Monday, March 14, 2011

Citing Sources for Your Blog Posts

There has been some debate over the past few years about the need to cite sources. I think it safe to say, from my perspective, that it is now accepted that citing sources is important, maybe even required, for our family history databases. But what about our blog posts? Does the same apply? Should bloggers be required to cite the sources they used for each blog post?

These questions arose following my recent series of posts about my mother's family and the different experiences that the Irish Catholic branches had when immigrating to Canada. One branch, the Fitzgeralds, had immigrated in 1825 to Cape Vincent in New York State and then made their way to Toronto around 1843. The Foley branch on the other hand appears to have been one of thousands that escaped Ireland around the time of the famine in the late 1840's.

A blog reader, Jennifer, questioned some of the facts stated in one of my posts, specifically the stated fact that of the 100,000 Irish who were traveling to Canada, 30,000 died enroute. I did not cite a source for this and I admit that although I had a source, I have been unable to find it again and provide a citation. I had also stated that "almost 6,000 Irish immigrants died and were buried in a mass grave" on Grosse Ile. Jennifer tells me that a maximum of 5,424 were buried in 1847 on Grosse Ile, although the exact number of burials varies according to different sources. Not being able to locate my information source admittedly is not good on my part. But it also does not make it incorrect. Estimates that I have since found suggest that perhaps the number ought to be 20,000 that died "from disease and malnutrition", lower by a third than my original information source stated.

The point in all of this is that the Irish fleeing the ravages of their homeland caused by the potato famine traveled in extremely poor circumstances and conditions. Arguably these conditions were worse for those destined for Canada as American ships operated at higher standards for passengers than did British ships. I have seen nothing to strongly suggest to me that my Foley ancestors came directly to Canada but then the Foley name is not unique enough to allow me to definitively identify the ancestors on ship's lists who immigrated from Ireland during this terrible time.

I try to describe the general type of record, if one exists, that I rely on for my family's history in blog posts or in the alternative, state that no record exists save a family story. I haven't done the same for all of the general history facts contained in every blog post, nor have I seen that as a practise in other genealogy blogs that I read on a regular basis. While I can see some merit to citing blog sources I tend to think it unnecessary with the caveat that I remain open to providing those sources if a reader requests them. It's more work I suppose to also keep track of general history sources but perhaps it provides a more scholarly approach to genealogy blogging.

Any thoughts?


  1. I think we would see more citations on blog posts if they were easier to do. A "Works Cited" list is straightforward enough, but working on hyperlinked endnotes can be tedious and cumbersome.

  2. The day we are required to do anything with our blogs is the day I quit blogging. It's your blog and you do with it as you see fit.

    I sometimes include sources in my posts, but they are rare and far between. More often I will provide a link if there is one available. If someone points out an error I correct it - if I was in fact wrong (as you have done here). If it was a matter of opinion or there are conflicting sources I'll agree to disagree.

    If someone does not like what I write they are free to not read my blog. By the same token, if I don't like what they write I am free to ignore their blog.

    Do your best,
    Leave the rest,
    Angels do no more.

  3. Ian,

    I've gone back & forth on this topic in my head and on my blog. Geneablogging is a hybrid, if you will. Hard core genealogists come from it from their point of view. "Of course, there should be full source citation in blog posts," they might say. [Might?] However, they're genealogists first and bloggers second. On the other hand, bloggers have their own set of criterion that they abide by that says placing links and using in text citation is good enough.

    So what's the correct answer? I don't know, but I lean towards the bloggers' point of view, and I say this because I am a writer. I'm always considering my intended audience. And my intended audience on my blogs are those new to genealogy and family history. I'm not writing case studies for peer review on my blog. I'm writing to educate and entertain [in that order]. And unless you're a hard-core-case-study-writing genealogist, you aren't entertained by full source citation. [Hard to believe, I know.]

    It's almost like genealogists want to take over the whole concept of blogging. I say, "Merge." Plain and simple. Leave the full source citation for the case studies, genealogy software, research plans, proof summaries, photos, documents, etc. When blogging, adapt. If you have a question about what someone blogs, ask them in comments. Do not, however, get uppity in your questioning. At least, don't do so on my blogs. I make it a point to not blog about things I don't know about, and I always try to use qualifiers for things I'm not sure of, but are important for the explanation.

    Now. I'm pretty sure I've just upset a bunch of people. Oh. Well. Hope this helps. =)

    ~Caroline Pointer

  4. Absolutely agree with Caroline. Know your audience. If you wish to quote my blog and the reference isn't there, you should drop me a line.

  5. I'm pretty much going to reiterate much of what has already been said but here goes:

    First, it's your blog, your sandbox, you can do with it what you want, when you want. There are no requirements. So whether to cite your sources in your posts or not is really a personal decision.

    Second, citing sources is always a good thing but it also can be a real pain to do properly in a blog format. That's one of the reasons I have the "Got Sources?" emblem on my blog directing readers to contact me with questions about sources. I welcome it. If someone sees an error they can contact me so that I can correct it. People have done this and boy do I appreciate it.

    However, I have also been known to include a list of some of my sources in some of my posts. They may not be perfectly formatted but a reader should be able to get the information they might need from it.

    Hope this helps!

    PS you can get the Got Sources emblem here:

  6. PS I agree with the other commenters who point out that using hyperlinks is a good way to "cite" sources and it's easy.

    This was a really good topic for a blog post. It's very relevant for all of us genealogy bloggers.

  7. I, too, agree with those commenting previously. I don't use complete citations on my blog, but I will use links or a partial citation where I feel it necessary to back something up. I feel those are an easy way to demonstrate I'm not simply pulling information out of the air. While a blog post is not a scholarly article, I spent enough time in university that some habits die hard! I would also be happy to provide more complete citations if someone wanted them.

  8. Hello Ian,

    I love Thomas MacEntee's slogan "Keep Calm, and Cite Your Sources". As Michelle suggests letting readers know they can contact you for your sources is a great idea, and then your blog post won't need to be loaded with footnotes. I like the idea of hyperlinks, and use those as well.

    My main worry with sources is whether or not they are reliable, and some online sources are simply not. If a "source" has no source then I question its reliability. We are so fortunate to have The National Archives of Canada as a great and reliable resource for original emigration records, and that's where I got the numbers for my post about Grosse Île.

    Cheers, Jennifer

  9. Every blog post I do has an end section called "For more information" or "For the truly curious" or some other name. I just list the sources for my stories. I'm not too picky about keeping to correct form, but I do like to get the sources out there. For genealogies I have a note on the right side, right under the contact info, for folks to email me for more source information. If they want more, I'll mail it, but I don't know how to do footnotes on Blogger so for now I'm leaving those off. My "For more information" is more of a bibliography.