Yesterday Michael Hait wrote a blog posting titled My last word on GeneaBlogging and the Paradigm Shift. In it he recommends that genealogy bloggers provide citations in their postings when presenting genealogical research. My blog here started out as commentary more than research, so I did not think much about citing sources until last week when I posted the article Photo analysis – Casper Schick’s Ash Creek Inn. I did not cite my sources, but I thought about it. At the time I decided to pass on citations, as I had not figured out a good way to get footnotes into HTML. After reading Michael’s post, though, which included a link to the article Footnotes – How to Cite Sources In Blogs and Websites, I figured I would try adding citations to my photo analysis article in a new posting: Photo analysis – Casper Schick’s Ash Creek Inn — with footnotes and see how the process goes.
I first found I needed to fix up some of the citations I had done. I’m trying to get better at creating citations from logic rather than just looking up models in Evidence Explained, so I used the general pattern from the material in the Boston University course I took last summer. Since other people would now be seeing my citations, though, I checked my attempts against Evidence Explained and touched some of them up.
Then I was ready to add the citations to the article. I am writing this blog at WordPress.com, which does not have footnote handling. Because of this, I had to use HTML to write my footnotes. I know HTML, having written the first web page on the Internet about unicycling, but it is not something I use a lot anymore. I referred to the article “Footnotes – How to Cite Sources In Blogs and Websites,” by Thomas Macentee to get some advice on how to do the citations and went to work.
I have to say, this last part was a bit tedious, but with a lot of copying and pasting I came up with a new version of my posting with citations. Now the question is: “Is it worth the effort to add citations to a blog posting?”
- If someone wants to look up the source behind what I’m saying they can now easily do so. As it happens, I got a request after the initial posting for one of the newspaper articles dealing with Prohibition. Now that the citations are in the article anyone can look them up as they like. While it does not take long to respond to requests like this, it is more convenient for the readers if the information is right there for them.
- Putting the citations in the posting is a good discipline, as it makes me properly document my work throughout the whole process. I would like to do professional genealogy later on, so this is good training for future report assignments and journal articles.
- Citations give the postings more credibility. If you read someone’s genealogical work and it does not have citations, the most you can say is that it is interesting. You have no idea if it is true or not and you do not have a way to verify it. Citations strengthen the points you are making.
There are some difficulties, though, in citing sources in a blog posting:
- You have to be able to create the citations. This is not trivial. Citing most genealogical sources is much harder than citing journals and books back in college. This is a bigger problem than just for blogging, though, as citations are important in one’s personal genealogical research as well. The aforementioned book Evidence Explained is a big help here, and some genealogy programs such as Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic have wizards to help build citations. The citations from these programs may not be in perfect form, but this will give you a start in citing your sources.
- Creating footnotes in raw HTML is more difficult than in a program like Microsoft Word. There is some copying and pasting, and if you insert a footnote in the middle you will have to renumber the notes that come after. I’m still hoping for a better way to do this with WordPress.com, but other systems may have better footnote support.
Now, while I see benefits from including citations in blog postings, that does not mean that all genealogy blog postings need to have them. Postings that are opinion, like this one, do fine without them as they stand on the words in the posting and not sources. Postings that involve assertions of genealogical fact, though, greatly benefit from having citations.