Modern Software Experience


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Genealogy Citation Standard

A few months ago, Genealogy Citation Standard gave a quick overview of the state of citation standards in genealogy. It noted that Today, choosing to use any vendor's citation template system is choosing vendor lock-in, and concluded with the observation that there is no digital standard for citation templates.
Today, Real-Time Collaboration (creators of AncestorSync) introduce SourceTemplates, an initiative to address that situation.

SourceTemplates Home Page


SourceTemplates isn't a product for end-users, but an initiative aimed developers of genealogy software. It is tempting to think of SourceTemplates as a standard, but that is not really what it is. The SourceTemplates home page describe SourceTemplates as an open source model for genealogical source citations, and that is exactly what it is.

SourceTemplates is a data model for citations.

data model

SourceTemplates is a data model. Not a complete model for genealogy data, but just for a part of it. SourceTemplates is a data model for citations.

The FamilySearch-style citation support that's part of the GEDCOM specification isn't useless, but several well-known genealogy applications support templates based on Elisabeth Shown Mills's Evidence Explained (EE) now.

SourceTemplates About tab

Alas, there is no standard for Mills templates, so despite Mill's involvement with the vendors, they all ended up doing it differently. Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic and New Family Tree Maker all support EE-style templates, but do not import such citations from each other's GEDCOM as flawlessly as they import basic data and FamilySearch-style citations. In fact, the current versions of Legacy Family Tree and Family Tree Maker (Legacy 7.5 and FTM 2011), do not even import their own GEDCOM files flawlessly…

AncestorSync logo

AncestorSync citation model

The SourceTemplate initiative was started by Real-Time Collaboration, creators of AncestorSync. Real-Time Collaboration has donated part of AncestorSync's citation model - the citation part of the data model they use for AncestorSync. This is the citation model that AncestorSync uses when converting citations between different genealogy applications. That model has been donated to SourceTemplates and is now available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license; commercial use, sharing and remixing are all okay, as long as SourceTemplates is attributed and you share alike.

Real-Time Collaboration's donation of their AncestorSync citation model to the SourceTemplate Initiative isn't pure altruism. Real-Time Collaboration has a real interest in making the SourceTemplates Initiative succeed. AncestorSync is able to import from and export to the three aforementioned genealogy applications, but it was a lot of work because the different implementations of EE-style templates are indeed quite different from each other. Their hope is that publishing their relatively simple model, which they believe to be sufficient for conversion of citations between different applications, will lead to more uniform implementations of EE-style citations in genealogy applications.

The About tab of the SourceTemplates site states it like this: We aim to create a model that can work within any genealogical application. We are not interested in key pieces of data being lost in transition, so we have built this standard to be flexible enough to support all..

SourceTemplates Data Model

neither finished nor fixed

The SourceTemplate sites documents the data model, complete with multi-coloured diagram, but the model is neither finished nor fixed. The citation model documented on the site today is what AncestorSync uses today. It is expected to evolve as more parties get involved with the initiative.

The SourceTemplates Initiative is not just about a data model for citation templates, it is also about the citation templates themselves.

citation templates

The SourceTemplates site calls SourceTemplates an anti-model model. That is silly and confusing terminology. What they mean to say it that the model is not as rigid as the FamilySearch-style citation model of GEDCOM, that it is not simply a fixed a number of fields, but a model that enables citation templates.

citation templates

The SourceTemplates Initiative is not just about a data model for citation templates, it is also about the citation templates themselves. Real-Time Collaboration has donated AncestorSync's citation model, but without the templates that AncestorSync uses internally, because these templates are partly based on third-party information provided under NDA. That is a pity, because the AncestorSync system was specifically developed to be compatible with the different citation template systems used by Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker.

Millennia, the makers of Legacy Family Tree, have decided to donate all 1400 templates that form the basis of the Legacy SourceWriter introduced in Legacy 7.0 to the SourceTemplate Initiative. SourceTemplates will make theses templates available to all.
That does not make the Legacy templates the first set of publicly available citation templates. John H. Yates created and open-sourced a bunch of EE-style citation templates in February of 2010. It is the first publication of citation templates used by a well-known genealogy application.


Real-Time Collaboration has issued a brief press release which includes a statement from the BetterGEDCOM project. BetterGEDCOM believes that open standards are the way forward and welcomes to the effort to develop a widely supported international model for source citations.


That Millennia donated their SourceWriter templates to the SourceTemplate Initiative is great. Ideally, all vendors supporting citation templates would have donated their templates. If they all did so, Real-Time Collaboration would be free to donate their AncestorSync templates as well.

The public availability of the templates is a Good Thing.
However, by providing templates from just one vendor, the SourceTemplate Initiative may easily be perceived as promoting one vendor's templates over others, as promoting one genealogy application over other application, as promoting one vendor over other vendor, and that may hurt SourceTemplate's acceptance and credibility.
The best way to avoid that perception would be to get more vendors to donate their templates.

open source

SourceTemplates plans to share templates through github, a source code repository with version control. It was hoped they would be available in time for the announcement, but they are still being prepared for publication.
The source templates will be provided in XML format, complete with C++ code to read these templates. SourceTemplates will not provide the code that AncestorSync uses to read and write Legacy databases. SourceTemplates will provide code to read the XML templates. All templates and code will be made available as Open Source, for any genealogy software developer to adapt and use as they see fit.

SourceTemplates isn't a single rigid format, nor just a collection of templates either. SourceTemplates is a citation template system.

citation template system

The SourceTemplate Initiative aims to end the incompatibilities between current citation template implementations by providing a relatively simple, single model that supports all current citation templates, and many future ones. SourceTemplates isn't a single rigid format, nor just a collection of templates either. SourceTemplates is a citation template system. The SourceTemplate system is not entirely fixed either, but will be tweaked as additional needs become apparent.

GEDCOM is still the de facto standard, but GEDCOM does not support citation templates. The SourceTemplate Initiative aims to work with the BetterGEDCOM project to create GEDCOM extensions for the SourceTemplate model.

The introduction of the SourceTemplate Initiative does not immediately solve all problems overnight. In fact, the SourceTemplate project does not provide any end-user solution at all. The SourceTemplate Initiative is a long-term effort at harmonisation of citation templates used in genealogy software. Its success depends on genealogy software vendor adoption and participation.

The SourceTemplate Initiative has one major thing going for it: it is exactly what many genealogy software developers need.

the SourceTemplate advantage

The SourceTemplate Initiative has one major thing going for it: it is exactly what many genealogy software developers need.
The first few genealogy software vendors to implement the E!-style and later the EE-style templates had it hard. They had to translate Mills' book into hundreds of concrete templates, and figure out how to integrate these into their application. They had to come up with some template system to implement the templates in, and oh, it had to be user-friendly too.
The SourceTemplate Initiative offers vendors looking to support citation templates exactly what they need; a proven data model for citation templates complete with a big bunch of templates. Adopting the SourceTemplate model makes it relatively easy to import from and export to other applications supporting SourceTemplates. It makes it easier to obtain AncestorSync support for the application. Ultimately, it will allow users to take their data from one application to another, complete with template-based citations - and that is what users want.