Friday, April 24, 2009

Adding Quality Source Citations to Genealogy Software Through Technology

I posted last Sunday, in "A Better Way to Cite Online Sources" Video, Mark Tucker's suggestion to find a way to simplify the source citation process in genealogy software. Mark's press release was posted on the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) mailing list here. The press release included:

"Although great advances have been made in recent years to standardize and simplify citations, it is still too difficult. Today a video was released that proposes a better way to cite online sources.

"This 7.5 minute video consists of two sections. The first section discusses some of the current issues with citing sources especially when it comes to online sources. The second section demonstrates an approach to quickly and accurately cite online sources. The technology needed to accomplish this exists today. The changes proposed by this video requires collaboration between various providers of genealogy software and services."

What Mark has proposed is that the genealogy community (writers, professionals, researchers, publishers, etc.) work with genealogy data providers (like FamilySearch, Ancestry, Footnote, WorldVitalRecords, etc.) and genealogy software companies (like Family Tree Maker, Legacy, RootsMagic, TMG, etc.) to create and implement the changes needed to bring source citations that meet the Evidence! Explained (EE) standards from the databases into source citations in the software.

After Mark posted his press release on the APG mailing list, there were numerous responses by list readers with examples of poorly crafted database citations and even some comments that perhaps what Mark suggests cannot be done in a satisfactory way.

Elizabeth Shown Mills comment noted that:

"These 'problems' do exist in citations furnished by virtually all data providers and repositories that supply what are purported to be 'ready-made citations'--even among those that supposedly follow the same citation guide. The differences, of course, are generated by the humans who use the guide to create their own interpretations of what that guide recommends.

"Am I correct, Mark, in presuming that the software will simply capture whatever citation the provider uses? Then it will still be up to users to knowledgeably review what has been dumped into their research files and make whatever corrections are needed? "

Mark Tucker responded:

"That is correct. Because the proposal requires that organizations that provide access to online sources provide quality citations, this issue must be solved.

"In my career world of business and software there are various certifications that individuals or corporations can obtain.

"What if there were Certified Citation Specialists or a Citation Black Belt Certification? Organizations that provided content online could certify the individuals responsible for citing sources and obtain recognition for doing so. This training/certification would teach not only citation models but the nuances behind them-the 'why' and not just the 'what' of the citation."

There are many more posts and cogent comments in this thread which has persisted all week on the mailing list. Please read the whole thread for content and context. As I've pointed out before, the APG list is one of the very best places to discuss genealogy community issues in a (usually) civil manner.

Mark's idea of the community, the database providers and software providers working together is an excellent one. His suggestion of "How to do it" to make the miracle of "a standard EE-style source citation appear for a Fact in the software program with a single click" (my words) is very useful - perhaps it can be improved upon when (if?) the parties start working on the issue.

Mark also provided a short blueprint of what needs to be done in his post here:

"* That the genealogy community (genealogists, family historians, software companies, subscription database sites, etc.) adopt the Evidence Explained citation style for genealogy research
* That the major providers of online records (Ancestry, FamilySearch, Footnote, World Vital Records, GenSeek, etc.) start providing EE-style citations for all new records.
* That the major providers of online records establish a plan to add EE-style citation to their existing databases.
* That the citation be provided as both human-readable text as well as a standard computer-readable file format.
* That this file format be defined as a collaborative effort by representatives of the major parties involved.
* That this file format supports the level of detail provided by the EE QuickCheck models and allows for additional information such as references to digitized images, transcripts, and association with information such as people, places, dates, and events.
* That genealogy software companies add support to their applications to import this file format.
* That genealogy software that allows for creation of websites using a researcher's personal database, support the creation of pages that provide links to citation files."

My views include:

* Mark's proposal was excellent, and some sort of working group should be formed to explore it, perhaps under APG or BCG auspices.

* Some genealogy database provider source citations are poorly crafted - the APG thread notes some of them. One of my examples is how sources census records when they are brought into Family Tree Maker 2009 via a Web Search Merge - it does not include the microfilm Roll Number, Enumeration District or Page Number. The user has to edit the source citation to add them.

* The task of "fixing" already created source citation boilerplate, and creating a standard source format for transfer from database to software program, will cost significant money and time. Will the database providers take on the task?

* "Perfect is the enemy of the good." How good do the resulting EE-style source citations have to be? It may be that, if they have to be "perfect," the task will be abandoned. If they can be made "good enough" (to some group's standard), then every genealogy researcher can efficiently add "good citations" to their database. The best researchers will then edit them in their software to "perfect" them.

I can just see Mark Tucker, footnoteMaven, Elizabeth Mills and other "source citation experts" singing "(I'm Picking Up) Good Citations" (remember "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys in about 1965? I'm dating myself here, eh?) in a karaoke bar at a genealogy conference. And evetybody else singing along.

1 comment:

Eileen said...

It seems to me that with most versions of software now offering EE-based templates and with image providers having access to all the "facts" about their sources, Mark's suggestion is certainly doable. I don't care about perfection. Whatever I receive is typing I do not need to do. I use FTM 2009 and have to add the three data items to my census sources but I get a lot of other data I do not need to type. In my case, I also add the Image Number (or Page number) so that I can go directly to the image on their site without doing a search. I sincerely hope someone picks up this banner and supports Mark, working with the providers to acheive this goal.