How to: Adapting online sources to your own, with your own citations

How to: Adapting online sources to your own, with your own citations

Over the last year, we’ve probably spent half our genealogy time working on one project: cleaning up the sloppy work, especially with citations, we completed in our first years of assembling this family tree.

We had read Black Roots by Tony Burroughs (Black Roots) before we started, and beyond everything else he advocates a great genealogy process and has lots of advice on how to proceed building your family tree. He warns against falling to the temptation of just building out as fast as you can, and focusing on document collection instead of getting the things like oral family histories that you will not be able to get later.

We promptly ignored Mr. Burroughs’ advice, and clicked every shaky leaf we could see, we built out based on Ancestry User Trees, we accepted nearly every hint, and we ended up with a mess. A pretty solid, very useful, mess. The tree has good bones, but it probably causes more harm than good as a public tree some days. It’s why we’ve spent so much time going back and cleaning up our mess.

As we looked to clean up our main tree, and bring it into a much better, cleaner, accurate record of our family history, we started with one item which we don’t see many researchers publishing: attaching all sources as ours, with citations attached. This gives us a standard source format for all our evidence, and it gives us full ownership of the records and media, independent of what the original publisher chooses to do with it later.

The bulk of our process is taking all sources, online and offline, drafting a proper citation (following Evidence Explained as best we can), attaching that citation to the media/record, and then publishing our extracted record as the evidence supporting various facts. For online records this means not just accepting’s record entry and attaching it directly to our tree, it means downloading the media, crafting a proper citation, and manually attaching the record to our tree, while citing/linking to the online record.

There are many advantages to this approach (and we’ll blog in more detail on them next week), but the most important two benefits are this: we fully understand the quality of the record we are publicly attaching as valuable evidence before we do so, and we now fully own the record (and the media) regardless of what happens to the original digital source. For example, websites close, message boards with attached files get archived, subscriptions lapse…but if you have followed this approach, the 1880 U.S. Census record for your 2x great-grandfather is still attached to your tree, still shareable, and still visible no matter what happens to the original digital record.

Today, we’re going to walk you through how we do this, and how we attach it to our tree.

Step 1 – Download the record

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 9.55.47 AMWe’re going to use a record with media as our example, but this would largely hold with database-only or index records that don’t have media. First off, locate the record you’re interested in and download it from the holder of the electronic record. Most sites have a “Download” button, but if not, try right-clicking the image and select “Save image…”.

Step 2 – Create an MS Word document of the record, by inserting the picture

Open a blank Word document, and save it in the proper folder (we create a folder for every ancestor, and we would create it under their name and we would have copied the file from Step 1 into this folder). Adjust the “Orientation” to match the document (in our example, it’s a square shaped document, so we chose Portrait) and the “Size” (match the size as close as possible to the original size, so in our example we selected Ledger size to match the census sheet). Then select “Margins” and set them to “Narrow”. This will let you use as much of the sheet as possible.

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 10.06.51 AMNext, click “Insert-Pictures-Picture from file…”and select the image you downloaded in Step 1. Make the sure picture is selected, and click “Wrap Text-In front of text”. Now, you can move the image freely in the document, and you should resize it until it takes up most of the sheet…leaving enough room for text on the bottom.

Step 3 – Attach your citation

We’re not going to address how to craft a citation here, but we are huge fans of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained and have done our best to follow that standard. For fellow adopters of the EE standard, we are using the “First Reference Note” as our citation for our images.

Create a text box below the image you inserted in Step 2 (Insert-Text Box-Draw Text Box), stretching it from end-to-end of the image above. As with the image, make sure the new text box is selected and click “Wrap Text-In front of text” to allow you to move the box freely on the page. Click in the box, and type your citation. When done, resize the text box to make sure it’s as close to the edges of the image as possible, and sized to keep the text as close to the bottom edge of the image as possible. Save your document.Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 10.34.48 AM

Step 4 – Prepare for publishing

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 10.37.30 AMNow that the document is complete, save as a PDF file. This will make it easier to share later, and easier to print if needed.

Next, we convert this document to an image (.jpg) so that it appears easily readable in online trees. We use a free website to do the conversion ( but feel free to do it however you’d like. Some people just do a screen capture of their final document, some people just save as .jpg from a tool like SnagIT. Once we have created the .jpg, we’ll take the opportunity to crop it tight to the margins of the image, keeping the citation visible.

Step 5 – Create the Source in your Online tree

There are many different ways to do this, but it basically comes down to two methods: Create the source Online or create the source in your genealogy software and sync the change to your online tree. Either way works, and it’s basically the same tasks for both approaches.

Create the source record, and draft it to the standard you follow for your sources. In our case we are using Family Tree Maker to create the source and attach to the facts, and we use the citation we created in Step 3 as the main citation for the Source. We also make sure to attach the web link to the record in the Source, so that you can click through to the original online record just like if you had attached it from the online source directly.

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 11.29.09 AM

When you’ve completed creating the source, attach the image of the record created in Step 4, attach the source to your facts, and you’re done!

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 11.30.43 AMAll told this exercise takes about 5 minutes per source, and you’ve ensured that you will forever own this Source material, no matter what happens electronically in the future. And, as you’ll see in our next post, you can lose very precious information when online sources are taken down unexpectedly…

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