How Citable Public Documents Will Change… Genealogy!

Posted On: April 8th, 2010 | Posted by: Dean


I’ve been following with some interest the nascent “Government 2.0″ movement, which aims to “use Information Technology to… commoditize government services, processes and data.” Basically, the goal is to help citizens connect with their governments (and vice-versa) using Web tools like social networking, wikis, and distributed version control. One obvious potential outcome of this effort would be making government documents easier for the public to access, understand, and respond to.

The League of Technical Voters

To this end, a non-partisan group called the League of Technical Voters (LTV) has proposed a software solution called Citability.org. The project is aimed at making it easier to cite government documents hosted online. Here’s how they describe the problem they perceive and the solution they’re trying to build:

Making it possible to create timestamped permalinks at a paragraph level of granularity would be a huge leap forward in increasing government transparency through its online documents. The same principles apply when producing citable government data. When recovery.org decided to display visual representations of the data coming in about recovery money around the nation, it quickly became clear that some amount of data was erroneous. When the errors were reported and the data was later modified, there wasn’t any way to go back and compare the two versions to see what changes had taken place. A blogger, reporter, statistician or scientist should be able to run a query against any specific collection of government data, as it was published, for a given version or moment in time.


The nonprofit, nonpartisan League of Technical Voters has proposed a simple, easy to build and implement citability solution. Open source software development is underway and a wide range of government institutions are already on board.

OK, So What’s the Genealogy Tie-In?

A number of genealogy organizations public and private, for-profit and non-profit are currently working to build centralized, authoritative yet collaborative online family trees, appropriately sourced with wiki-like conflict-resolution tools built in.

At the same time, some state and county governments are making more and more of their genealogy-relevant records available online, while others are working to restrict public access to records in the name of privacy and identity theft prevention.

It strikes me that the principles behind projects like LTV’s Citability.org could be explored, adapted and potentially championed by genealogy organizations. After all, for many genealogists, accurate sourcing — particularly of public government documents — is practically an article of faith.

A Helpful Introduction

I found Silona Bonewald’s article Stop Fishing and Start Feasting: How Citable Public Documents Will Change Your Life a helpful introduction to this topic. I’d encourage you to take a look at let me know what you think in the comments section of this blog.

One Response to “How Citable Public Documents Will Change… Genealogy!”

  1. Links, links: April 12, 2010 « The Ancestral Archaeologist Says:

    [...] the online family tree: Dean at GenLighten talks about advances in public document citation online and ways in which they might lead to a new generation of online genealogy collaboration. [...]

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