See “Evidence Management” for an overview and links to other articles in this series.
I recently received this message (which I have edited slightly).
Dear Ancestry Insider,
In "Evidence Management in the Wild" you wrote “As does PAF, Ancestry.com misuses the terms source and citation.” I would find it useful if you could put up the "correct" definition of those two alongside the PAF and Ancestry definitions, so I can understand the differences. I don't use those 2 for recording stuff but do use a GEDCOM based program, which may, or may not, have similar "issues". (I put “issues” in quotes not because I don't believe you, but rather because on my side of the Atlantic this sort of thing doesn't register anywhere in Family History. On the other hand being trained as a mathematician and having done data modeling, I do appreciate robust definitions)
I would be happy to.
Elizabeth Shown Mills taught me that wise genealogists would do well to recognize the centuries of scholarship that proceed them. Thus, for the definitions of source and citation, one need look no further than the dictionary. Back in November I did just that, augmenting the definitions from the writings of leading genealogists. (See "Genealogical Maturity Model Definitions.")
source – 1. the origin that supplies information.1 2. “an artifact, book, document, film, person, recording, website, etc., from which information is obtained.”2
citation – 1. “citations are statements in which we identify our source or sources for…particular [information].”3 2. “a citation states where you found [the cited] piece of information.”4
information – 1. “knowledge obtained from investigation.”5 2. “the content of a source—that is, its factual statements or its raw data.”6
evidence – 1. “something that furnishes proof.”7 2. “information that is relevant to the problem.”8 3. analyzed and correlated information assessed to be of sufficient quality.9 4. “the information that we conclude—after careful evaluation—supports or contradicts the statement we would like to make, or are about to make, about an ancestor.”10
conclusion – 1. “a reasoned judgment.”11 2. “a decision [that should be] based on well-reasoned and thoroughly documented evidence gleaned from sound research.”12
For citations, the Board for the Certification of Genealogists recommends the humanities style from the Chicago Manual of Style. The humanities citation style utilizes reference notes (either footnotes or end notes) and bibliographies. Bibliographies are sometimes called source lists because they are lists that summarize all the sources used in an article, report, or work.
Reference note citations must be highly specific, citing the page level in a book or the certificate level in a vital records collection. Befitting its role as a summary, citations in a bibliography are more general. All the pages cited in a book can be summarized by citing the book. Citing a birth certificate collection is an appropriate summary for several certificate citations.
I have my own name for the information dropped from a reference note to create a citation in a bibliography. I call it locator information because it allows a researcher to locate the specific source cited by a reference note within the general source cited in a bibliography. For a book, the locator information is the page number. For a birth certificate, the locator information depends on the clerk's filing system. Are certificates filed by certificate number? Person's name? Birth date? Are new files started each year? Locator information for birth certificates involve one or more of these pieces of information, as appropriate.
PAF Meant Well
For reasons I will explain in a minute, PAF users are surprised to learn that both a reference note and an entry in a bibliography are citations. They may be likewise surprised that both a page of a book and an entire book are sources. You'll see the origin of their confusion in a moment.
Recording citations can be tedious, so programs use several ways to make it easier. Many genealogy programs exploit the fact that citations in bibliographies lack the locator information found in reference note citations. By prompting users separately for the bibliography citation and the locator information, the information in the bibliography citation doesn't have to be retyped for each reference note. Unfortunately, when prompting users separately for the bibliography citation and the locator information, PAF called the former a source and the latter a citation.
Let me summarize. PAF calls a bibliography citation a source. And it calls locator information—a portion of a reference note citation—a citation.
Let me say it another way. PAF uses source for something that is not a source and citation for something that is not a citation.
Yes, they meant well. But this error has propagated to subsequent genealogy programs (which also faced the lack of a term for locator information).
Non-genealogists use the terms source and citation and they understand one another. Genealogists use the terms and all bets are off.
2. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FNGS, FASG, FUGA, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd ed. [hereinafter, EE2] (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009), 828.
3. Mills, EE2, 42.
4. Patricia Law Hatcher, CG, FASG, quoted in The Source, ed. Loretto Dennis Szucs, FUGA, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, FUGA, 3rd ed. (Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2006) p. 24; citing “How Do You Know?” in Producing a Quality Family History (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1996), 117.
5. Merriam-Webster, “information.”
6. Mills, EE2, 24.
7. Merriam-Webster, “evidence.”
8. Mills, EE2, 822.
9. Christine Rose,CG, CGL, FASG,, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case (San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2005), 2.
10. The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, ed. Helen F. M. Leary, CG, CGL, FASG, (Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2000), 8.
11. Merriam-Webster, “conclusion.”
12. Mills, EE2, 820.