Friday, December 6, 2019

A Plea for Y-DNA

I realize it's been a bit longer than normal since my last post. Well, that's because it's early December, and anybody who works at a university (with a semester system) knows how busy this time of year is. I'm also preoccupied with some professional research activities. So, the present offering will be a fairly light one.

And that's okay, because I wanted to ease into the topic I'm treating today for the first time. That would be DNA. I have lots of opinions about Genealogy and DNA, most of which will have to wait for heftier posts. I also want time to mentally chew on recent developments regarding privacy and autosomal DNA; I still don't know what to think about some of them. (But I will!)

I'm a big fan of autosomal DNA testing; I'm an even bigger fan of Y-DNA testing. There's just one problem: Y-DNA is still the most expensive testing venture, and it's still not well understood/appreciated by many casual hobbyists. For these reasons, the testing pool, while growing, is still relatively small. Anecdotally, I can tell you that I first tested my Y-DNA late in 2016 at the Y-67 level, bought a handful of SNP tests in subsequent months, and expanded to Y-111 last year. In all this time, I think I received ONE new match after the initial batch of about 15-20. (And most of those have only tested at the Y-12 or Y-25 levels.) A single Y-12 match shares my surname; four match at Y67-111 levels with a different surname (that they all share), though with a fair bit of genetic distance.

And this is all a pity...because Y-DNA has potentially the most to teach us about our deep ancestry. It's quite our best shot at peeking behind brick walls that remain immovable by available written evidence alone. In case you didn't know, only males can take a Y-DNA test. Each male's Y-chromosome is handed down to him from his father. Mutations on this chromosome over time make it possible to categorize testers and lines according to "haplogroups." The more testers there are, the more Y-DNA scientists are able to refine these haplogroups, assign approximate historical date ranges to them, and devise more reliable percentages regarding how closely these testers may relate.

This stuff gets to be pretty complicated, and I'm no expert. But I do know this much: if even 10% of the males out there were to have taken a DNA test at the Y-37 level or higher, the proverbial air in the genealogy community would be ringing with the sounds of falling brick walls, and we'd be joyfully coughing on the dust from their demise. This is because, as with autosomal testing, the more people test, the more we can learn. In the case of Y-DNA, a dramatic increase in the testing pool would enable many more haplogroup subclades to be confidently created well into the genealogical time frame (the name for eras when written records become available). Y-DNA geeks eagerly await such developments, and so should the rest of us.

I get it. The prices on Y-DNA tests, even genealogically less useful ones like (Y-12 and Y-25), can be daunting. And only one company now offers them commercially (FamilyTreeDNA). But if you're serious about finding out what lies beyond the brick walls of your ancestral lines, you should start budgeting for these tests and locating willing testers. Y-DNA has been a big waiting game for many; here's my modest call for us to shorten our times to discovering big returns on our investments.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Why Aren't More Young People Interested in Genealogy?

So far, most of my blog posts have addressed standards I believe are necessary for serious genealogical research. I've tried to approach these topics in my own way, and argue passionately that those starting out in the hobby need to develop a certain mindset if they are to produce work that is of lasting value. But with the present post I am taking a break from all of that. Instead, this time I'll offer my thoughts on a question that occasionally gets asked in the genealogical community: why aren't more young people interested in the pursuit? Some of my answers will overlap with those frequently given, while others may be more peculiar to my perspective.

1. Young People Have More Pressing Concerns 
Like many authors of fiction, J.K. Rowling likes to speak through her characters. In the Harry Potter books, one of the things she says through Professor Dumbledore is that the old are often guilty of forgetting what it is to be young. This bit of wisdom could be stated for all of my points here, but it's especially applicable to this one. Was genealogy a priority when you were young? Moreover, there are pressures and anxieties that young people are forced to navigate now that people of older generations may never have experienced (or may not have experienced to such sharp degrees). Young people today who might otherwise be interested in genealogy are attaining ever more expensive college educations, are chasing well-paying jobs that are fewer and farther between, and are buying homes and starting families. In many cases, they're doing the latter with dollars that have never been worth less, prices that have never been higher, and wages that haven't grown enough to meet new costs. Young breadwinners often find it increasingly difficult to support their spouses and children. Navigating the Lean Years is as tough now as it has been for decades. Can we really ask why these things may be more on young people's minds than researching Great Great Gramps or Great Aunt Gretchen?

2. Young People Have Less Time For Genealogy 
Things like college, full-time jobs, and parenting are time-consuming. Ask a busy 20- or 30-something if he or she feels like doing genealogy after a long weekday, or if their idea of a weekend of leisure is hunting down records and creating family trees. Maybe this sounds like fun for some of them, but I think you'll get more takers from other age brackets.

3. Young People May Have Less Money to Spend on Genealogy
I'll be honest: it sticks in my craw a bit when a Baby Boomer lets on that an Ancestry or MyHeritage subscription is "no big deal" in terms of cost. No big deal to whom? To an older person with nearly a lifetime of income growth and savings? I promise that it is certainly a big deal to young people who are trying to avoid too much college debt (compare college costs from 1965 or 1975 to today), trying to keep ahead of bills, and/or trying to save or invest enough money for retirement. 100, 75, even 20 dollars per month is no laughing matter for most young people. And that's before we start talking about trips to distant archives, or paying to have vital certificates and other records delivered in the mail. Each of us has 8 great grandparents. Assuming that we can locate such records for them, these costs start adding up fast...especially when we then proceed to research all of the cousin lines.

4. Older People Are Situated to be More Reflective
People who have "lived a little" are in better spots to start thinking about where they came from. Nothing spurs looking back like traversing a long span of life with all of its vicissitudes. This is often the catalyst for interest in genealogy. Young people simply haven't had much experience here.

5. Young People May Feel Out of Place at Genealogy Societies and Conferences
I've heard it been said that "we just need to invite more young people to society meetings and conferences." You can certainly try. But I question the success rate of inviting young people (especially teens) to spend considerable time with crowds of folks whose average age looks to be about 63. I'm all the more apprehensive if the young person in question adheres to contemporary mores that may invite unwelcome remarks from the less inhibited elders. 

6. Genealogy Can Seem a Lot Like School
Twelve grades, then college, then graduate studies (depending upon the person) is a lot of school. Young people who are involved with, or have recently finished, any of this may not have the appetite for "fun studies" on top of everything else. I myself became keenly interested in genealogy during my doctoral coursework. I now teach at a university for a living. There have been days when I don't have much intellectual energy left for genealogy. 

7. Actually, Plenty of Young People ARE Interested in Genealogy, But...
Somewhat related to No. 6, one's passion for genealogy can speak to a certain predisposition. I'm talking about a love for academic or "mind-based" types of activity. Some people show passion for this sort of thing relatively soon, and I believe it is these individuals who are most likely to demonstrate an early predilection toward genealogy. I gather that people who already love to read, love history, love puzzles, and love, for the lack of a better term, "book smarts," often latch onto genealogy long before others do. Those who aren't drawn to these things may take up genealogy later, when reflection and life experience lead them to the hobby by a somewhat different route. It's dangerous to categorize this sort of thing too sweepingly, but from what I see, the young people passionate about (as opposed to mildly interested in) genealogy tend to be good students and/or work in professions that call for intellect-based skills: academics, IT workers, librarians, engineers, etc. OR, they're people who would be good in such roles. There are always exceptions; some academically-skilled people come to genealogy only later, etc. But I believe that this tendency is common enough to mention here.

There are definite advantages to taking up genealogy as a young person: you have more older relatives around to interview, more time to learn, more chances to pursue elusive records, and you may be an ideal inheritor of photos/artifacts, etc. But I also think that we shouldn't be as worried about this issue as some seem to be. Those of us excited about genealogy know that not everyone will share our passion. Over-zealous evangelism for the hobby can be a big turn-off. Still, the knowledge of our ancestors lives on because new generations take up the task of preserving it. As we spread the joy of our hobby, we should plant seeds carefully...and work to identify those most likely to carry on our endeavors. In this matter, as with so much else related to genealogy, aiming well beats aiming indiscriminately.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

More Thoughts on Genealogy and the Internet

In the wake of my last post on this subject, I witnessed an interesting conversation on social media. One party was making the (proper) argument that physical archives and their workers are indispensable for serious genealogical research, and that not everything is available digitally. This party also (rightly) showed concern that contemporary genealogy too often amounts to looking at whichever digital images happen to be online.

The responses this party received were both telling and alarming. Somehow, their tried-and-true wisdom got cast as "elitism." How? It went something like this: you see, not everyone can make it to physical archives. Sometimes, digital images accessible at home on the internet may be all that is available to certain researchers, and to suggest that they're not doing enough is unfeeling and discriminatory.

While one should empathize with how some might find it difficult to access certain collections, there are nonetheless several options open to nearly everyone:
1. Contact the repository, explain your situation, and see what they can do to accommodate your needs.
2. With their help/awareness, enlist someone to access the needed records for you.
3. Perhaps the workers at this repository would be able/willing to digitize, email, or post online the desired items. I've routinely requested copies of records to be sent to me that are housed on the other side of the country from where I live. With some unfortunate exceptions that apply to everyone (and for which we now have the great group Reclaim the Records), local archivists and librarians are happy to help people use their resources. I cannot recall a time when this was not the case for me, either for my musicological or for my family history work. These folks are a researcher's best friends. 

Of course, what the second party was really arguing is that beginners shouldn't have to hear how they can improve as long as they're "having fun." After all, that "reasonably exhaustive search" stuff in the Genealogical Proof Standard is mainly for professionals, right?

Actually, it's for anyone who wants their research to be maximally useful to anybody else. This means understanding the limitations of our work and what needs to be done to make it stronger. Either one has traced and consulted the important sources for a particular project/question, or one has not. The more one has not, the more holes there are in the research. The more holes there are in the research, the less useful it will be to anyone else whose concern is finding trustworthy information. And I've got news for you: if all you do is consult online records, your work almost certainly has some massive holes.

No research is perfect. Lots of even good research usually has at least a few holes or avenues for further exploration. But we must always be honest about what we have, and what we don't have...about what we've seen, and about what we haven't seen...about what we've searched for, and what we haven't searched for. Until we're reasonably sure that we either have all available primary sources for our facts, or that primary sources have eluded due diligence and may no longer exist, our work will be incomplete. Facing up to these things is not snobbery, and it's not meant to put others down. It's merely a pre-requisite for quality work. If you're sour that someone is respectfully pointing out any of this, maybe "elitism" isn't really the problem here.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Crowdsourcing and Photographed Person Identification: Here's When It's Problematic

You see this post all the time in facebook genealogy groups: "Help me identify X person in this photograph."

Sometimes it's a simple question asking if anybody happens to recognize, or have any clues about, a pictured individual. I like this type of social media post. It's a simple, dutiful step in the course of exhausting all possibilities, no matter how remote their chances of success. You never know who might be looking on, or if they might have the information the poster's seeking.

Another type of this post is stickier: the one asking if X person in Photo A looks like X person in Photo B. Although I understand the burning wish to identify people in mystery photos, this tactic strikes me as a poor one that can lead to perpetuating misinformation. Here are some reasons why.

1. In the absence of photo labels or other good evidence, asking strangers to compare physical similarities is inviting error. There is usually no way that this can be done with certitude, and trusting random people's well-meant guesses is ill-advised. Besides, how will you cite evidence for who is in these photos? "People on facebook seemed to think it was X?" How does that sound to you?

2. Many strangers in these facebook groups want you to succeed in identifying photographed people, and they'll often (and flippantly) tell you what you want to hear if the individuals being compared look even passingly alike. "Ahhhhh yes! I believe I DO see a resemblance." This sort of response literally kills good research with kindness. There'll be those who are more cautious, but who do impressionable/hopeful people usually choose to believe?

3. It's better to be uncertain than it is to be falsely certain about who is pictured in photographs. If you're doing genealogy in part to pass on precious information and research to your descendants, you do them a disservice by not guarding against this pitfall.

The best means of identifying people in photographs are rooted in historical evidence. Here are my guidelines:

1. How did you come across the photos? Who passed them on to you? Is this person pictured in them? These questions matter because of how direct a historical witness this person is and/or how direct of one you are. If the person bequeathing the photos to you took or is pictured in one/some, he/she is a close historical witness and must be cited in captions that should accompany these photos wherever they are posted.

2. If the person giving you the photos is somewhat removed from when they were taken and who is pictured in them, you must take care to trace the steps of how these photos came down to you, and who had them before the person supplying them. For instance, say that your grandmother is giving you a photo of HER grandmother (your great great grandmother) that was taken when the latter was young. Beyond the simple testimony of your grandmother pertaining to who is pictured, you should do all you can to ask her how she came to possess the photo, and what she knows about its history. This information should also be noted in captions, if possible.

3. Labeling photos is extremely important, particularly if you're a close witness to who is pictured in them and when they were taken. It is also necessary if your information is secondhand. Old photos are often small and delicate, but you should try to provide as much information on the backs of them as you can.

4. Educated guesses based upon sound knowledge and sources are fine, but these should also be clearly indicated as such. "Possibly Aunt Marge" is better than "Aunt Marge" when you don't know for sure. There is value in this kind of hypothesizing, particularly since subsequent information may be available to you or your descendants. Your educated guessing maybe provide others with important clues or corroboration. But there is a big difference between the inheritors of your photos trusting your surety and trusting your guessing. There's an equally big difference between them knowing they are trusting either or not knowing what they're trusting (or what to trust).

Remember, primary persons are the strongest historical witnesses, followed closely by immediate secondary witnesses. Seeking to find such people on facebook is all well and good. But when you're posting photos, asking random people to compare who is in them, and trusting their "matching" guesses, you've left the path of sound inquiry. Good genealogists don't let wishful thinking guide their research. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

To collaborate, or not to collaborate, that is the question...

...whether 'tis nobler in our minds to suffer the frustrations of shared online trees, or to take leave of their seas of troubles..."

Okay, enough mutilation of The Bard's beautiful words. But seriously, let's start to tackle the matter of Big Online Trees. Few topics seem to divide the genealogical community quite like this one. It seems that for some, these trees are the source of all evil. For others, they're a way of life. They have their passionate advocates (like James Tanner for the FamilySearch Family Tree), and their sworn detractors (just glance through reviews of some of them on GenSoft Reviews). Where do I fall? I'm solidly, if not uncritically, on the "To collaborate" side. Let me explain.

First, what do we mean by Big Collaborative Online Trees? Basically, each one is a large, internet-based tree to which anyone can contribute and edit the contributions of anyone else (the latter feature sometimes comes with a few restrictions). They're crowd-sourced projects designed, like Wikipedia, to "get better over time" as more people add profiles, sources, pictures, and edits. (That's the idea, anyway.) There are many collaborative online trees, but the largest ones include those at Geni, FamilySearch, WikiTree, WeRelate, and perhaps one or two others I'm missing. (I intend a future post that will discuss the pluses and minuses of each of these trees, but it won't happen for a while yet.)

Now, it shouldn't take you long to imagine the objections that such projects tend to raise. Perhaps you're wondering why I'm generally in favor of these trees, especially in light of my recent posts. I get the dissenting arguments; really, I do. Here are some of the main ones:

1. I don't like to waste time contributing to projects like these when my hard work can be nullified by other people.


2. These trees have a lot of shoddy work on them contributed by people who have low research and documentation standards.


3. I like to control my own tree and keep track of my own research on my terms.


4. I don't want people to see how bad I am at genealogy.

Heh heh, check.

5. Related to No. 3, I have limited time for genealogy and want to devote what time I do have to my own research on my software.


I don't disagree with any of these objections, necessarily. They all have merits. Occasionally, they have each sapped my will to go on contributing to collaborative trees. But I keep coming back for more because I think the "pro" reasons offered below are, collectively, stronger than the "con" ones.

1. The bulk of changes I see on collaborative online trees are for unsourced, lightly sourced, and/or pre-modern ancestor profiles. Can these changes, many of which are also unsourced or badly sourced, still be frustrating? Sure, especially on the FamilySearch Family Tree, where there is often a looser editorial culture (more on this some other time). But even there, the sources and data I add for recent ancestors on nearby branches (for whom I have the best information) very rarely get disturbed. For the most part, and especially on WikiTree, I see hardly any changes to the profiles I manage. This speaks to something important: chances are, you're a source-wielding authority mostly for your close relations. We should all play to our strengths. If you're perturbed that people keep making changes, even irresponsible ones, to your 1600s ancestors, first make sure they're actually your 1600s ancestors...then make sure that you can access, read, and analyze the primary sources pertaining to them. You can't? Oh, okay. Then maybe you should be focusing on people like grandpa and great aunt there in the first place.

2. I will admit to something: it is frustrating when I work hard to provide much documentation on a Big Tree profile, only to find that the bulk of profiles added (or added to) by others are unsourced or poorly sourced. But then I ask myself this: how are many of these contributors supposed to know what a well-sourced profile looks like if genealogists better equipped to add information hardly ever do so? Put another way, maybe these Big Trees would look better and make quicker progress if more of the savants chipped in and decided to be the change they want to see. Similar to how we'd all bust through brick walls tomorrow if even 10% of the world's men decided to take a Y-37 DNA test or higher, the Big Online Trees would take gigantic leaps forward, and we would all benefit greatly, if more "experts" decided to roll up their sleeves and help rather than scoff. Maybe they'd even discover that there are things they can learn and improve at by getting involved. (I guarantee you that many of these scoffers are not above "picking the fruit" from these trees when it shows up in their Google searches.)

3. When you share your work and put yourself out there, you further other people's research. This has a way of paying big dividends. I can't count the number of times I have been contacted by extended family as a result of my collaborative tree work. They saw what I posted on these trees and were prompted to provide me with more pictures, documents, and assorted goodies that I may never have come across otherwise. This reason alone justifies Big Tree participation. If you don't share with others, how can you expect them to share with you...or even know about you and your work? Cousin bait on Big Trees can catch big fish.

4. I'm reluctantly convinced by the genealogy pundits who say that you must keep your "main" tree on your desktop software program, where you have control over everything and can keep track of data properly. But this doesn't mean that we shouldn't also contribute to the Big Collaborative Trees. Possible response: "But I don't have time for both!" Answer: Yes, you do. We all make time for what's important to us, and sharing your research should be important to you. Why? Because your desktop software file data is no good to anyone if it stays there and exists nowhere else. Maybe some of us have heirs who will preserve and cultivate our research when we're gone, but I suspect that this is the exception rather than the rule. You really don't know what's going to happen after you pass away. We have all heard horror stories of pictures, documents, and other items getting thrown out once remaining family members start deciding what to keep and what to trash. When you share your work online in multiple places, you are providing a hedge against it ever disappearing entirely. (This is especially true when considering that the Big Tree sites often take great steps to back up their servers.) I ask you again, why do you do genealogy? If one reason is to preserve your work, then you must keep an eye on eternity. By this I mean that you must do what you can to make your family history endure. It should exist in multiple places, protected to the hilt from being lost to history.

In sum, don't let your elitism, fear, frustration, or tendency to put all of your eggs in one basket keep you from taking Big Online Trees seriously. I said in my last post that the internet is an indispensable tool for genealogy. Part of that indispensability is the opportunities it affords to collaborate. When we share our resources and expertise, we all stand to preserve and advance our research. Isn't that what this is ultimately about?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Genealogy and the Internet

"Which genealogy service is the best?"

Now there's a question you frequently see in online groups and forums. My answer is always the same: "whichever service provides the records and/or other tools you need." Costs and other practical issues factored in, it's really that simple. If genealogy done well is all about finding authoritative information, your access to that information is of paramount concern.

Enter the internet. In so many ways, this wonderful tool has made doing genealogy cheaper and easier for millions of people. I certainly don't know where I'd be without it. It gives me access to records at the click of a mouse that may otherwise have taken years and many dollars to obtain. There's no getting around it: the internet is an indispensable means for genealogical, indeed any academic, research these days.

But (and you knew there would be a "but"), this tool that has "set genealogy free" has also limited genealogy. The very bounty and accessibility made possible by the internet has numbed many of us to the necessity of looking beyond it. You see proof of this all the time in online work: even family trees that have good sources attached to them will often only have sources that can be found on the internet. It's as if these genealogists assume that their comfy computer chair and jammies are the extent of the required setting for research.

Let's be honest: if you're serious about doing genealogy well, you're going to have to face the necessity of visiting physical locations at some points. Many, many records are not on the internet. Some of them may not be on the internet for a long time, if they ever will be, despite even the colossal digitization efforts that are ongoing. I have found lots of vital certificates and other documents on and, to name just two services. Nonetheless, I have found a great deal more of these things at physical county clerk offices, archives, and libraries. Genealogy done well is not about where you think the records ought to be; it's about going to where the records are. Doing so will sometimes require travel.

Ultimately, you should embrace these realities. Why? Because the more skilled you become at research, the more you realize how special the places are that house your needed records. When you go, take a moment to appreciate the collections you visit, the treasures they hold, and the unique value of what you're looking at. Don't let your dependence upon the internet dull your appreciation for the written word and the hard copy. If you have time, look beyond what you initially went to these places to access. Walk through the collections you're allowed to see. What else is there that may be of use and interest? What could a visual sweep of the "stacks" reveal that is difficult to learn or appreciate simply by typing something into an online catalog search bar? Some of my best discoveries have entirely been cases of serendipity.

Finally, the repositories you visit will often be at or near places where your ancestors lived. Soak in the surroundings, and think about the fact that they were once your forebears' surroundings, too. Let the whole experience enrich your mind and imagination. There are things you can learn by "being there" that transcend what you gain merely by looking at images online. I count the days, weeks, and months between visits to such places. You should, too.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Source Citations: What Do Bad, Mediocre, and Good Ones Look Like?

One has but to Google the phrase "citing sources for genealogy" to find many wonderful takes on the subject. Perhaps my favorite is from; it's entitled "Source Citations: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." So what can I possibly add to the wealth of great advice already out there?

In keeping with a trend here, I'm going to begin addressing citations in part by discussing examples of what is less good. It's all very well to look at sterling exemplars and aspire to them in our own work, but "sterling" is not the standard you commonly find on Ancestry and collaborative trees online. Sometimes it helps to compare the abysmal, the excellent, and much in between. In that spirit, I am going to use a case study which concerns my great great aunt, Annie Ross (1867-1898), who tragically died of an as-yet unconfirmed illness at the age of 31. For her short obituary, I'll show versions of the source citation on a scale from abysmal to excellent.

At this point, I had better get a certain issue out of the way. While there are a number of components that belong in a good source citation (see below), the way in which these components are arranged in it can vary widely. This refers to a citation's style. Many historical disciplines use The Chicago Manual of Style. While there are multiple variations on this style, Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained is widely considered to be the genealogical gold standard.

Every genealogical statement of fact must come with a source citation. The fact that we will assume here is the death date of Annie Ross: 7 September 1898. According to her Drouin baptism record, she was born "Marie Adelaide Ross" on 8 January 1867 in Maskinonge, Quebec. The evidence presented by multiple other documents suggests that she emigrated with her parents and siblings to Marquette, Michigan in about 1879. She lived in Baraga, Michigan from about 1883 until the time of her death. On 3 November 1887, she married William Levithure, with whom she had several children. She was commonly called "Annie," and occasionally "Devina."

For a long time I did not know Annie's exact death date, and had only family tradition and approximations to go on. So far I have been unable to locate a death record for her at local repositories (this search is ongoing!), but I have been able to find an obituary and a gravestone, which together present reasonably solid evidence as to her date of passing.

Here is my scale of abysmal to excellent for citing her obit (along with some annotations for each):

1. Abysmal
No citation whatsoever.

Comments: This is self-explanatory.

2. Not Much Better

"Yeah, I think I found it in a newspaper somewhere."

Comments: Even a bad citation is better than no citation. But our aim should be higher than providing bad citations.

3. Still Bad

"One of the local newspapers. From 1898 or 1899, I forget which."

Comments: This is only marginally better than the last example. We have an approximate date range, and we know to look at "one of the local newspapers" (in case we really couldn't figure this much out on our own), but the citation remains unacceptably imprecise. There is no publication title, no article title or description, no firm date, and no repository.

4. Not Terrible But Still Not Very Good

"Annie Ross's Obituary, L'Anse Sentinel, 1898."

Comments: Here we have a publication name and a rough designation for what the article is. We even have a hard date year. But we still don't have a specific date, a repository, and some other important information. How easily could the reader find this? It would take some digging.

5. Mediocre

"Obituary of 'Mrs. William Levitue,' L'Anse Sentinel, 10 September 1898."

Comments: Now we are approaching a respectable citation, but we're still not quite there. What we do have are several essential components. The untitled article's description is exact (down to its misspelling of Annie's married name), as are the publication title and date. But we still have no page number, no repository, no date of access, etc.

6. Decent
"Obituary of 'Mrs. William Levitue," L'Anse Sentinel, 10 September 1898, pg. 5; accessed at"

Comments: The added page number and repository put this in a class above the previous citation. Here we have very specific information (minus an optional column number) about where in the newspaper to find this article. We even know where specifically the researcher accessed the publication. But we're still missing some information about when this source was accessed, which is important since we now know it was seen online.

7. Good

"Obituary of 'Mrs. William Levitue," L'Anse Sentinel, 10 September 1898, pg. 5; accessed at on 9 November 2019.

Comments: This is probably better than the majority of user-crafted citations you'll see in online trees. In most cases, someone looking at it would easily be able to find the referenced source again. Nearly all of the necessary components are there. What's missing? Let's go to our last example.

8. Excellent
"Obituary of 'Mrs. William Levitue,' L'Anse Sentinel, 10 September 1898, pg. 5, column 2; digital image, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers Online Collection (; accessed 9 November 2019).

Comments: This citation is high on specifics and has every necessary component. (Unless your obit comes with a rare author name, this is typically left out.) Sure, one could argue about where to put Mrs. William Levitue's name, where to put "obituary," and debate several other points regarding style. But those things will be quibbles. As it is written, this citation not only explains where its source was found, it also makes clear the source's specific nature and how it was accessed. The experienced researcher knows that the date something was accessed online is important information, since websites can easily change or cease to be accessible. He/she also knows that it matters where or how easily something was accessed, and that explicitly describing the collection in the citation presents valuable information and further possibilities for research. He/she even knows that there are subtle differences between accessing an online image of something versus accessing an original copy, and that these differences can be important in certain situations.


Beginners often get nervous about citing their sources. After all, they may think, citations are intimidating and this takes away the fun of genealogy. I'm not going to lie: creating quality citations can be intimidating. I fuss over mine all the time. I still don't like some of those I have in various trees, and I'm always tweaking them. But I believe that this care is necessary for good research. Part of the fun of genealogy should be tackling the challenge of writing citations that will help to make your research stand on its own long after you're gone. Going back to my second post, why do you do genealogy after all? Is part of it that you want your work to have maximum value and impact for a very long time? If yes, then a big part of that is taking your citations seriously...and embracing opportunities to improve them.