Monday, August 30, 2010

Citing My English Sources - My Preference

I wrote Confessions of a Name Collector - English Sources last week in an attempt to determine how I should deal with the thousands of "source citations" in my genealogical database that say essentially "Hilperton, Wiltshire Parish Registers," without a page number, church name, church record, Record Office, film number, or IGI entry. I listed several options to consider, and received a number of comments, which I really appreciated.

The comments by David Newton and Christine (RootsSearcher) in England suggested sourcing the information to the original or derivative material held in the relevant diocesan record offices, expressed in David's comment reprinted below:

"The best way to cite English parish registers I have found is to have the repository as the relevant diocesan record office (almost always a county record office or a unitary authority record office) and then to cite it based on the catalogue call number there and then the page number and entry number in the register if possible (ie post 1812 in most cases). If dealing with earlier registers then the call number in the record office is just as valid and then cite the date in the register if that is the only distinguishing thing."

Christine suggested "...ask the Record Office of the county of where your UK ancestors were if they will take a copy of the page or couple of pages in the parish register..."

Both are excellent suggestions, and I sincerely appreciate them because they expanded my knowledge and appreciation for those records and the efforts made by many persons to collect and preserve them. If I resided in England, this is what I would do, I think, because it is manageable and is the best practice.

However, as Martin pointed out in his comment, I am not in England, the people who might benefit by my public database will be overwhelmngly American, and noted that "... I don't see anything wrong with citing to a scholarly article and saying, 'and the sources cited therein.'"

Several genea-bloggers have commented on this problem of mine. Perhaps the best suggestion was by Bart Brenner in his post Name Collecting - "Mythology" or the "Pirates of the Caribbean" option (GeneaPopPop) on his Stardust 'n' Roots blog, saying:

"What I have come to realize is that I have chosen to take the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' option when approaching the GPS and source citations - that is, they are not so much 'laws' (to be slavishly followed) as they are 'guidelines' (to assist us). This may not measure up to the standards of a professional genealogist. It may not seem very 'professional' - that is, it may be less than desired. I do understand that data without primary sources cited are simply clues to direct further research. I am opting (a) to present primary source data, well cited, wherever I can and (b) to present and site the sources for undocumented data that provides clues for future research. My genealogical research is just that - research. It is always in process. "

I went to the fount of all genealogical source wisdom, the book Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, and noted the two elements below:

in "1.19 Indirect Sources (page 27)


"Citations are built on the principle that we cite only what we have used. It is a sound practice to identify, in our research notes, the sources on which other authors base their assertions or conclusions. Sound practice then dictates that we actually consult those sources that are relevant to our works. We need to confirm the accuracy of what other writers report and glean additional perspectives those earlier sources can offer. For credibility and integrity, we should not borrow sources from other writers or present what amounts to hearsay as credible fact.
(See also Citing the Source of a Source, 2.21.)"


"2.21 Citing the Source of a Source (page 51)

"We do not cite sources we have not used. 'Borrowing' sources from other writers is both unethical and risky. When we use the work of others, we cite what we actually used. When other authors identify their source for a detail that is relevant to us, we should add to our note a statement such as,

"The author cites 'Register 3, page 235, St. Peter’s Parish, Wilmington, Delaware.'

"Credit should always be given where it is due. By the same token, we would not wish to assume the blame for an error another writer made in using a record we have not seen."

In my specific case for these English parish records (mostly before 1650), I have, almost entirely, used published book and journal articles to add events and notes to my database. In my present situation, if I were to follow the EE 1.19 and 2.21 dicta, I should cite what I actually used, but should make the effort to find the original source as time permits. I think that doing that, in my specific case, is logical, reasonable and manageable for me to do in the coming years. In many cases, the books and journal articles that I used do refer to the relevant diocesan record office (although some may be out of date).

Citing to the sources I used for the English records is consistent with many of my other citations I use for American records - such as the Massachusetts Vital Records books (extracted from original town records), New England state vital records indexes, state online genealogical index and record databases, etc. They are all derivative sources yet considered authoritative, they are what I've used, and they can be found by an interested researcher.

I feel a lot better now about this issue. I am very grateful to the commenters for their wisdom and advice,

I need to get to work on correcting the English source citations. It may not be too hard - many of my Notes for the immigrants to colonial America refer to the published book or journal article that I used.


Ginger Smith said...

Hi Randy, thank you for posting the information from Mill's book. I have heard various opinions about this lately, but I have been and will continue to cite my sources as Mills has suggested: Cite what you used and make a note of the original source the source you cited used.

I even go so far as to make another note when I do find the primary source (I usually the seek the primary source right from the start) saying so and so used this source as a basis for their work.

Bob Coret said...


If you ever want to find sources/scans of events of your Dutch ancestors: see the comment about the Scan search service of Genealogie Online as described in the comment on Stardust'n'Roots blog.

Bob Coret
Genealogie Online

Bob Coret said...

If you ever want to find scans of your Dutch ancestors: see the comment about the Scan search service of Genealogie Online as described in the comment on Stardust'n'Roots blog.

Bob Coret
Genealogie Online