What is wrong with using quotes from sources?

+25 votes
I keep finding profiles where direct quotes from sources have been deleted in favor of summaries and references/footnotes.  

Aside from taking time that might be better spent on improving documentation/sourcing this practice seems to make the biography more obscure rather than less.  For example frequently not all the information was transcribed and not everybody has access to the texts referenced so information is being lost.

A lot of the quotes being removed are from sources long out of copyright, and thus in the public domain; and it's my understanding that quoting from sources in copyright is acceptable when attributed.  Additionally not everybody understands the use of the funny-looking entries needed to create the references/footnotes in the first place.  I imagine some people are being intimidated by it and perhaps not adding references they have because they don't know how.

To my mind the information is more important than the format.
in Policy and Style by Jennifer Lapham G2G6 Mach 1 (18.7k points)
Can you provide some examples?
I do not have to see any biography to understand what you are saying. I agree. Biographies and information given are being lost for the sake of having everything to look identical and  professional. Outside of Wikitree I do not know of anyone that understands these sources that have been changed and the footnotes. I do not understand them and I am here several years. I click on a link and it  really do not go anywhere. You never leave Wikitree. You never see what they are referring to. When I am done and satisfied with my tree I am going to add back everything that they took out of my biographies. That includes personal thoughts and public domain quotes, so my family can understand what they did to the work that I did. This site with all of the good qualities and recommendations and with so many good people, I was a little disappointed that they decide conformity over personal artistic interpretation.

9 Answers

+8 votes
Best answer

I’m not certain what you are referring to exactly but it sounds as if it falls under WikiTree Styles and Standards. 

Here is where you can find out why we have Styles and Standards:


Here is the page that deals with copying text:


by Paula J G2G6 Pilot (286k points)
selected by Stephanie Ward
+14 votes
I would need to see an example to have a better idea of what you are seeing. A quote will require a source citation as well.

I n genealogical writing (and biographical) including where data comes from in the narrative is distracting and doesn’t add to the story most if the time. Also, since the purpose of a source is to tell someone how to find the data, you would also have to make sure the quotes are properly cited.

I haven’t removed anything like what you are saying but usually think it isn’t helping.
by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (552k points)
Another way of thinking of this is that a biography is the story of the person ‘s life, not the story of the sources.
+11 votes
I run into this all the time. Huge quotes from multiple sources. My home software is full of these. Over the years I've collected bios from multiple sources (no copyright infringement for my own use), with the thought that eventually I'll write a nice bio, using the information from them all. This can easily get imported with gedcoms, leaving multiple biographies on a profile, that usually say just about the same thing. When it gets into the public, it needs just one integrated new biography. It can use smaller quoted sections, if one of the authors says something eloquently, or uses his own words to express an opinion.

If I ran into a profile with only one copied biography from one public domain source, I'd probably end up rewriting anyway - from habit. I'd also be double checking the author's facts and looking for the primary sources.
by Anne B G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
+8 votes
I tend to paraphrase and offset the text as a quote like you would see in a book and give it inline reference. The bulk f copying of text from book where the original information like an Ahnentafel numbers or other references that make sense in the context of the book but not the bio on a web page I would leave off as the intent is write a cohesive article a about a person like you would seen in an Encyclopedia or Wikipedia.

I will tend to copy large chunks for example from Will Books, where the exact text of the will is important.
by Marty Acks G2G6 Pilot (158k points)
Will’s can add to the story since the give a glimpse of what may have been important to the person. Even then, most wills I would add as an attachment unless the quote was particularly meaningful. Most other sources don’t shed light on the person. I have seen boiler plate babtism and marriage records transcribed into biographies and they don’t help the narrative.
Since wills relate to many family members if the were to be quoted in their entirety then a free-space page would be the best place. then links to all the major parties could be made to that page. It woul;d be less clutter on the profile page.
+9 votes

IMHO there are any number of situations where a well-chosen and clearly attributed quotation is appropriate on a WikiTree profile.  There are thousands of biographical sketches and obituaries written by the subjects and their loved ones, and I tend to agree with you that my genealogy-hobby time can be better spent on locating and dropping their text onto profiles than on paraphrasing them in my own words.

For example, I recently added an obituary as a source to the profile of Caleb Stiltner (1893-1968).  The obituary is archived behind paywalls.  So I pulled all of the information into a clearly attributed quotation, with information in the Sources section about how to find the obit.  

I am unlikely to do much more work on this profile, but hopefully I have left it better than I found it, and gave a future family historian a trailhead to pursue.

by E. Compton G2G6 Pilot (198k points)
So much depends on what was meant by the original question. Nothing wrong with some quotes but it all depends on their purpose and content. Just dumping stuff into a biography area can be more confusing than leaving it empty. It needs to be thought out. The original questioner has not provided examples which would be quite useful to answers.
+7 votes
Copyright legislation varies between jurisdictions, ie Australian copyright is different from US copyright, diiss different from British Copyright. (I was involved in managing copyright for a multinational company so have a clear understanding of what this is about).

Firstly, if the article is out of copyright or within Creative Commons it can be used, but always acknowledge Sources.

Secondly, if it is within copyright then in most cases up to 10% of the works may be copied “for personal use”. WikiTree is not for personal use, but it is also not for commercial use either. Rather than going into detail about non commercial usage, I understand that short quotes, with source is acceptable, as you would see in a published book.

My recommendation is that you add inline references to the sources so that it doesn’t become full of referencing in the text.  

When I add long quotes from BMD Sources I add it to the reference not to the text.

See [[Crane-2899|William Crane]
by Deborah Talbot G2G6 Mach 7 (72.0k points)
edited by Deborah Talbot
Top notch answer. Key is always to acknowledge the actual author of the information and keep it short.
+4 votes
To me this is not a one size fits all answer.

If the quote is coming from a text not easily obtained then it should not be deleted.  Use of a free space page is a good alternative because the free space page can be linked to the profile.

Sometimes these long texts include historical tidbits that have clues to finding other family members or understanding the life the of the person.  

In genealogy less is often not better and while more may have a cluttered look, it might also have data you need.  

This is why I keep a copy of all my profiles so I can copy and paste back anything that I need to.  

In my opinion before a large amount of editing is done the PM should be given the courtesy of responding to the suggested edits.  Not everyone is a great writer.  But there may be something in that write up that has special meaning to the family that someone else may not understand and see as junk.
by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (849k points)
+2 votes
I've taught writing and citation, so my perspective is that complete quotations are seldom needed when writing a biography.  I frequently come across complete obituaries on orphaned profiles, and usually I rewrite those when I work on the biography.  For one thing, complete obituaries frequently contain names of living family members, and I avoid putting those details in biographies.  Paraphrasing is best.  However, sometimes when my only source is a quotation, I'll use the complete quotation.
by J. Crook G2G6 Pilot (233k points)
While I understand the caution about including whole obituaries, sometimes those exact same obituaries contain valuable genealogical information that is not easily found elsewhere. Plus they are already publicly available elsewhere.
And potentially a violation if copyright.
+6 votes
I've just been frustrated by something similar to what you describe. I just adopted two wives profiles. One has a very long citation about her husband, only some of which is relevant to her, another about her son - even less relevant.  Rather than delete them, I put them under a research note and paraphrased the relevant bits

This is off topic, but I keep running into women's profiles that are just an exact copy of the husband with no changes. Thankfully most of them have been orphans and I have adopted them and given them their own bio.
by Susan Fitzmaurice G2G6 Mach 6 (62.9k points)

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