Modern Software Experience

2011-03-26

mythology

“genealogy without documentation is mythology”

A popular aphorism of traditional genealogists is that genealogy without documentation is mythology. It is sometimes expressed slightly differently, as genealogy without sources is mythology.
This aphorism instructs the traditional genealogists to cite their sources. It sounds disparaging, because it is meant to sound disparaging. Mythology simply isn't good enough.

Mythology isn't genealogy.

mythology isn't genealogy

The aphorism implies another and more fundamental statement, an even simpler phrase that until today had zero google hits; mythology isn't genealogy.

Mythology isn't genealogy. Mythology isn't documentation. Mythology isn't a reliable source. Mythology isn't a respectable source. Citing mythology is ridiculous.
That may seem blindingly obvious, but there still are genealogists (I am using the word incredibly loosely now) who not only treat family relationships mentioned in mythology as a source for genealogy, but even dare to position their favourite mythology as an undisputable source. That isn't genealogy, that is geneatheology.

Many genealogists do, by their own definition, cite mythology!

most published genealogy is mythology

Most genealogists do not deliberately engage in geneatheology, and do not wish to cite any mythology as a genealogical source. So it is rather surprising that many genealogists do so all the time. Many genealogists do, by their own definition, cite mythology. Even genealogists who would never make the mistake of citing any old story, do frequently cite mythology.

Most genealogist agree that genealogy without documentation is mythology. A corollary of that statement is, because most published genealogy is without sources, that most published genealogy is mythology. So, more often than not, when they are citing a previously published genealogy, they are, according to their own statement, citing mythology.

Do not create geneathology, do not cite geneathology either.

geneathology

A genealogy without documentation is genealogical mythology, a geneathology. The aphorism Genealogy without documentation is mythology is commonly understood as an admonition to refrain from creating a geneathology; base your genealogy on sources, and cite those sources to show you have done so.

It is important to also understand it as an admonition to refrain from citing a geneathology. Do not create geneathology, do not cite geneathology either.
If you truly believe that genealogy without sources is mythology, than you have to conclude that geneathologies are not worth citing. You should not cite geneathologies.

Citing a geneathology is crediting mythology.

citations

A citation gives the appearance of professional research, but citing mythology isn't proper research at all. Citing a geneathology is crediting mythology. When you use geneathologies as your source, you are only creating another geneathology. When you cite a geneathology, you aren't a genealogist, you are geneathologist.

Proper research is not about formatting citations. Proper research is not even about adding citations. Proper research is finding and using respectable sources. You should cite these sources, and format your citations correctly, but no amount of citation or expert formatting makes up for bad sources. Neither citations nor their formatting turn sloppy research into respectable research.

Citing a geneathology does not a genealogy make. Citing a geneathology makes another geneathology.

copy & paste

Citing geneathology is not even sloppy research, is the absence of research. Citing a geneathology is futile.
Citing geneathology is no more than copy & paste of doubtful claims. Geneathologies do not deserve to be cited. Geneathologies deserve to be ignored.
Citing a geneathology does not a genealogy make. Citing a geneathology makes another geneathology.

It does not matter how well-known the author or how respectable the publication is. It does not even matter that a publication peer-reviews the geneathologies they publish. If it is a geneathology, you should not cite it.
If there are no sources, it isn't a genealogy, it is a geneathology. If it cites geneathologies, it isn't a genealogy, it is a geneathology. You do not cite that geneathology, but locate and cite the sources that its author may have used instead.

Follow citation chains back to the original research.

citation chain

That it is wrong to cite geneathologies, does not mean it is right to cite genealogies. Luckily, it does not mean it is wrong either. It is not wrong to cite existing genealogies, but you should refrain from citing just any genealogy. You should satisfy yourself that the work you cite is a genealogy, not a geneathology, but that is not enough.

You should hesitate to cite anything but professionally done original research. Citing a genealogy that cites a genealogy creates a citation chain. That chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Anywhere along the chain someone may have made a transcription or interpretation mistake.
Follow citation chains back to the original research. Cite that original research or use the original records.

There are two reasons to follow citations back to the original research. One is to avoid a citation chain, to try and avoid the mistakes that may occur in one. The other, more fundamental reason, is to make sure that you are in fact citing a genealogy, and not citing a geneathology. You cannot tell from the citation, you have to look at the source.

updates

2011-06-27

The article Genealogy Citation Standard presents a quick overview of thinking about citations in genealogy, and how well that thinking is supported by genealogy technology standards today.

2011-07-02

The article Genealogy without Proof is Mythology presents some research into the origin of the aphorism.

links