URLs Revisited

TheresaBarryJillBarry Kline, a member of my ProGen cohort (l to r, Theresa, ProGen Coordinator, me, Barry at SLIG), commented on my ProGen paper in which I used long URLs and disagreed with my use of them.  I thanked him for his comments and referred him to my blog posting about URLs.  After reading it, he responded.  I thought it was a thoughtful response and it changed my mind about how I will approach long vs. short URLs–at least for a while.  At the end of Barry’s response (unedited)  is where I stand now on this issue.  For ease of differentiation, I have placed Barry’s response in italics.  Thanks, Barry!

Hi Jill,

I read your blog post on URL’s, well done and I think you covered the topic thoroughly and you got a lot of great responses.  Consisten[cy] is important but so is good judgment and in my opinion that is where this topic falls.  So we might just have to agree to disagree on this point! 🙂

TinyURL’s are not acceptable – I think we both agree on that.

For me, Ancestry’s full links fall in the same category.  They are too long, they completely disrupt the citation and like I said in my comment, unless you have an electronic form of your article, they are useless.  Would you sit there and try to retype all of that information into the URL bar of your browser – one space or character error and the person would have to start all over. Not to mention that after the first “/” a URL becomes case sensitive, not everyone realizes that fact.  A properly crafted citation should be able to take a reader to the point in a database website.  For example a census citation gives you county, ED, page number, family number, etc.  nothing more is needed.  (And in the case of the Ancestry.com links you are using, if I were “officially” reviewing your article, I would have to go to a library that has Ancestry.com because your links are using Ancestry.com Library Edition. The links produce an error page if I try from home.  Which is not a good use of my time as an editor.  So I would be relying on the rest of the citation anyway to guide me to the correct location).

On the other hand, your use of the FindAGrave full citation was appropriate.  It is a smaller database that has simpler URL naming scheme.  For me I try to include the full URL as long as it is not too long – or if trying to explain how I got there would be too difficult. 

This is one of those sticky widget type of areas.  This is totally just my opinion, and I don’t own a copy of CMOS, but I would find it hard to believe that even they would recommend using full URL’s that are as long as Ancestry’s, which tend to be among the longest I run across.  I have made a note for when I am at NGS to look at the portfolio examples and see how they handled URLs.

One of the points that is standing out for me through this discussion is does a full URL add anything to my citation?  If the rest of the citation contains enough identifying information that will lead a reader to my exact location, i.e. an EE crafted census record, then I would say No.  If my citation does not have enough information either in the main body or in an additional comment, then yes a full citation would be needed.  Even though this way of thinking would result in the use of two different types of URLs, the consistency lies in the use of the initial question; does the full URL add anything to my citation?

I think I am rambling so I will stop now and finish my other reviews!!  😉  Again … good job Jill!


Thanks, Barry.

Barry raises some good points and let me discuss where my head is at on this issue now…until it changes! 🙂

  1. TinyURLs are out! I agree.
  2. I think the most persuasive part of Barry’s argument was not the issue of error introduction if the reader had to type the long URL.  I was much more persuaded by the argument of whether you get more information about of a long URL or just the homepage URL. In the case of Ancestry, I agree, you do not get any more information out of a long URL than the short one, especially if  you include the search terms you used to find the document.
  3. I disagree with him about the library edition.  I believe I should cite what I am looking at and I was looking at the library edition.  This is a moot point if you use the homepage URL.
  4. CMOS clearly states the full URL or the DOI is what you cite.  The typical user of the CMOS style manual is an humanities writer who would cite journals and other writings.  I suspect they have not run into a URL the length of an image on Ancestry.com.
  5. I, and others, will have to decide what is too long and what is short.  I feel comfortable saying that Ancestry.com’s image URL’s are too long, but I am not sure if half that length would qualify or if 25% of that length would qualify.  I would tend to say, for now…Ancestry.com– yes; all the others– I will use a full URL.

One of the things we agreed to do was to review the portfolios at the NGS conference in Richmond and then get together and discuss one more time.  So stay tuned for a reprise of that conversation!

Happy Hunting & thanks, Barry!


Since my last posting:  put the finishing touches on the draft of the paper for ProGen but will now go back and change the ancestry URLs to a shortened form; turned in my SGS Board materials and report; put the finishing touches on the GPS #2 PowerPoint presentation that I am recording on Wednesday to comply with the  application procedures for NGS Conference 2015 Call for Papers, put the finishing touches on the GPS #3 presentation for SGS on the 30 March; drafted another blog; explored the free websites this weekend to see what they had.  The Swedish site was interesting but didn’t have the document range of SVAR.  Mocavo was unimpressive and I don’t have any direct need for the pre-1758 Irish wills, but I bet there were some folks doing the genealogical happy dance!


6 comments on “URLs Revisited

  1. Fuller "Sonny" Jones says:

    Thanks for this one. You are almost exactly where I come down on this topic, except for “…all the others I will use a full URL.” Believe me there are other times you will find a URL that is either too long or, because of how you “find” the end resulting page or image, is unnecessary. As Barry indicated, it is a judgment call that requires some thought.

    In my own efforts (now “on the clock” for BCG certification), I have found the citation thing the most difficult, primarily because of years of NOT giving it enough thought and not providing enough information to permit someone to “find” the source I have referenced.

    Thank you for this blog!!!

    Sonny J

    • jkmorelli says:

      Sonny, thanks for your comments. I actually have been working my citations for over (Yikes!) 12 years now, starting with my first computer program in 2002. What I have seen is the state of the art for genealogists change. But, having said that, it is still hard. Check out Mastering Genealogical Proof for reasons to cite your sources. For years I only used them to find the source again but now I see the other reasons for using correct citation—including making sure I have used the best source. Since I do a lot of work in northern Germany, many of my sources are OSBs; these are derivative sources. I need to go back, and where they are available, get the tapes and cite the actual source.

      Thanks again. Jill

  2. hh219 says:

    Great discussion. Fold3 presents an interesting intermediate case. You might want to check recent issues of NGSQ, NYGBR, and NEHGR and see how they handle these situations. At least they’re easier to get hold of than portfolios, and probably somewhat more authoritative 😉 — Harold

    • jkmorelli says:

      I talked with Tom Jones and he told me that the NGSQ actually strips out the whole portion of the citation about “…digital image Ancestry.com (…..) in the interest of saving space. So for those of us interested in BCG certification, NGSQ etc. offers little or no guidance on this one. When I read the Q citations, I always thought that the authors went to NARA-DC to read the films there! Little did I know they were in their jammies with the rest of us. I do not want to put the whole URL….it makes the citation absolutely ugly and I agree with Barry that it doesn’t tell you much more, then the homepage URL. Thanks, Harold.

  3. Karen Stanbary says:

    Well, I have opted not to use the full URL. The new standards book states the citation element is “a stable URL.” Those long URLs in my mind are not stable. I think the point of including the URL in the citation is to document that you used an online source and direct your reader to the “repository.” I understand a digital image on a web page is more akin to a “published source” rather than a manuscript. The purpose of the citation is to assist readers to retrieve the image, if he or she desires. If the image is “deep” in the website, I then identify the titles of the layers within the citation after the semicolon. This helps the reader get there without the need to include that ugly URL. I don’t know if it is the “right” way. I don’t really think there is one “right” way. While trying to remain consistent, each citation is a unique creature, requiring an analysis of the best way to record it. I want to join in the discussion group in Richmond…

    • jkmorelli says:

      Karen, thanks. So are you using the short URL in all instances (findaGRave, online journals, digital images) or only the “ugly” ones? Last night I took out all my ancestry image URLs and left only the homepage. FindaGrave is is now my longest URL…3 lines in 10 point font. See you in Richmond for sure.


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