What's the policy on using weblinks as sources?

+2 votes
I think using a weblink as a source is a bad idea. (How many websites are still active from 2001?) Besides the fact that the internet never stops changing, some of these links go to paid websites. Wikitree is supposed to be free. I think it's better to make proper references of primary sources.

Thank you.
in Policy and Style by V. Covalt G2G Crew (750 points)
Heartily agree!!
Yes, I also agree. I have printouts from the version of Family search before the present incarnation. These URLs no longer work.Who now can find 1837online. com? Its still there but from  2006 became Findmypast and of course the old URLs don't work.

For posterity, I would far rather see an unlinked but fully cited record.

4 Answers

+20 votes
Best answer

The one doesn't necessarily exclude the other. Many national archives around the world now offer online scanned images of old registers, like the Norwegian Digitalarkivet. I'll always cite a Norwegian parish register entry by the full archival reference, a link to the scanned image, and a full transcript of the relevant text.

A link is not a citation in itself. It should always be accompanied by a description of what was actually found there. In the case of documents hidden behind a pay wall, this becomes an absolute necessity.

by Leif Biberg Kristensen G2G6 Pilot (118k points)
selected by Chase Ashley
Yes, if the link is accompanied by an actual reference citation and not just a description, then I'm satisfied.
+5 votes

Depending on what site you are using you can archive that site yourself and link from the archive.

Look to right-hand side of this page where it says "save page now".


Enter the link in the field and it will give you an archive of that page to link. You can archive things such as obituaries, extracts and such on historical society pages, etc. Many things that are helpful to the genealogist.

You won't be able to archive Family Search results or anything like that, but I don't think the LDS church is going anywhere soon.

RE: Wikitree, don't forget that everyone is encouraged to give full citations in addition to their links.

by Dina Grozev G2G6 Pilot (107k points)
edited by Dina Grozev
That's the problem I'm talking about: someone posts a link to FamilySearch, you click it, and you can't even see the source because it asks for a password. This is the kind of thing WikiTree should discourage (or outlaw) when said link is not accompanied by a proper reference citation.
At least with FamilySearch it is a free registration, so getting that password is (usually (don't look at me!)) a pretty straightforward thing.  Once registered you can stay logged in for a couple of weeks at a time.

I do agree, however, that the citation used should allow for someone to see where it's from without the need to log in elsewhere.  (The citations from FS are usually pretty thorough, so should be used as given.)

Also in the future when asking a question like this it would help if you showed an example of what you dislike. 

Linking to Family Search is pretty standard here, but people usually provide a citation as it is provided there at the bottom of the page. (Although it is not in the same style as is encouraged at Wikitree. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Sources_Style_Guide)

There is also an extension just for using Wikitree in tandem with Family Search. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:WikiTree_X

But again, I invite you to try archiving pages yourself if you are worried about material disappearing.

+8 votes
I don't think you'll get any argument about the desirability of identifying primary sources.  In addition to showing the real source, it gives a reader a possible mechanism for finding the data again should a link move or become broken.  Nevertheless many of us do use web links as well.  Often that is where we found the data that is shown, and it gives the reader the quickest and easiest way to find the data, and related info, if he wants to (without getting out of his chair).  I'm not aware of any policy that discourages use of web links, but it is a good idea to revisit your profiles occasionally to make sure the links still work.
by Dennis Barton G2G6 Pilot (441k points)
+6 votes

According to pages 57–58 of §2.32 'Basic Elements to Cite' of the 3rd / Kindle ed. of Evidence Explained

  • “Online sources are publications, with the same basic elements as print publications. This core principle applies whether we are using a commercial site, a website created by an individual or a social networking site such as Facebook, Linkedin, or Twitter. “
  • These  online sources are subject to four basic rules: a) “Most websites are the online equivalent of a book that are cite like a book” with author, title, url,  page, etc.; b) “A website that offers multiple items by different creators is the equivalent of a book with chapters by different authors.”; c) “A website is a publication, not a repository.” and d) “Websites require a thoughtful examination.”, including in terms of need to record all info that might help recover a broken link’s material.”

The Wikipedia article Link rot offers some helpful insights on combating link rot.

Bottom line: Online materials are becoming increasingly important sources from a genealogy research viewpoint. These online materials cannot be ignored solely on the basis of ink rot considerations. 

by D Amy G2G3 (3.0k points)
This is very short sited and completely misses the point of research, which should always use primary resources whenever possible. Pasting links into references is quick and easy, and good for badge cred, but without proper reference citation with it, it creates problems in and for the future.

Please read my answer more carefully as it is based on Evidence Explained (EE), the genealogy research citation style Gold Standard, which is anything but short-sighted and missing the point about research. There is no inherent conflict between using online material and using original-copied sources (according to EE, the term 'primary source' is no longer used in sound genealogical analysis). Nor is there any suggestion in this answer that proper 'reference citation' is not being used. Within the Evidence Style framework, except for the URL, everything about the online link source and the associated citation(s) should be free-standing such that if the link is broken all the details are available.

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