Thursday, May 13, 2010

More about Finding and Inputting Record Sources and Citations

My earlier post this week about Source citations leave a lot to be desired highlighted the problems with some sources and citations created by, and passed into online family trees, and then passed into genealogy software databases if the online tree is downloaded as a GEDCOM file.

In the post, I advised that "...all users of online family trees that want satisfactory and useful source citations, is to NOT attach any Ancestry Family Tree data or other database information to your Ancestry Member Tree. If there is data in an online family tree or online database that you want to use, then write it down and add it by hand (or copy and paste it) to your online tree, or to your Family Tree Maker database on your computer. Then create your own sources for that information in either your online tree or your software database, using the principles and models found in the book Evidence! Explained or in the Quick Sheets (both authored by Elizabeth Shown Mills)."

I want to add one more statement to that advice: "Online family trees, online databases, published books and periodicals, and indexes are all 'derivative' sources - they obtained the record information from an 'original' source. Every researcher should strive to find the original source of the information used in their genealogy database and should create a source citation for that information."

In the case of the 1754 birth record for Zachariah Hildreth in the Westford, Massachusetts, I would have created a full reference note citation like this from the printed Westford Vital Records book (using the Evidence! Explained basic format book model on page 642):

Vital Records of Westford, Massachusetts to the Year 1849 (Salem, Mass., The Essex Institute, 1915), 58.

In my genealogy software, I would add the author, book title and publication information in the Master Source field, the page number in the "Citation Page" field, and I would add the record text ("HILDRETH, Zachariah, s. Zachariah and Elizabeth, Jan 13, 1754") in the citation text field. Note: I did this in Family Tree Maker 16 - the terminology for other programs may be different.

This book is on Google Books for reference - here. I'll leave it to the reader to create a citation for this online book source - who will take the challenge?

If a researcher has not found the published book, but has found an online representation of the book, should the source be listed as the online repository (in this case, Google Books) or should the source be listed as the published book? My practice is to cite the published work IF I have photocopied pages from the book and have them in my paper or electronic files, and to cite the online version if that is the only location where I have accessed the work.

Is this Vital Records book an original source for these records? NO - the book is a derivative source (published in 1915) because the information was taken from town record books (handwritten records from about 1701 to 1849). The "Original Source" is really the actual Westford town record books, which may be located at the Westford MA town hall (I'm not sure about this) and are on microfilm through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City -- see this entry in the FHL Catalog for the microfilms of the original town record.

One more nuance - these microfilms are an "Image Copy" of the original handwritten records - should this "Image Copy" be treated as an "Original Source" record? To my mind - it depends on the source. If it is the actual record written by the town clerk (as in this case) at the time of the event, then I consider it an "Original Source" and "Primary Information." If it is a clerk's transcription, a "Record Copy," written some time after the event in an effort to preserve the information in the records (an example would be a land deed or probate record written into a court record), then I consider it a "Derivative Source" and "Primary Information." The reason for the latter practice is that this "Record Copy" may have added errors to the "Original Source" information. Often, we have access, either on actual paper or on microfilms, only to the "Record Copy" of the records.

All of the above is based on the principle that genealogy and family history researchers should seek out, use and cite the most authoritative source they can. In most cases, this should be the "Original Source" in its earliest form, because that is likely to be the most accurate and authoritative resource. Note that there are many examples of "original sources" having erroneous data, and "derivative sources" having more accurate data. Finding and evaluating a range of sources is what "Doing a Reasonably Exhaustive Search" is all about (see the Genealogical Proof Standard for more details).

There were quite a few presentations at the NGS 2010 Conference in Salt Lake City concerning this topic - I encourage readers who want more information to consult the Board for Certification of Genealogists website for more information, and to read articles on the subject on the Learning Center Article Archives and other locations. I input "sources" in the Search box and received 2058 may want to refine the search by adding another term like "Mills" (114 matches).

1 comment:

Janet Hovorka said...

Wonderful post Randy. We are dumping so much un-sourced junk into these collaborative databases now that no one wants to take the time to input sources right. I hope we can start taking responsibility ourselves for the state of these databases and clean up and build databases that will be of value to someone else in the future.