Tuesday, March 31, 2009

To Cite Or Not To Cite . . .

. . . that is the current burning question among genealogy blog authors this week.  In case you've missed out, a discussion has cropped up as to the very legitimacy of genealogy blogs and their role in helping people search for their roots.  While I won't delve into the details of such a discussion, I do want to dicuss how I handle source citations here at Destination: Austin Family and my opinions on how using endnotes can affect the readibility of blog posts.

The idea of including footnotes/endnotes in genealogy blog posts is not new, nor is the discussion among geneabloggers as to whether or not to include such source information.  Many of us opt not to cite our sources in the blog post and this is not because we are "intellectually lazy" and just don't want to do the work.  The fact is that many of our posts are created based on our research.

In my series Two Roads: Do McEntee and MacEntee Converge or Fork?, many of my posts had up to 52 endnotes all citing sources used in my research. Most of my posts, even those for Tombstone Tuesday, have research to back them up. During last summer's Geneablogger Games, one of the events was Go Back And Cite Your Sources which awarded various medals based on the number of source citations created in one's genealogy database.

I admit I am not consistent when including source citations in my blog posts. Mostly I worry that it will affect the readibility of my posts. This has been discussed at length among geneabloggers in the past including some great comments on a post by Sheri Fenley of The Educated Genealogist.

Here is my current take on the source citation situation: my blog posts are not the same as articles submitted to a genealogical society for publication. What I write on my genealogy blog is intended to "bring to life" the stories of my family and my ancestors and to make the field of genealogy attractive to my readers. This doesn't mean I have a "low brow" readership that can't handle endnotes and source citations. It doesn't mean that I don't have said citations to back up what I say or write here. It doesn't mean that my genealogy blog - or any genealogy blog for that matter - is not a legitimate source of information about a particular topic or family line.

What it does mean is this: just like any source of information you encounter in your daily routine - be it television, The Internets, newspapers, etc. - you are expected to exercise your own judgment and critical thinking as to whether the information merits your attention and possible use as a source for whatever you do including genealogy research. Anyone who does not go through life this way probably believes everything they read in the paper, is certain that they have $33 million waiting for them in an overseas bank account because some Nigerian man said so, and has it on good authority that they are the 5th cousin 10 times removed to Queen Victoria all because some man named Gustave Anjou did the research and charged them for it.


Cheryl Rothwell said...

Right on. Blogs are not journal articles. The audience is wider and more varied. Blogs are more akin to newspaper features than journals.

Concetta Phillipps said...

I think that a blog should be treated like a written essay when its about something as formal as a documentation of history. Then you should use the footnotes and its not a pain to read.

You can also do it where a footnoted version appears "after the jump". This is a common approach on some of the business blogs I read - you read the unadorned version scrolling the blog, but the sourced one comes later.

Just looking at the articles you quoted, yours and Sherri's - I'd say yours is just fine, and Sherri's might be "overfootnoted".

I think what might be better, however, is hovering actions. If you hover on a fact, the source pops up. I haven't seen it used in genealogical blogs but for someone aiming for more of a story/essay approach and less of a journal article look, it would be an interesting way to handle the issue.

I haven't actually written about my ancestors at my blog yet, but your article has certainly made me think about starting!

Ginger Smith said...

Hi Thomas, I have likewise debated to cite or not to cite on my blogs for some time now. This is why it took me so long to get my two blogs up and running. Initially I wrote for myself and of course I cited my sources because *I* am lost without them. But when I started trying to attract other readers and when I started telling stories instead of providing research findings, I started to feel more comfortable leaving the citing out of the post.

So I go both ways. I've been citing my sources more and more lately mostly as an exercise and getting into the habit of doing it. Also I've been using more locality-based printed sources and would like to make those titles available to my readers. I also teeter between telling stories and displaying research findings. Since a lot of what we write are "how tos" I find it imperative to include sources, especially if we are trying to outline how we found something or how important that source was to our research.

Claudia's thoughts said...

I have to say that my Blog is for my feelings and perhaps others might be interested in reading it. I know I am interested in the blogs of others.

I like knowing others have the same problems and perhaps they may have stated a solution, or given me some idea on how to procede with my research.

When I write the paper (if ever) I will cite the sources. Sometimes I just write my ideas and hunches and surprises that I have relating to what I find.

Carole Riley said...

I have struggles with this question as well. I don't think that the story I write has any validity if I don't state where I got the information, but it's not a journal article and shouldn't be bogged down with footnotes or endnotes.

The solution I came to was to just list them at the end. There is no link between the sentence in the narrative and the source at the end, but nonetheless a reader can see that I haven't just made the story up!

Judith Richards Shubert said...

I concur with all of the writers who've commented here. One of the things I worried with was how to use information found without infringing on copyrights of others. I probably am doing it incorrectly, but thought I should at least source those documents, etc., that have provided me with information. I, too, don't want to clutter up a post with undue footnotes, especially if it's a post where I'm just chatting or writing my opinion. So, I vote for anything that seems to fit your situation. Or, as Ginger says, do a little of both.

Greta Koehl said...

Although I initially bemoaned the difficulty in inserting footnotes in blog posts, I'm now leaning the other way - full, properly formatted footnotes will be handled like the "references" part of a resume - provided on request. It will make it necessary for the "serious researcher" to contact me to get the entire scoop, instead of just scooping and shooting with the fully reported and sourced information off my blog. I'm happy to share information and sources both in the blog and in e-mail, but I have taken the approach of talking about the sources inside the text of a post or discussing how I used them in separate posts. If the purpose of a blog article tends toward the more scholarly, then I might add the notes at the end.

Lori E said...

Oh my gosh, It would have never occured to me to cite my sources in my posts. I think it is because I write for pleasure. I know sources should be attached to the information they refer to but I am not going to have someone scrolling down for five minutes to get to the next post.Perhaps a link to a family tree which has all the sources already there could be use in these situations.
I totally agree with Cheryl R.