Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Which Site Provides "Best" Census Source Citations?

I've been accused of being a "Source Citation Nazi" by email correspondents, which I deny!  I do like well-crafted source citations, however.

I asked myself the question:  "Which website that provides census records does the best job at creating source citations?"  The concept of "best" is subjective, of course, but I will choose to define "best" as the Evidence! Explained source templates.

I chose the 1930 United States census entry for my grandfather, Lyle L. Carringer (1891-1976) who resided in San Diego, California in the 1930 U.S. Census.  Here are my findings:

1)  Ancestry.com (from collection):

Year: 1930; Census Place:  San Diego San Diego California; Roll:  192; Page: 5A; Enumeration District:  116; Image: 688.0; FHL microfilm:  2339927.

When attached to a person (in a Ancestry Member Tree synced to Family Tree Maker 2012), from FTM 2012:

Ancestry.com, 1930 United States Federal Census (Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2002. Original data - United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626,)

2)  FamilySearch.org:

"United States Census, 1930," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/XC6N-3VZ : accessed 19 June 2012), Lyle L Carringer, San Diego, San Diego, California.

3)  Fold3.com:

There is no crafted source citation.  The image of the Source Information box is:

4)  Archives.com:

There is no crafted source citation.  The image of the Source Information is:

5)  WorldVitalRecords.com:

There is no crafted source citation.  The image of the Source Information is:

6)  CensusRecords.com:

This site does not yet have the 1930 U.S. Census.  

7)  Evidence! Explained template:

A 1930 U.S. Census entry crafted by the census template in RootsMagic (Census: U.S. Federal (online images); using Ancestry.com image, developed from Evidence! Explained source templates) for the Lyle L. Carringer entry would be:

1930 United States Federal Census, San Diego County, California, population schedule, San Diego City, enumeration district (ED) 116, sheet 5A, Dwelling #142, Family #148, Lyle L. Carringer household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 June 2012); citing National Archives microfilm publication T626, Roll 192.


1)  None of the historical record collections creates a source citation crafted to Evidence! Explained principles.  It's not even close!

2)  None of the source information in the historical record collections contains all of the elements required to craft an Evidence! Explained style citation.

3)  FamilySearch is the only record collection that puts a link to the specific census image in their source citation.

4)  Any source citation created by the record providers and attached to a tree person will have to be edited in order to meet the Evidence! Explained template standards.

5)  Which historical record collection will be the first to include all of the source citation elements and craft source citations according to Evidence! Explained templates?

Some readers may be asking "Why does this matter?  As long as they provide some source information, you can craft it to your own standards."

My response is:  "With many Ancestry Member Tree users happily accepting shaky leaf Hints, and with the new Source Box on FamilySearch.org (that can be used to attach a source to a person in the FamilySearch Family Tree), it matters a lot.  Millions of poorly crafted 'source citations' will be attached to millions of persons in these trees.  I think that the historical record collection providers should do source citations better, and should do them to a recognized standard."

What do you think?  Am I being too hard on the providers?  Are the Evidence! Explained templates the best standard to aspire to?

The URL for this post is:  http://www.geneamusings.com/2012/06/which-site-provides-best-census-source.html

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Cousin Russ said...


"none of the above", with the exception of Elizabeth Shown Mills example.

That is why I have spent my time converting ANY Citation from anywhere into the Family Tree Maker Template Format.

What might be interesting is comparing FTM2012, against RootsMagic and Legacy. I would hope that they would be much closer then those provided by your Online Examples.

Thanks for bringing this issue up.


Root Digger said...

I am glad you discussed this. I always wondered why these source citations weren't what my standards should be.

R. Mansfield said...

I think like a lot of people, citing sources is more important to me now than it was when I first started working on my family tree. I'm trying to shore up my "primary 32" and then I'll move to fixing the rest, although as I've added information, regardless of who it is, I've made certain to add citations.

As for those shaky leaves in ancestry.com that point to other trees that are often missing citations, I often send a message to the tree's owner asking where they got their information. If I can't get a satisfactory reply, I sometimes insert the information as an alternate fact with a note to myself as to its nature and origin. I do that because sometimes even unsourced facts may be based on truth, and the information can give me a lead for tracking down an actual source.

For example, in researching my grandfather, who died four months before I was born, I came across a distant cousin's tree who had a very specific birthplace for my grandfather--city, county and state. I've never been able to find anything more than the state he was born in (in census data) because he was born in 1908 before birth certificates were standard practice. So, I contacted this cousin, and he didn't know where he got the information, but pointed me to someone who helped him with his tree. I contacted that person, and she didn't know, but pointed me to someone else. I contacted him, and he pointed me back to the previous person. Now this information about my grandfather came from somewhere. It's just that right now no one seems to know where. So, I have this as alternate data, but I only include as primary data something for which I can have a source--such as the census records.

I often compose my own sources for information I've provided such as birth or death certificates. I don't have a copy of Evidence Explained because it is (1) so stinking expensive, and (2) not available in an electronic medium for which I could easily carry it with me on my iPad. I'll probably eventually buy it and scan it.

However, I do understand the purpose and basic elements needed in a good citation since I work in academic settings. I am in school where Turabian is used and I teach where APA is used, and I constantly have to keep the two methods straight in my head. I probably think in terms of Turabian more than APA when I craft a source, but I know the essential elements necessary to go in the citation. It needs to have enough information so that someone else could find the same source. So while they may not conform to Evidence Explained, I do believe they are complete, which--to me--is the most important part.

Kenneth R Marks said...

Using the Evidence Explained template, can someone please explain to me why the dwelling and household number is necessary? Obviously with the city, county, and state and the ED and Page#, the proper page is found and can be found in the future. I always add the head of household name and ALL members of the household for completeness.

And why if accessed online is it required to cite where you accessed it from as well as the date? Having the microfilm info seems to be redundant. I must be missing something I guess.

Cousin Russ said...


Elizabeth Shown Mills would have to answer that question, I won't even try. What I can offer, is how I used that specific information in locating about 90 people, in the 1940 Census (unindexed) within the 1st week.

I had record that information in the Citation as suggested. By looking at the complete details, like Household Number and Dwelling Number, I could better identify the ED in the 1940 Census, using the One Step website created by Dr. Morse. But, where I had the information from the 1930 Census, it sometimes had the Street Name and number. That really helped to narrow down to one ED, in most cases in the 1940 Census. All I had to do, was to look at my 1930 Citation, detailed, and I was able to get to that one ED.

Remember that ED's changed and will change between Census Years, so the ED, by itself, may not always worked. Most of my ED changed between 1930 and 1940, that additional information really helps.

Hope that gives you some input to your question.