Wednesday, April 10, 2013

FamilySearch: Cite your sources, please!

Ol' Myrt here realizes that a cadre of volunteers "man" FamilySearch Facebook discussion groups. Today one such FamilySearch Facebook moderator didn't cite the source of lengthy info he/she was providing to the group. Volunteer or not, this isn't acceptable.

"Teach correct principles, and they govern themselves." This is one of the admonitions of Joseph Smith that applies in this case. FamilySearch representatives should aspire to teach correct principles.
One of the most basic of correct principles in genealogy is to "cite your sources." 
FamilySearch provides guidelines in it's wiki including “Cite Your Sources (Source Footnotes)”.

Let's put a sticky note on each FamilySearch volunteer's computer monitor: Cite your source!

The moderator of a specific Germanic research group on Facebook quoted four paragraphs of a post from an unnamed "Ancestry message board" as a discussion point about what happened to Germans after Pomerania became Poland.
  • yes, the item was in quotes
  • no, there is no hyperlink back to the original post

WHY is this important?

One must provide the link to a message board  post even when quoting part if it. That's citing a source, an essential if you want to build on a firm foundation. This also provides the opportunity for readers to:
  • contact the original poster to discover his source info
  • be in conversation with others on that message board 
  • place the quote in context

Linda Woodward Geiger provides insight in her article "Using the Compilations of Others", available online, originally published in OnBoard 7 (Sept 2001): 20-21 by the Board for Certification of Genealogists: 
"Potentially, erroneous information is contained in published genealogies, county histories, genealogical lineages (including electronic files), and an abundant number of Web sites. Yet all of these sources also have the potential to contain helpful information for our research. When combined with proper caution to verify the validity of the material, the use of these sources can be of tremendous value to the researcher."

Aside from "giving credit where credit is due" FamilySearch should lead the way in providing access to accurate information. I don't know how to put this delicately... but here goes:

The words written by a person, even on a public message board, are covered by copyright and full attribution should be given. 

We live in a world where copying and pasting genealogy info from one tree to another, regardless of source analysis, is an accepted but dangerous activity. The resulting family history is likely fraught with errors. Even importing a trusted genealogist's work should be done carefully with an eye to newly-available record groups for the places where each ancestor lived.
Appealing to those religiously inclined God's house is a house of order.
From a scientific standpoint, Ol' Myrt here simply cannot fathom why people would want to compile a fictitious family history.

FamilySearch is arguably one of the top two genealogy resources on the Internet. The distribution of non-digital materials through the network of 4,000+ FamilySearch Centers throughout the world is phenomenal.

FamilySearch's example should be to scrupulously cite sources of information. The correct principle is taught, and aspiring family historians will follow suit.


Library of Congress. “Citing Primary Sources”. viewed 10 April 2013.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. “Citing Your Sources,” OnBoard 1 (September 1995):24. viewed 10 April 2013. Mrs. Mills answers the burning question “Quality or junk? How do you want your research described by others?”

__________________. Evidence: Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.)

__________________. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Second Edition. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2007.) Available in digital format at

____________________. “QuickLesson 16: Speculation, Hypothesis, Interpretation and Proof”.; viewed 10 April 2013.

____________________. QuickSheet: Citing Online Historical Resources: Evidence! Style, 1st revised edition. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2007.) Available in digital format at

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont


  1. I hope you will post this on the FamilySearch blog also as the program designers must make the Sourcing TOP PRIORITY in their development:

    1. Migrating over sources from new FamilySearch
    2. Allow synching of sources with 3rd party affiliates--I have 10,000 sources in my desktop program--how can I easily transfer those to Family Tree?

    I feel FT should not have been made public until the above 2 were completed.

    Thanks, Pat

  2. Thank you! I get so frustrated when I find trees on Ancestry and there are absolutely no source citations. AND if you advise them of a blatant error they may just ignore you. I am trusting Family Search's new Family Tree much more because they ask for sources or to explain why you think a fact is different from the original post.