Saturday, October 19, 2019

Genealogy Citations: Good, Better, Best

Genealogy Citations

Weighing in with personal opinion blog posts is not my style.

I wish it was but I’m more comfortable writing about resources available, reporting on conferences (Rootstech Takeaways: High Tech High Touch) and the technical how-tos of a database.   We work to our strengths and that is where I feel mine lie.

But I’m daring to comment on the whole genealogy citations ‘thing’.

There have been provocative and interesting blog posts on the topic recently from several sources including from Kerry over at Clue Wagon,  from Midwestern Microhistory and others and even more.

The whole topic of genealogy citations is a “how to” aspect that seems to have become a dividing camp issue.

I’m in firmly in Kerry’s Church of Citations camp.  I come from a technical background and I am an author of scientific papers.  Citations are important.

That said, I don’t zero in on the nitty gritty of them until we are ready to publish.

The casual genealogist or hobbyist isn’t thinking about citations at all. They are excitably gathering information and sharing it with others.

They don’t know yet that it is important to have citations!

I was there once.  Weren’t you?  My suggestion is not to be to hard on them.

Let’s put it this way.  Compare genealogy citations to the doctor telling you that you need to lower your cholesterol.  How do we do this?  If the doc doesn’t give you suggestions on how, it ain’t gonna happen, folks.

Most of the casual genealogists haven’t even been to the doctor yet!

I have a suggestion. Instead of talking about it, let’s take action.

Good Better Best Genealogy Citations

As I mentioned in my comments on a couple of blogs, my philosophy is good, better, best.

We all strive to do our best but start out as ‘good’ and become ‘better’ along the way to ‘best’.

I feel the genealogical community can put a positive spin on the citation issue by helping newbies grow.

Most newbies (or casual hobbyists)  simply don’t know how to do it better because they haven’t been exposed to better or best yet.

A kind, gentle approach to educating them is the key.

I suggest using a toastmasters approach which is sharing what they are doing well, offering constructive suggestions for improvement and leaving them hopeful and wanting to help build the best research possible. We can offer suggestions that provide concrete examples for others to follow.

Contrast this with slamming them for what they don’t  know they are doing wrong now, and you can see why issues don’t improve.

Perhaps, if we do this in a kind, humane fashion, the casual genealogists will buy into being part of a community that is striving for the good of all.  Being part of a community can be a big draw.

Not everyone will be interested but in my opinion that’s okay too.  Not everyone is fanatical about genealogy as we are.  Those of us in the avid genealogist category are not superior beings because our levels of interest are different.  The bottom line is any effort on our part to make better genealogy will benefit all.

Education about Genealogy Citations

I also suggest we create a campaign of education about genealogy citations. I’m going to brain storm out loud and perhaps you can join in with comments.

We can get a catchy title and logo, get the genealogy bloggers to promote it (after all we are the new media).   I think Thomas MacEntee was thinking along these lines when he created his “Cite Your Sources” button.

My suggestions are to create a Good, Better, Best Genealogy Approach

GOOD might be – copy the link to where you got the source into the notes section of your genealogy software program

BETTER- photocopy or scan all pertinent identifying documents (title page of the book flap, ISBN number, publisher, page numbers, etc).  Have a log book of that microfilm record; copy the pension record source down, etc etc.  (insert myriad of examples here).   We would also need examples of organization systems to keep track of the information.

BEST - Evidence Explained to the letter

Creating Awareness of Genealogy Citations

  • We can start slow and refer folks to the Evidence style Quicksheets so as not to scare them off, especially when a newbie has never heard of a source outside of an online record.
  • We can show people how to use the templates in the various genealogy software programs we use.
  • We can help people by providing concrete examples.
  • We can create a catchy citation song or blogging theme
  • We can hang out where newbies are and help them
  • We can create good, better, best ways of doing it which may suit people at different levels.

I’m just thinking out loud here.  I’m sure the Good, Better, Best methods can be expanded upon greatly.

Maybe we can create incentives to move from good to better to best.

And while we are doing this maybe the technology will evolve in the ways Mark Tucker suggests in his comments on Kerry’s blog post.   Also check out out Elizabeth Shown Mills “thou shalt” comments.  There are great suggestions there.

We can lead by example.  Instead of talking about this let’s DO something.  Let’s make folks aware!

Using this approach, there is a greater likelihood that individuals will grow and implement changes as they move from good to better to best practices.

My two cents,









24 Responses to “Genealogy Citations: Good, Better, Best”
  1. Geniaus says:


    You should write more opinion pieces. You mightn’t think it’s your style – but you do a pretty good job of advancing an argument – perhaps it’s that scientific background?
    Geniaus´s last [type] ..Sometimes less is more

  2. Hi Geniaus Jill,
    Thanks! It still isn’t my forte but I do have opinions. I also like to take action. Ready, aim, fire; refine, fire again.

    Thanks for dropping by.


  3. John says:


    For those who take citations seriously there’s a useful four pager “Citations for Canadians” posted on the APG Ontario Chapter website at:

    It’s not just a question of can you write citations according to professional standards. Many of us can if we put our mind to it, but the professional approach is not appropriate for casual communications such as a family letter or article in popular newsstand genealogy magazines. I like your more flexible and positive approach.

    Keep the opinion pieces coming.

  4. This is a very constructive post. Obviously, more high quality citations is the goal, but yelling at people that they aren’t “Good enough” at genealogy isn’t going to help.

    Offering good tools and resources is great, and that’s why we’ve been so focused on making documentation and sourcing so much better on Geni.
    Grant Brunner´s last [type] ..Profile of the Day- Alexander Graham Bell

  5. Hi John,
    Thankyou for the “Citations for Canadians” link. I’m going to add it to our list of resources over on the AFHS blog.

    Thank you also for your kind comments. Maybe I will dare to pipe up again :)


  6. Hi Grant,
    Thank you for your comments. I believe tolerance is the key as we all move towards a similar goal of better research.

    Thanks for visiting.


  7. Greta Koehl says:

    Well, I got a “Stay Calm and Cite Your Sources” pin as part of my door prize loot from Genea-Bloggers Blog Talk Radio. And a wooden “Cite Your Sources” bookmark that I bought at a genealogy conference. Maybe I won’t be out preaching on the street corners, but I could use the opportunity when people ask me what they are….
    Greta Koehl´s last [type] ..Friday News Letter and Follow News- 4 March 2011

  8. Hi Greta,
    I like that idea! People are sure to ask when they see that bright red “Stay Calm and Cite Your Sources” button!

    Thanks for visiting.


  9. Joan, I couldn’t have said it any better because you just said it best! Taking the “you catch more flies with honey then you do with vinegar” approach works best every time in my book.

    Thanks for saying it best.
    Michelle Goodrum´s last [type] ..Using Land Records to Solve Genealogical Problems – Part 1

  10. Hi Michelle,

    Aww, you are sweet. Thanks!


  11. Randy Seaver says:

    I think someblogger made up a song “Good Citations” to the tune of the Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” several years ago. Can’t recall who, though!

    Would be a great intro to a talk about Citation management.

    My own citation heirarchy might be:

    GOOD — writes down author, title, publication info and repository on paper or in software database notes

    BETTER — creates freeform footnote citation using information from book or periodical cover, or from WorldCat or google Books online resource.

    BEST — creates Evidence Explained template source in genealogy software.

    There’s more options, of course, but that’s been my evolution.

  12. Hi Randy,
    LOL..I think the “Good Citations” song would be the great start to a Citation talk.

    I like your Good, Better, Best hierarchy. Perhaps this is something that can be brainstormed further.

    Thanks for visiting.


  13. Congratulations on being one of Family Tree Magazine’s 40 Best Genealogy Blogs for 2011. I love what you do. Keep it up!
    Michelle Goodrum´s last [type] ..Congratulations to Family Tree Magazine’s 40 Best Genealogy Blogs 2011

  14. Maureen Bausemer says:

    I enjoyed your post. As a newbie, I didn’t realize for a while, that you needed sources and I didn’t know how to make them. I still don’t really understand how to use the source citation box on my FTM, even though I’ve tried reading the directions. So please do be patient with us. But don’t stop the preaching about citations, because sooner or later even us newbies are going to wish we had them.

  15. Barbara Barno says:

    Google says the “Good Citations” song was from footnoteMaven, October 21, 2009: Thank you for mentioning it, Randy; I am going to do a talk on evidence analysis and citations this September for my local genealogy society, and I will probably use that song in my introduction. And Joan, thank you for posting your opinion, and good suggestions. Keep up the good work.

  16. Hi Barbara,
    Thank you for your comments. I’d enjoy hearing the “Good Citations” song :)


  17. Hi Maureen,
    Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. We were all newbies once and everyone is at different stages of the learning curve…and that’s okay. The genealogy community is a very giving one.


  18. Hi Michelle,
    Thank you for your kind comments :)


  19. Gail Dunning says:

    Joan – I am a year late to this party, but thank you for the kind words. I am a college graduate, albeit many years ago, but I am a newbie genealogist, and I am pretty good at it. I “get” that we need citations, but I really hate all the “screechifying”. It is very discouraging, mean, and unecessary. There are days when I would like to slap “She who will remain nameless, the queen of all things to do with citation”. The reason being that she can’t keep her mean comments to herself, and that distracts me from understanding the information.

    “Good, better, and Best” rocks! Thanks, Gail


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. [...] blog discussion on citations bring home just how important they can be.   The gold standard is outlined in Elizabeth Shown [...]

  2. [...] genealogy database. More recently, Joan Miller (Luxegen) put in her two cents on the subject with Good, Better, Best, as did a few other bloggers in [...]

  3. [...] first is the post “Genealogy Citations: Good, Better, Best,” in the Luxegen Genealogy and Family History, posted on 6 March 2011. Joan writes, As I [...]

  4. [...] On Luxegen Genealogy and Family History, Joan Miller writes about how to educate new researchers regarding citations, and her Good/Better/Best citation philosophy. [...]

  5. [...] Miller, “Genealogy Citations: Good, Better, Best,” Luxegen Genealogy and Family History blog, posted 6 Mar [...]

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