Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dear Randy: What are Free-form Citations, and why are you using them?

In my post Data Mining and Fixing the Database - an Update, faithful reader Eileen commented:

"I have been following all your efforts and have really appreciated all the work you've done analyzing citations. I would like to apply some of your ideas to my database but I confess that I am a little unsure of what you mean by "free form" citations, especially when it appears that you complete every field in the citation entry window."

My apologies for being so obtuse... I've been living with my Seaver Source Citation Saga for about six months now!  My post Software Programs, GEDCOM Files and Source Citations - Some Recommendations  described my conclusions and recommendations for sources, GEDCOM and online trees.  Another post where I discussed my reasons for using Free-form source citations in my genealogy software is My Solution for US Census Free-form Source Citations in RootsMagic 4. 

My reasons for intentionally choosing to use Free-form source citations is very simple (but the explanation is long):

1)  Genealogical and family history data (names, dates, places, relationships, other events) in genealogy databases should have source citations attached to them for documentation purposes, including images of the documentation. 

2)  I want to share my genealogy database on different family tree websites - in, on, in, on, on, on the New FamilySearch Family Tree,and many more,  etc.  It's all about finding other researchers who share ancestry with me - it's "cousin bait."  My hope is that they will contact me and share information freely with me, as I am dedicated to doing with them.

3)  To upload my family tree to any of these websites, I need to use a GEDCOM file (at least until a better way to translate a family tree from one program to another, or to a website, comes along). 

4)  Free-form source citations are the only reliable format to transfer source citation information in family trees between programs and between programs and websites.  I demonstrated this in the Seaver Source Citation Saga.

Now I know people are asking:  "But the software companies have invested time and expense in developing Evidence! Explained quality source citations. Why aren't you using them?"

The simple answer to that is:  "Yes, they create wonderful source citations, using 'fill-in-a-template' forms, but the information in those templates do not transfer to another program format or to an online family tree reliably."

Therefore, I decided that the Free-form source citation format is the only way to produce reliable source citations that will be minimally mangled when transferred via GEDCOM to another program or an online family tree. 

I also determined that RootsMagic 4 was my program of choice to create all of the free-form source citations because it was the easiest to use, and suffered no source citation mangling, of the three programs I have available to me - I also have Family Tree Maker 2011 and Legacy Family Tree 7. 

Eileen's comment wondered how I did it - I'll do a little demonstration in another post. 

1 comment:

Cousin Russ said...


Randy has done a great job of walking all of us, how follow him, through this "mess" (my words not his).

I use Family Tree Maker and have used Roots Magic 4, and Legacy 7, dealing with this issue. (Free-Form vs another form).

Here is my take. Family Tree Maker has one such "free form" citation format. It has been in use for 10 or so years.

I think that Roots Magic and Legacy (older versions) had similar "free form" citation fields. All three programs continue to do this.

I don't know exactly when the change took place, with Family Tree Maker implemented a Template feature, which basically took the templates as described in Evidence Explained! by Elizabeth Shown Mills, provided us with a tool so that we, the users, could fill in a number of fields to generate a more formal output for our Citations.

All three programs that I mentioned have created these templates.

My involvement with testing, much like Randy, was when I tried to Share my research with another, newly found cousin. That is where the real issue is, in my opinion.

The vehicle we have to share is the use of a GEDCOM file. The last update to the description of what goes into a GEDCOM file was done 15 or 16 years ago and has not been officially updated nor agreed to since.

I exchanged a test file with 6 or more different programs. The end result, when sharing of the file, was the Citations did not come through cleanly. I think that Randy has shown that in some details.

As long as you don't share your information or you share your research between the same program (and version of program) your citations will probably come out OK, but going between different programs, and some times between versions of the same program may cause issues, especially when the more formal "templates" are used, or not used.

There is an effort addressing the GEDCOM issue, but it will probably be a while before we, the users of any of these genealogy programs will see the end result.

There is a flip side of this. I have done a lot of clean up of my data base, just as Randy has, by moving my Free-Form Citations into the Template Format. I have reduced some of the reports that I have generated by pages, by using the Template that Family Tree Maker provides and the end result of the EndNotes (the way that Family Tree Maker presents the Citations) is much cleaner and consistent.

I hope that helps.