Does Genealogy Software Make Inputting Sources Unnecessarily Complicated?

Does Genealogy Software Make Inputting Sources Unnecessarily Complicated?

I am probably going to start a riot with this post.  But, I have a confession to make.  I don’t input all those cumbersome source fields in my genealogy software and sometimes I don’t even know what they are for.  There!  I said it (Phew!  That’s a load off my genealogy shoulders.)

I have used several different genealogy software programs over the years.  I started with The Leading Edge, then PAF, Family Tree Maker, and Brother Keepers.  I settled on  Family Origins which was my favorite for a long time.  When that was phased out I moved over to RootsMagic.

When I first started using genealogy software to keep track of my family tree, the source fields were pretty easy to use.  There was usually a “pick list” name for your source, a descriptive field for the source where you typed in the source information, and the quality of the source (primary source and so forth).

I’ve noticed a couple of things in my years of inputting sources to genealogy software programs.  First, they aren’t always compatible.  My first experience of this was using the old DOS version of a program and upgrading to Windows.  All my sources disappeared, much to my chagrin.

I reinput my sources into the Windows version of my software.  When I eventually switched to Family Origins, I found that the source fields weren’t compatible!  My sources were ending up in Notes fields.  Sigh…I ended up reinputting them again.

Now, with RootsMagic I am finding that the number of fields needed to input a source keeps increasing.  I learned how to write sources by hand from a genealogy course.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am a big fan of RootsMagic.  But truth be told, I haven’t a clue as to what to do with most of the fields! 

Entering a source into RootsMagic includes these fields:

Pick List Name

Source (Enter exactly how you want printed)

Short version of source (optional)

Bibliography version of source (optional)

Personal File Number

Once you enter all those (with or without the optional fields), another screen comes up.  You can then enter:

Film/Volume/Page Number

Citation Quality

Actual Text


There is another tab for Multimedia, where I assume you can then scan the document and link to it. Once you’ve entered the source and go to the source page, there is yet another tab: Repository.

I don’t know about you, but seeing all these fields makes me feel like sources are a burden or a chore.  I enter my data and then think “Oh great, now I’ve got all this to fill in”.  I also find it confusing when one source applies to several people.  What do I put in all those descriptive type fields? 

So, I don’t.  Plain and simple.  I use the Picklist name and the Source field and that’s it.  I type them in exactly how I was taught to write a source.  Two fields, that’s it.  Since I don’t use file folders and keep the document behind the family group sheet in my binder, I don’t feel the necessity to fill in every field.  I usually have a copy on my computer as well, so I feel I am covered.

I know what you are going to say.  Those fields are optional.  This is true.  Still, I have to wonder.  By making the sources more complicated and tedious to input, I wonder how many genealogist give up on them?  How many genealogist feel like it’s too confusing to have all those fields that sound kind of similar?  How many feel that the task is too tedious?  They may start out with a great attitude towards sources, inputting every one they have.  Then they start to feel like sources are a chore and they input less and less. 

I know many folks probably find those source fields very useful.  I can think of many reasons why it would be great to fill in all this stuff.  I guess I have a little different perspective.  Since I am disabled, I have to use my typing time wisely.  I’d rather get my two field version in than nothing at all.

Some day I may regret it.  Those fields might become vital in ways I haven’t yet perceived.  For now, given the problems that I’ve had
with compatibility, I would rather get the information into the
descriptive field than use other fields that some day may not be
compatible with the next software program I use.  I want the task to be something I choose to do because it’s important to my research than a dreaded burden that I soon give up on.

You can throw your tomatoes now πŸ˜‰

PLEASE NOTE: Melody is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

This post contains affiliate links. When you click on these links and make a purchase, I earn a percentage of the sale which allows me to keep providing you great content for free on this website.

8 thoughts on “Does Genealogy Software Make Inputting Sources Unnecessarily Complicated?

  1. Oooh – genealogy true confessions – I LOVE IT! I agree with you that the current state of source citation and genealogy database software is not good. You are not alone in being overwhelmed by the inconsistency in formats and fields between programs. This is one area of the genealogy field that must be dealt with especially if newcomers are to feel comfortable with research.

  2. All I can say is….. THANK GOODNESS someone else is in the same boat I am. No tomato throwing from this researcher. I’ve always looked at all those fields with great sighs of “oh great, I’ll never get this done” but have found with use that it’s easy to link the same source and it’s details to other facts that I’m entering (using Family Tree Maker). But, that doesn’t make me any more comfortable with all the other billions of facts that I’ve entered over the years without filling in all those blanks.. and I certainly hate when I go to see a fact, look at it’s source and it leaves much information to be desired. someday I’ll clean it up? maybe πŸ™‚

  3. I use RM, and I do sources. Many I can reuse, so I don’t type them each time I need them.

    Look the purist, the ones that want to publish in a periodical really need all these details. You may not. What you need is to come up wih a methodology that WORKS FOR YOU!!!

    I do books with the Source Wizard, I like my book sources to look like I know what I am doing.

    I do other sources, MY WAY, stuff like Aunt Susie is my source. I have my own way to do this.

    I have found that even when I publish family books few that get a copy even bother with looking at the sources, so I figure the sources are for ME more than anyone. They are there to assist me when I need to review something and cannot remember WHERE I got it!

    I actually did a presentation on this once and called it, “Sourcing in the Real World”. The purists would have hated it! LOL

  4. This is why there are so many unsourced trees out there. Personally I enter enough information so I (or someone else down the road) can find the source again. Sometimes my source is as simple as “personal interview with x, 01 Jan 2000”. I have a source for almost every line entry in my tree but I’m certain there are many that would cringe at the way I’ve recorded them. Frankly, my sources work for me and I’m good with that!

  5. No tomatoes. I think it is all a matter of preference. I have the same issue with homeschooling software and entering books. For me, a title and author are enough to maintain a reading log or list of work/textbooks.

    Likewise, when it comes to genealogy sources, I stick with the basics of title, author, publication information, volume and page number, and where I located the item (in case I ever want to return to it).

    I think we all have to do what works for us. πŸ™‚

  6. Melanie – While I am a EMS groupie, I think that she would agree that the main reason for citing sources is so that someone else who comes along can find it (including yourself). If from the description you give, it is crystal clear on where you got the information then don’t sweat it. Of course if you ever decide to publish, then you will have to tow the line.

  7. I wanted to thank everyone for their comments. There are many sides to look at on this issue.

    I guess my issue isn’t so much how to format a source, but the necessity of all the different fields in software to do it. Beyond putting the whole source in the main description field the way I was taught to write them by hand, I still don’t grasp the purpose of the other fields. If I could see where everyone of those fields was going to appear, that might help.

  8. I thought I would play around and use the Source Wizard on RootsMagic. But, these sources don’t turn out anything near the way I was taught to write them. So, I think I will do them my way. Otherwise, I’ll have them in two different formats, which will look dumb.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *