[APG Public List] Citing Sources - Your Opinion

linda at fpr.com linda at fpr.com
Tue Jun 29 12:06:25 MDT 2010

Cindy asked:

> 2.	Do you think one solution would be to lobby the largest subscription
> services, such as Ancestry.com, to provide more up-front and visible prompts
> to add ANY kind of information as to where the information as obtained - in
> their public family trees?

I don't know about lobbying subscription services about policing the
degree of documentation on family trees, etc.  Restricting what
individuals can publish isn't something I'd be interested in supporting.

However, I am interested in accurate source descriptions.  Right now it
seems that the subscription services are the "author" for any and all
source description available when using their products.  I do not trust
the reliability of the information in those descriptions, and I think
the underlying issue is that the service provider is "authoring"
material it is not an expert in.  It makes more sense to me to lobby
major repositories, such as NARA, to include in their partnering
agreements the requirement that the partner provide visible links back
to source descriptions provided by the "original" repository.  Those
links would be provided to the subscription service by the "original"
repository for each record group or collection, or however the home
repository deems most accurate.

This way the service provider can write about what it knows about (the
database organization, the database entries associated with it, search
tools, whatever--the stuff it did to make the record group available to
its users and any fields that were added.  And the original repository
can be the source of the descriptions about the actual records which
came from their collections

In addition to resulting in hopefully more accurate source descriptions
for users, this approach might also raise the awareness about different
repositories, their collections, etc. and the *structure* of the what it
is a researcher is looking at.  At least for the users who are
interested in reading this information in the first place.  It might
also have the extraordinary benefit of preventing a service provider
from lumping a bunch of record groups together and just listing the
many, many "sources," with no way for the user to accurately determine
the specific collection the record came from without "guessing" or doing
more research.  Ancestry's "Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S.,
1895-1956" is one such example.

If a clear convention could be adopted by the many players in the
various aspects of the information business whereby each player is
responsible for the description for *their* "value-added" portion, it
might avoid the current fuzziness in the source descriptions and knowing
which information came from what source.  Lobbying the major
repositories to make this requirement of any partners which make their
collections available makes sense to me as a reasonable way to work for
change on this issue.  I could also see major professional and research
societies making this an issue they publicized and supported.   For this
non-professional-trying-to-do-the-right-thing-researcher, such an
approach would be a major quality of life improvement.


Linda Gardner

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