[APG Public List] Citing Sources - Your Opinion

LBoswell laboswell at rogers.com
Tue Jun 29 12:29:31 MDT 2010

I think part of the problem with subscription services is that sometimes we 
seem to be asking them to do our work for us.  There's usually enough 
information there that the original records can be fully identified, and the 
current location then found, but sometimes it takes a little effort to do 
so.  That's nothing compared to what it used to take (first going somewhere 
like an archive to see the record, or order in a microfilm through an FHC, 
and in the latter case, also identify the original and where held etc).  So 
now we only have to do a little bit of sleuthing to fully identify the 
record.   .

To use information taken from a subscription database without fully 
identifying the record that contains the information (even if that means 
having to do it on our own) is going to negatively impact on any evaluation 
of that information as evidence.

And it's because the partial information can't be trusted that you have to 
do more digging. Exactly for that reason.  Enough can be gleaned from 
Ancestry (for example) in most cases, to allow the full identification, 
including current location of the original record itself.  And in the 
process of doing that bit of work, the payback can be discovery of new 
sources or a new understanding of what was collected from Ancestry. Win-win.

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: linda at fpr.com
  To: Cindy Leigh
  Cc: apgpubliclist at apgen.org
  Sent: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 2:06 PM
  Subject: Re: [APG Public List] Citing Sources - Your Opinion

  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 
  > to add ANY kind of information as to where the information as obtained - 
  > 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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