Saturday, July 11, 2009

Historical Record Source Citations imported from

After exporting my Ancestry Member family tree to a GEDCOM file, I wasn't sure what the source citations for the Historical Records attached to persons in my online family tree would look like. would they all be in one box in the source citation fields in the genealogy software, or distributed in the "right places?"

I decided to use RootsMagic 4 to find out. I opened RootsMagic 4 and worked in my imported database from Here is the "Edit Person" window for Frank Walton Seaver (1876-1942) in RootsMagic 4:

The Historical Record for the 1910 US Census in Leominster MA for Frank is highlighted in the screen above, and the Sources button says "1 Residence source" next to it. I clicked on the button to see the Source that came through the export:

The Citation Manager opened in the screen above, and shows the Free-Form citations (meaning not generated by the Source Templates), the Source text/comments (there are none) and the Detail text/comments (information about birth year, birth place, and residence in 1910, plus the image URL on I noted that there are no spaces in the Detail text comments - too bad, since those will have to be corrected if they are printed out.

I wanted to see what happened when I hit the "Edit" button on the "Citation Manager" page:

The "Edit source" window opened and I could, if I wished, edit the information in the Master Source, the Source Details (which includes the film series, roll number, page number, etc.), the Source text, comments and media (using the "More" button next to the Master source fields, and the Detail text and comments (using the "More" button next to the Source Details field.

Here is the "free-form" Footnote source citation from the importing from the GEDCOM:

", 1910 United States Federal Census (Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2006. For details on the contents of the film numbers, visit the following NARA web page: NARA.Original data - United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census of the Unit), Year: 1910; Census Place: Leominster, Worcester, Massachusetts; Roll: T624_629; Page: 13B; Enumeration District: 1772; Image: 202."

Hmmm, doesn't look exactly like the Evidence Explained or the Quicksheet citations for census records, does it? But what can we expect? The citation that came across in the GEDCOM file is the one generated by, and we've all complained about the inconsistency and inadequacy of those citations - I did recently in Ancestry Quirks - Source Citations.

What about other genealogy software programs? I did the same exercise with Legacy Family Tree 7 and Family Tree Maker 2009 and the results were essentially the same -- free form source citations very similar to the RootsMagic 4 example above.

Frankly, we cannot expect the genealogy software companies to fix these source citations "automatically" for each census citation. My opinion is that should take it upon themselves to create Evidence Explained quality Master Sources for each of their databases so that the resulting free-form citation is adequate.

It is clear to me that one of the limitations at work here is the fact that the GEDCOM format is inadequate to separate source citation elements into different fields. Until an improved standard for transferring data between websites and executable programs is defined and implemented, we are all stuck with GEDCOM for better and for worse.

What is the best way, at the present time, to create quality source citations in genealogy software? I believe that it is to use the Source Citation Templates found in each program and create them yourself, including the detail text and then attach the downloaded census image to the event and source. That way, the user can include all persons in the event and not just the head-of-household as is the case with the GEDCOM exported file.


DearMYRTLE said...

Thanks for the comparison study, Randy. I agree that the website programs should make the effort to conform to ELM's EVIDENCE EXPLAINED. The software programmers managed to find the time to do it.

Geolover said...

Thanks for renewed emphasis on the drawbacks of's approach to source citations.

I agree with Myrt, too, but one has to remember that the Ancestry Member Tree software is not a full-blown genealogical program.

It does not have fields corresponding with all the available fields in standard genealogical programs.

Its architecture is not the same. It is meant to integrate principally with links to records extracts (that likes to call "the records") on the site, with its only-fair search-engine platform (having myriad different user interfaces) and with its tree-searching and addition-of-tree-elements function.

Even Tree Owners cannot edit the Places database (even for a given tree), cannot merge individuals, and cannot export (from the Member Tree) images attached to individuals along with the gedcom file.

It is important for users and subscribers to recognize that is not principally a "genealogy" site, but is a multi-function business selling access to specific areas, principally databases of myriad types and the Trees.

Just as with the senior-citizen organization owned by Prudential Insurance, we don't get a 'vote'.