Saturday, August 2, 2014

Footnotes and Source Citations

imageI recently read a post on one of the history blogs that I follow which talks about the importance of footnotes in historical work. The author is very passionate about using footnotes and having footnotes in the works that he chooses to read. You can read that post here; For Love of the Footnote at the Journal of the American Revolution.

I completely agree with the author. I have also put down books where footnotes or endnotes were not included. Reading this got me thinking that maybe my blog posts should contain more footnotes and source identification. That goes against what I felt in the past.

When I started blogging I thought about using footnotes mainly for source citations but opted against it to try and keep posts shorter and maybe a little less technical or academic. I wanted to keep my posts and the blog clean and uncluttered, at least as much as possible. I thought that if someone wants to know where I got my information, they can just ask. I would be happy to provide the information.

However, I think I may be changing my mind, at least a little. There are two sides to this, at least when it comes to my blogging goals and expectations.

  1. I want to keep posts fairly short as not to overwhelm readers or potential readers with gobs of information. Let's face it, if you look at a blog post and it keeps going on-and-on, don't you skip over it and move on to the next one. I know I do. One of my main purposes for the blog is to present findings to family and maybe attract some family that I don't know about yet. Keeping the posts short and to-the-point of what I found is probably what most family want, the meaty stuff.
  2. As a researcher, I want to make sure that what I put out there is credible. I want readers to know where I got my information so they can go look for themselves. If they can do that, maybe they'll see something that I didn't or interpret the information differently. I also want to show all the evidence that I use to make my conclusions, which, I hope, adds more credibility to my content.

I think I'm going to try a few things different in future posts so I can include both my conclusions (the meaty stuff) and also how I reached those conclusions (the proof or technical, academic stuff).

I am going to do two different posts for each record or piece of evidence. The first will be the meaty and to-the-point post which focuses just on what the record is and what it tells me about my family. This, I believe, will be more appealing to family who just want to know about our history.

I'll make a second post which will cover my analysis of the information and how I came to the conclusions I made. This will be a format more in-line with the Genealogy Proof Standard. This will include the footnotes and citations of all the information I used to reach my conclusion. This is the more academic approach and allows readers to dive deeper into what I researched, if they choose.

I am going to be playing with format for these two posts over the next several weeks or even months. I need to see what works best so there will probably be a lot of tweaking. My hope is that I can come to a happy medium between providing the basic down-and-dirty information that some want and also the academic technical analysis that proper research requires.

What do you think of my idea or how do you think we should approach source citations in our blogs?

Thanks for reading and please keep diggin' for that family.



  1. That's an interesting approach. I rarely include source citations for the very reasons you don't. However, one that is scheduled for Sunday does because the sources are so unique that I would not have found the information on my own. Sometimes I'll write about the source as in a recent post about using records of the Freedmen's Bureau but I didn't include a citation. Maybe I should have.

    1. Wendy, thanks for the comment. I'm trying to satisfy both sides of my brain - I want to keep it simple and short so the family gets the info they want but the researcher/historian in me says I need to include my sources. But, each blog and writer is different and it comes down to personal preference and what you actually want to achieve.

  2. I have the same problem blogging. I can't easily do footnotes in Blogger (if there is a simple, easy way please let me know) and so I don't do footnotes, but just add a list of sources at the end of my genealogy heavy posts (like Surname Saturday). The problem is keeping it short. Always a problem for me, especially with certain ancestors (like all the interesting ones!)

    1. Thanks for the comment. Footnotes are a hassle within blogger. I have started using Microsoft Word. After I compose in word, I cut/paste all into Windows Live Writer and the footnotes appear. I just started playing with that so after I play around some more I'll have to do a post on how I actually do it.

  3. I have struggled with this on my blog too, Christopher. My family (and probably most other readers) are only interested in the story. Yet the trained historian in me screams for citations. I started using the footnotes in Word too and copying the post to blogger, but I was not happy with the way the links were still there, but did not work. I've now reverted to a source summary at the end of each post.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Dara! I'm not exactly happy with how the footnotes turn out using word. I'm going to be playing with it a little and try a couple other things and see what works the best for me. Thanks