), although I preferred a simplified version, with less typing.  See Mary Lavender's profile for a way to add the corresponding facts to them. And yes, I don't doubt you can do better! I always enjoy seeing others' ideas.

Seeing is often more important than telling, so here are some examples.  Make sure you view them in both normal and Edit mode!

In normal viewing mode, you may notice the line of references across the top, above the bio. That doesn't bother me at all, but if it bothers you, add <span class="hidden"> before the first reference, and </span> after the last reference, and the line of reference numbers will not be visible.  You can see it in the examples above.

Ancestry imports are still hard, no way around that, but this method makes them manageable, and leaves both the bio and the Edit mode clean and readable, presentable.  I have created a page that presents the 'References First' method, and presents how I clean up Ancestry GEDCOM imported profiles using the method.  The page also includes some tips and details for using the method.

I'd love to hear of other's ideas, I'm sure it can be improved.

in Policy and Style by Rob Jacobson G2G6 Pilot (127k points)
edited by Rob Jacobson
Thanks for the credit, but as others have noted it is not really mine! I do so much prefer this method though, it has helped me make my profiles much better.

Wow, that's the one reaction I did not expect!  I really wish I had known about the 'Ultimate Solution' before, and that I was presenting something that had already been hashed and rehashed.  Now I need to rewrite the page, re-title it (not sure what the title should be), add credits [partly done], edit profiles ...  For a guy that has a terrible time ever finishing something, and thought he had this time, you guys are really not helping!  :)

I have to say though, that while this method may not be fully approved, the way I feel now, you would have to tear it out of my cold dead fingers!  It's that good, that superior to any other method I've seen:

  • It gathers all sources into one place, where they are easier to manage, organize, reorder, and style.  You can put them in the order you want, chronologically, grouped by type, whatever...
  • It removes almost all clutter from the biography, making it much easier to read, less confusing and error-prone, with only named references embedded, which are simpler and intuitive to use, therefore less prone to errors.  Current biographies with inline citations are extremely daunting to many users, especially new users.
  • It self-organizes the Edit page - sources in one place, bio in another, and no need to touch any other section
  • Having the sources all together in one place makes it easy to apply the same styling and level of detail to all of them.  Have it your way, fully traditional academic style or an abbreviated style, with little detail or a lot of detail, with bulleted facts and links for each source.
  • Requiring embedded inline citations limits sourcing to those with an academic bent, and those who will reluctantly try it for a little while before giving up, or will rarely do it, as just too cumbersome a task.  Editing requires more instruction, and very careful editing, more prone to errors.
  • Using this method instead opens up sourcing to the world, makes it much easier, much more intuitive, more fun to do, and therefore results in much more sourcing by everyone.  There's less instruction needed, as it just makes sense.  "Here's how you form a citation", "Here's how you refer to it", done!
  • The 'coup de grâce' - just look at what this method does to profiles imported from Ancestry GEDCOM's.  Check the examples above, and look at a before and after conversion using this method, especially in Edit mode.  How can anyone say this method should not be approved for general use, especially on Ancestry imported profiles?

I've been trying not to 'rock the boat' lately, as I feel some are uncomfortable with my ideas, but this thing is too important, to superior not to use.  To be honest, I wish we would consider deprecating use of inline citations.  I don't mean remove any currently in use, or block anyone that prefers them, they can stay approved and supported.  But state the recommendation that from now on, the preferred method is citations in one place, with named references only within the bio.  Once most users compare methods, they will clearly prefer this new method (in my view!).  I can't see any downsides.  And I really think you will see a lot more sourcing because of it.

Deborah, you may not have been the first with the idea, but you're the one that exposed it to me - so Thank You!

OK, I've rewritten the page, cleaned it up, fleshed it out a little better, and added a 'Status of the Method' section, with an exposition of all the advantages I know about *and* and an appeal for reconsideration to our wonderful WikiTree developers, staff, and leaders!

3 Answers

+5 votes
Best answer
This was proposed a couple of years ago and it was decided to not recommend it.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
selected by Anonymous Powell
Dale - Looking back on the Ultimate Solution thread, weren't you the guy who originally proposed this method? Still the best, whether recommended or not.
Chase, I did have a part in the creation of that style, but I was not the only person involved. Gaile was the one who proposed it however.
+7 votes
Interesting concept. To avoid the ref numbers across the top of the page, will the system work if the citation references are placed after the Bio section, immediately above the Sources section.
by Bob Keniston G2G6 Pilot (211k points)
Bob, Yes it does and it was demonstrated that way before but it was not recommended meaning we should not use this way.

In that case, the line of numbers will show up after the bio section. To hide them, you can insert <span class="hidden"> before the first source and </span> after the last source.

The reason I put them at the top is so that I can make them appear in the order I want (which is chronological), rather than in the order the references appear in the text. That was my main reason for adopting the system actually - I like to be able to read the sources and really get a picture of what's going on, rather than find I'm dotting back and forth between 1881 1841 1861 and so on. Unfortunately it doesn't work if you put the references after the biography.

Chase, we are not supposed to be using the span tag for styles plus, if you use it to hide the extraneous line of numbers then it will also hide the citations and they will not appear beneath the Sources heading.

Deborah, I really like the way you control the order of the citations by putting them at the top!  That is a big improvement over the method I documented HERE over 2 years ago that is very similar to yours.  That method would be within the approved style except for the one word in the style guide that specifies that the citation be used the FIRST time, with the subsequent times using the empty ref tag.  That is another very wonderful thing you have accomplished - your method meets the requirement of having the citation appear at first use of the ref tag.

By the way, it would be a very simple matter to eliminate the display of that extraneous set of numbers.  All it would take is one very simple entry in the master css file.

Since all my profiles are close family, for which we are permitted leeway in strict adherence to the style guide, I have done them all this way, putting the entire set of citations immediately below the Sources heading, followed by the <references /> tag.  You can look at any of my profiles (start from my bio and look at my parents, grandparents, etc. or check my contribution list and pick any of them) to see the effect.

The Holocaust project has a template that illustrates both view page and edit page for a sample biography.  This template was created before this citation style was made into a no-no by the addition of the "first" requirement in the style guide.


"plus, if you use it to hide the extraneous line of numbers then it will also hide the citations and they will not appear beneath the Sources heading"

Gaile - That is not true. The only thing that is hidden is the row of numbers.

"That is a big improvement over the method I documented HERE over 2 years ago that is very similar to yours.  That method would be within the approved style except for the one word in the style guide that specifies that the citation be used the FIRST time, with the subsequent times using the empty ref tag."

Was that really the reason? If so, that would be a pretty bad reason; just a silly technicality.

+9 votes
Rob - This is essentially the same as Dale Byers/Gaille Connolly's "Ultimate Solution" sourcing method: https://www.wikitree.com/g2g/154052/proposed-ultimate-solution-source-policy-satisfies-everyone?show=154052#q154052 The only difference is whether you put the sources before or after the bio. In either case, they need to go before the <references/>

I agree that, either way, it is MUCH better than placing the initial citation in the bio text.

BTW, someone (I can't recall who) showed a method for getting rid of the line of numbers that result from using either method: You insert <span class="hidden"> before the first source and </span> after the last source.

Here's an example, using the Ultimate Solution (where the sources are grouped after the bio): https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Ackerly-59
by Chase Ashley G2G6 Pilot (220k points)
Excellent tip, thank you!
I like the Ultimate method, using the span hidden, and placed between the Sources and references. In the Edit mode there is less clutter at the top off the page.
Chase when I was experimenting with this type of solution I found that as long as the <ref name='whatever'> was above the <references/> line it did not matter much wherever you but the full reference.
Thank you Chase, I'm adding that span tip to the instructions.

I really wish I'd known about this before, it's almost embarrassing to have brought up what had already been fully discussed.  I'm the guy late to the party, bursting in with "have you heard the news?"  Only to hear it's been talked to death already!

I do think I have added its Ancestry GEDCOM cleanup capabilities to the pluses.

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