Citing of an Ancestry Member Tree

Dear Editor,

I have been asked a couple of times as to how to Cite information from an Ancestry Member Tree (AMT). I use the Family Tree Maker (FTM2014) program and rarely use information from an AMT, but may look for hints for other places to do research.

Rather than typing out the details here, I did a blog post on this topic and would be very interested in your response. I see many, many negative messages, everywhere on the use of the AMTs, but I am hoping that I may have offered a different view on this topic.

Thank you for providing us with a platform for discussion and guidance on the use of Evidence.


Submitted byEEon Fri, 04/04/2014 - 15:13


The explanations of the Ancestry "trees" that you give in your blog post will help many users understand the process there. Your ultimate citation does differ from EE's recommendations. You've explained your rationale. Let us explain ours:

EE creates a citation framework that (a) enables many different types of material to fit into a basic pattern; and (b) conveys a standard meaning across various record types.

Because you are a well-known user of Ancestry's FTM software, I'm assuming you are familiar with EE's QuickSheet: Citing Databases & Images. There, we give two models for citing data from the user-contributed “trees” at Ancestry’s website—one for a tree that offers documented data and one for a tree that offers undocumented information. Because your example is an undocumented tree, let’s use that second QS model for comparison. 

Your reference-note citation is this:

Crista Cowan, Cowan Mulliner Woodruff Kerr; Crista Cowan, Utah, 2014.  Profile of Richard Ridgway (1679-1718), Ancestry Member Tree; accessed 04 Apr 2014.

EE’s reference-note citation to the tree you are using would be this:

     1. “Public Member Trees,” database, ( : accessed 4 April 2014), “Cowan Mulliner Woodruff Kerr” family tree by Crista Cowan, profile for Richard Ridgway (1679-1718, d. Bucks, New Jersey) undocumented data updated March 2014.

EE’s reasoning is this:

  • If we decide to cite these family group sheets as though they were individual manuscripts or individual publications, then users of these trees could have dozens or hundreds of individual citations to group sheets in their master source list (aka bibliography).
  • If we use a standard database citation—and this is part of a database, not a loose sheet of paper—then we have only one master citation and we can use it for endless numbers of individual entries or “profiles” within that database.
  • This form is also the same basic format in which we can cite virtually anything Ancestry provides. Any database name can be plugged into that first field. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fields are exactly the same and can be automatically populated by the software. In the 5th field, we add the relevant date. Then in the citation’s “specific data” field, we can add whatever is relevant to identify any profile at all.  We have just one basic template to remember.

On more technical points:

  • EE would put quotation marks around the title of the tree we are citing. Given the many similarly named trees, it is important to know the exact name of the cited tree—and to let out readers know that this is an exact title. Quotation marks serve that purpose. They are the standard punctuation mark for titles of individual items (chapters, articles, databases, etc.) that appear within larger publications (books, journals, websites, etc.).
  • Following another longstanding convention for reference notes, EE would put all details for one source into a single “sentence.” If we split the details between two separate sentences, as in your example, then we are telling our readers (and ourselves at a later date) that these are two different sources. A reader who expects a citation to follow standard convention would read your model and interpret it this way:
    • Source 1: Crista Cowan wrote something called Cowan Mulliner Woodruff Kerr, but because there are no quote marks or italics, it’s not clear whether it’s a publication or a manuscript, but it was obviously written or published by CC in Utah in 2014.
    • Source 2: is a profile of Richard Ridgway that appears as part of Ancestry Member Tree (wherever that is), but being a newbie—or somebody 50 years from now—I’m not sure where and how to find it.
  • EE would add a place as well as a date to the identifier for Richard Ridgway, given that this database can have dozens or hundreds of same-name people.
  • EE would also identify this as “Public Member Trees,” given that this is the label Ancestry applies and that Ancestry distinguishes this collection from its “Private Member Trees.

Your thoughts?


Submitted byrworthingtonon Fri, 04/04/2014 - 17:55

In reply to by EE

Dear Editor,

Thank you so much for your comments. I have your Quick Sheets right here and should have looked at this one. I was working from the Family Tree Maker Template feature and did a couple of Keyword searches to pull up the Template.

I will go back and look closer as the templates that I have available and figure out what the keyword that I should have used.

There are multiple ways to get to a template and I will review the other ways as well.

I will post an update on my  blog shortly.

Thank you so much. I do appreciate yor comments.


Submitted byrworthingtonon Fri, 04/04/2014 - 18:19

In reply to by rworthington

Dear Editor,

Now I have a problem. I am not able to find a Template, within Family Tree Maker that will get me to Page 3, 3rd item, of the QuickSheet Citing Databases & Images. 

I will work on this issue.

Thank you,


Dear Editor,

As they say, "working on it".

In the mean time, I have updated my blog post, rather create a new one.

The end result is this Reference Note:

"Public Member Tree", database,, accessed 04 Apr 2014; "Cowan Mulliner Woodruff Kerr" family tree by Crista Cowan, profile for Richard Ridgway (b. 1679, Bucks, Pennsylvania - d. 1718, d. Burlington, New Jersey) undocumented data updated March 2014.

The only thing that I might change, is my accessed date format. I have been using the dd Mmm YYYY format to be consistent, but will re-evaluate how I am formatting that.

Thank you,


Submitted byEEon Sat, 04/05/2014 - 20:57

In reply to by rworthington

Looking good, Russ. But I'm curious: Why do you prefer to place the access (or update or publication) date outside of the parentheses. If we follow the principle that website publications should be cited the same way we've always cited publications (which EE does), then the parentheses that follows the italicized title will contain the standard publication details—i.e., (place : date) or, in the case of books (place : publisher, date). 

Dear Editor,

Not by preference, but by my error AND trying to get my program to do what I should be doing for me.

In the case of a Public Member Tree, what I can't tell, is WHEN that profile was last updated. When I saw the "updated March 2014" I guessed and like the fact that the TREE was last updated / accessed by the owner "last month". But I have not indication if that profile was part of that update. Based on what I did see in that tree, it wasn't. It's probably been a couple of years since that branch was updated. Really can't tell.

AH, here, I think is the issue.

This is one I just did on the same tree.

"Public Member Tree", database, The National Archives (, <strong>accessed 05 Apr 2014; "Cowan Mulliner Woodruff Kerr" family tree by Crista Cowan, profile for Robert Ridgeway (b. 24 Aug 1631 Devon, England - d. in Devon England) undocumented data updated March 2014.</strong>

I think that what you are asking is the date should be within the ( entry making it look like ( ; 04 April 2014), right? It that is right, the issue is the software. Yes I could, and will go back and edit it, but the "(" is automatically generated from the Source Template. 

In FTM2014, here is what is in the Citation Detail field.

accessed 05 Apr 2014; "Cowan Mulliner Woodruff Kerr" family tree by Crista Cowan, profile for Robert Ridgeway (b. 24 Aug 1631 Devon, England - d. in Devon England) undocumented data updated March 2014

This comes from the Source Template

"Public Member Tree", database, The National Archives (,

Please notice that Family Tree Maker automatically put in the "The National Archives" information, where I have to manually edit that out and make it

"Public Member Tree", database, (,

In fact, one of the 4 citations I did today, I forgot to change The National Archives to

Bottom line here, I can control the Citation Detail, by putting the "accessed" date outside of the of the URL. I would have to remember to edit that part of the entry as well.

I have put in a request to have a new template for vs The National Archives. That is a system thing,

If it's OK with you, I will send a link to this discussion to Ancestry to have them see what I have already sent to them. The QuickSheet is very clear and I missed the detail. So thank you for pointing it out to me. I really appreciate this feedback and discussion.



Submitted byEEon Sun, 04/06/2014 - 09:30

In reply to by rworthington

Russ, I answered your question at length in this pre-programmed window for a reply to your last message. However, all the back-and-forth, with indentations each time, means this column is so skinny that the long message was hard to follow.

I'm going to respond to your issues in two parts, but I will do them as "new" messages in this thread, so we'll have generously wide space in which to discuss them. Unless someone inserts a comment before I get them posted, they should appear as Messages 14 and 15 in this thread.


Submitted byDearMYRTLEon Mon, 09/21/2015 - 22:12

In reply to by EE

One complication: it is possible to rename an Ancestry Member Tree. I've done this myself twice without realizing the implication for other researchers.

Submitted byyhoitinkon Fri, 04/04/2014 - 15:46

Dare I voice an opinion that is different than the editor's? Fortune favors the brave, so here I go.

I would choose the family tree as the main unit of my citation rather than the generic "Ancestry Member Trees." Quality among member trees differs widely. I want a quick way to see which specific trees I used and which researchers compiled them. By choosing the family tree as the main unit for organizing my citation, all trees would be listed in my source list. The individual profile pages I use would be referenced in the reference notes. 

Submitted byEEon Fri, 04/04/2014 - 16:57

Yvette, all opinions are welcome. We learn from sharing viewpoints--and you make a good point. All of this is why we say Citation is an art, not a science.

Submitted byAngie Bushon Fri, 04/04/2014 - 18:03

A comment - When I cite Ancestry trees, I use the Ancestry user name rather than the actual name of the person. This is because you can search the Ancestry member directory by user name rather. You can't search (AFAIK) by their "real name" or the name of the tree. 

A good point, Angie. EE was working with Russ's citation, but both the real name and the user name would be the ideal. The user name, as you note, is needed to search the member directory. On the other hand, the real name of the person who contributed the data is an important consideration from two other standpoints: (1) as a better means of evaluating the quality of the information provided; and (2) as a backup strategy in the event that the user name changes or the user no longer monitors the site and the contributor needs to be contacted some other way.

Submitted byEEon Sun, 04/06/2014 - 09:33


Revision date:

Absolutely, Russ. Revision dates  are a problem with much of the material on the web. That is why, when citing web-based material, the parenthetical field in which we normally put "publication date" uses that to cover

  • date of publication; or
  • date of update; or
  • date of access

With web-based materials, "date of access" is the most-common one because of the issue you raise.

Proposed citation:

Because you plan to point our friends at FTM to this discussion, and (we hope) they will use this discussion to correct some existing issues, let's summarize what your citation would be to this particular entry. I'm going to flag in red the points on which I've tinkered:

"Public Member Tree,"  database, ( : accessed 05 Apr. 2014), "Cowan Mulliner Woodruff Kerr" family tree by Crista Cowan, profile for Robert Ridgeway (b. 24 Aug 1631 Devon, England - d. in Devon England), undocumented data updated March 2014.

The reasons for the 7 bits of tinkering are these:

  • Standard typography and grammar rules place commas inside of quotation marks. (Ditto for periods.)
  • The title of the website (or book or journal) should be italicized.
  • The standard punctuation mark between place of publication and date is a colon, rather than a semicolon.
  • Standard rules of grammar and punctuation still call for adding a period when we abbreviate a word. <g>
  • After the close-parentheses for publication data, the standard punctuation is a comma.
  • A punctuation mark was needed between the "profile for Robert ...." data and the statement that the data is undocumented.

Hope this helps.

Dear Editor,

Thank you so much for the 7 bits of tinkering. I am working on a list to present to Ancestry on several of these issues. I want my program to give us the proper puncttion for our Reference Notes. I know that I wll have to go back to edit what I already have.

I also think that some of my issue has to do with the Copy/Paste feature from FTM2014 to this message board, and I don't go back to clean my paste up.

This reply is excellent reference material to keep in front of me for my Citations.


Submitted byEEon Sun, 04/06/2014 - 09:50

Software Design & the Citation Problems They Create

Russ, you’ve fingered the biggest frustration of all, where citation is concerned. Trying  to get various software to do what we need it to do, when it has been designed otherwise, can be tougher than teaching chipmunks to line-dance.

There is an underlying problem to the issues you’re having Russ. That is: Your software was the pioneer in the field. It originated back in the late '70s, created by innovative engineers who, unfortunately, were not trained in the conventions of research and writing. As a consequence, they instituted definitions and practices that go counter-grain to longstanding conventions and standard terminology in the research world. We’ve discussed this issue with FTM developers many times over the past 25 years and the bottom line has always been this:

  • It's the way the program's developers decided to define things back in the '70s.
  • Changing those definitions now, to bring FTM into conformity with research standards, would confuse all those FTM users who, by using our software, have {ahem} 'learned it wrong.'

For example, you speak in terms of what to put in the

  • Citation Detail field
  • Source Template

In the citation world, a source template is universally understood to be the template in which we enter all details for our source.  A citation is universally defined as the statement in which we identify the source of an assertion.  

To put it another way: A source template is the template in which we enter all the details about our source—not just some of them. And a citation is the output generated from that template.  Ergo, every detail entered into the source template is a citation detail.

That citation statement may appear as (a) a reference note; or (b) an individual entry on a list of sources—aka bibliography. The output of the “source template” will vary according to whether that output needs to function as (a) or (b). But every piece of information about that source is part of the source template that creates the citation—and every field of the citation is a citation detail.

FTM’s terminology, unfortunately, takes all the details we need to fully identify our source and arbitrarily divides it into two different entities. Only part of it is called “source.” The rest is lumped into something called “citation detail."  That arbitrary division is greatly the root of the problem you’re having, causing you (and millions of others who use that software) to have to do manually override the software-generated output in order to create citations that conform to standard practices.

Needless to say, we appreciate your tackling these issues—and, as always, we stand willing to work with the developers to make things easier for all researchers.

Dear Editor,

In my blog, I have tried to show how I understand the program against the standard, The Standard, Evidence Explained. I have that book within my easy reach. I try to "translate" what information comes from where, how it is described in Evidence Explained and the fields that are provided by the Family Tree Maker program.

I am not sure, but I don't think that I have used one source and have a citation that came out right. I have had to redo, revisit each step along the way.

It really shouldn't be that difficult to do.

I haven't seen how Roots Magic and Legacy Family Tree output from their implimentation of Evidence Explained, but have been willing to put out my output against The Standard so that I can provide feed back to the developers. I know that our friend Randy Seaver posts about this topic as well and I think we both struggle with helping our reader's work with our programs.

Thank you so much for your feedback on this difficult (for me) subject and hope that others learn from our discussion. 

I do appreciate your time in your valuable responses.

Thank you,


Submitted byEEon Sun, 04/06/2014 - 14:04

In reply to by rworthington

Russ, the efforts you and Randy Seaver are making, to help users of your software, are appreciated by many of those users.  Don't hesitate to ask, any time you have a question.

May both of you succeed in your efforts to help the software developers tweak the problematic areas. Software engineers and subject-area specialists—despite the expertise of both—do often speak "different languages" and nuances get lost in the translation.


Submitted byDearMYRTLEon Sun, 04/06/2014 - 20:41

This enlightening discussion between The Editor and my real-life cousin proves useful in my personal research.

The Editor raises a valid point that this site needs a rating system for each post, though not merely to rack up pretty little five star ratings like those on Such a rating system leads to an understanding of  "trending topics" increasing the likelihood of  a forum posting appearing elsewhere, say in a Facebook posting reaching a different audience.

DearMYRTLE (and cousin),

Interesting that you should bring up the "star" rating "system". 

You put out the Rague Challenge, and in my reply to that, I made this blog post

FTM2014 - The RAGU Challenge another view

Bottom line here is that Family Tree Maker has a feature that I didn't know about. Mostly because the 4 or 5 star system that was in the program, didn't work for me. In the blog post, I talk about how FTM2014 does have a system that lets us work through GPS, with the help of Mastering Genealogical Proof by Dr Thomas W Jones, and I used an example for the challenge to show how it worked.

Besides a couple of missing uses of that feature,  I suggested that they add to the Information classification "indeterminable" to the Primary and Secondary sourse of the information.

I am still not ready to move this work from Evidentia, but the "low hanging fruit" evaluation could be done using this new, to me, feature. I still want the detailed, more complicated work to be done in Evidentia.

I am sure glad we are able to get beyond the "fill in the blanks" work that I started with and now have to tools to make a more informed conclusion.


Thank you for the conversation


The citation that resulted from Russ's blog post is

Footnote/Endnote Citation:"Public Member Tree," database, ( : accessed 6 Apr 2014), "davis /ritter/farver Family Tree" family tree by Sharon Lucille Davis, profile for John McKinney Buckalew (b. Feb 1866 d. 1936).  Thank you for your input.

Good job, Shannon!  EE would make only a couple of tweaks on the subsequent citation and biliography entry:

Subsequent Citation:

"Public Member Tree," database,, "davis /ritter/farver Family Tree" family tree by Sharon Lucille Davis, profile for John McKinney Buckalew (b. Feb 1866 d. 1936). 


"Public Member Tree." Database.

EE would replace "database" with the website title, given that "Public Member Tree" is so generic. Imagine, for a moment, that another researcher sees just a portion of a printout from your database. That portion has only the subsequent citation. Would that researcher recognize that "Public Member Tree" is something s/he needs to look for at Ancestry or would s/he wonder which of the now-many online tree-wikis this refers to?

In the bibliography, the repetition of "" in three consecutive fields is a bit of overkill that probably no one but Sister Rapknuckle would insist upon. :)

Submitted bynewonashon Sun, 09/20/2015 - 13:23

I saw the use of "undocumented" above.  My idea is that "unsourced" might be a more comprehensive generic term.  My thinking is that "undocumented" means an absence of supporting documentation.  Yet, the proof of a genealogical fact could be a tradition, personal knowledge, photo, grave marker, etc., where no documents are involved at all.


"Undocumented" does mean an absence of supporting documentation. But "documentation" is a comprehensive word that does, indeed, encompass photographs and gravemarkers. defines the verb "document" in this way:

  • to create a record of (something) through writing, film, photography, etc.
  • to prove (something) by using usually written evidence

The first definition embraces those photos, grave markers, audio and video recordings of interviews, etc. The second addresses the other two sources of information that you inquired about. In historical research, personal knowledge or family tradition  needs to be recorded in some form. After all, if a piece of information exists only in your own head, how does anyone else access it or verify it? It has to be expressed somehow in a recorded form before it's usable and citable.

Beyond the dictionary definitions, EE would argue that the use of "undocumented" rather than "unsourced" also carries a subtle but powerful distinction. Too many new researchers think that as long as they have a source for a piece of information, they can fly with it.  The emphasis upon documentation carries with it an emphasis upon quality and credibility.