Family History Citations
© 1 November 2021 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
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Why citations in family history are more complicated than other citations.


Citations are widely used in academia, where they serve two purposes: they attribute ideas to their originatorsReputation is the currency of the academy, so it is hard to overstate the importance of attribution. and they allow those interested to locate the sources themselves. Their presence also serves rhetorical purpose, but that purpose is largely independent of the content of the citations themselves.

Family history research is largely outside of academia. The academy operates by having several researchers in partial competition with one another investigating the same subject, performing peer reviews, refuting incorrect claims, and advancing by building off of one another’s insights. Family history has more subjects than it has researchers, sidestepping that organization; and if any one subject becomes interesting to enough people that it is enters the domain of academia, we call it history instead of family history. There are academics who study family history, but most family history research is not performed by them.

Family history’s position as research that is performed outside of academia leads to multiple differences between its use of citations and that used in other disciplines. The following are some of those differences that I have noticed.

None of these issues is unique to family history; any of them could, in principle, appear in any work. For example, I once cited in a computer science paper a card catalog entry for a manual for the use of a mechanical device intended to assist in the execution of an algorithm because the manual didn’t appear to actually be available and I couldn’t find any direct reference to the algorithm itself. But that was an exceptional occurrence so I simply described it in the text of the paper I was writing itself (and, at the request of the peer reviewers, removed most of the details before final publication). In family history, this sort of thing happens so frequently that trying to handle each case individually leads to disorder.

Various parties have tried to get a handle on family history citations. A few examples:

I am unaware of any effort to date that makes family history citations as orderly and well-understood as they are academic citations.

In my next few posts I hope to lay out some principles for the creation of structured family history citations. Along the way we’ll explore several topics that help run the digital world we live in.

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