Archive for the ‘Source Citations’ Category

Do you understand source citations?

Carol Saller is the chief editor of the Chicago Manual of Style. In a recent post on the Lingua Franca blog, she described a conversation with a group of university librarians:

The group unanimously perceived a lack of skills among its clientele: Students are routinely flummoxed as to how to search for or evaluate the sources they need in their work. … The extent to which college students are unprepared to conduct research may be surprising to those who assume that young adults are automatically proficient at any computer-related task. “Many students don’t actually know how to interpret the citations that they find in print or online, and as a result, they don’t understand what to search for,” says Georgiana McReynolds, management and social-sciences librarian at MIT. “They search for book chapters in Google because they don’t recognize a book citation compared to an article citation. Or they don’t know which is the title of the article as opposed to the title of the journal. Or they can’t decipher all the numbers that define the volume, issue,  and date.”[1]

This is precisely the reason that I have espoused the use of a consistent source citation format in my series of blog posts on “Source Citations–Why Form Matters.”

Without a consistent source citation format, how can a reader–even if that reader is only your future self–be expected to make sense of your citations? How will you be able to determine which is the title of a journal article, and which is the chapter of a book? Do you know how to read a source citation, or are you like these poor young college students, who never learned how to interpret a citation, and find themselves in trouble when they are required to find a source?

The worst part is that the citations for published material that cause such trouble for university students are relatively simple compared to some of the original unpublished sources commonly used by genealogists. When you read a citation in a genealogy journal, can you determine which element is which ?

Take the following citation, for example. I examined this record as part of a recent client research project:

N. Wilson to Col. Andrew Hynes, letter, dated 9 August 1825; Series I., Correspondence and Other Papers, 1797–1938, Box 2: 1823–1827; Edward J. Gay and Family Papers, Mss. 1295; Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections; Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

If you came across this reference in a genealogical society journal, and this related to your family, would you know how to find the record? Any researcher that had taken the time to learn the basics of the accepted source citation format would have no problem. They would understand, for example, that the standard citation format for state and federal archives begins with the specific item in a collection and proceeds from the most specific element to the most general element, as opposed to local records that begin with the most general element and proceed to the most specific.[2] They would know that commas separate elements on the same level of organization, while semicolons separate elements on different levels.[3]

Understanding the basic rules of this citation format allows you to easily discern that the letter cited above is at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The University has a group of manuscript collections called “Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections,” of which the “Edward J. Gay and Family Papers,” manuscript collection no. 1295, is one. Within this manuscript collection, the letter can be found in Box 2 of Series I.

All of the information necessary to locate this record can be clearly conveyed through the use of a consistent citation format. Any reader who understands the format can find this letter. Readers who do not understand the format–like those students mentioned by Saller in her blog post–will be confused.

Can those genealogists who say that a consistent format is unnecessary provide an example that supports this position? Can you come up with a way to cite an original manuscript that is as easily understood, either by another reader or even by yourself 15 or 20 years later, when you have no remaining memory of where you found the information?

SOURCES:

[1] Carol Saller, “Getting the Most out of Academic Libraries—and Librarians,” in Lingua Franca blog, posted 18 October 2011 (http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca : accessed 29 October 2011).

[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, 1st ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 434.

[3] Mills, Evidence Explained, 77.

Why we don’t always need source citation templates …

A commenter on my previous post, “Why citation software should be avoided,” noted,

Citations are easy, or should be. Simply provide a key at the beginning of how your citations are organized, then include who,what, when, where, and where found. That should be sufficient for anyone to find it and verify it, if possible. Why do we need an 800+ page book for that?

To a certain extent, I completely agree with this statement.

For me, probably based on my experience using and citing many different record groups for close to 40-60 hours a week for a few years now,  citation is easy or “should be.” When I look at Evidence Explained (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), it makes sense to me. I look at specific examples only because I cannot remember a small detail concerning that particular record group. But about 97% of the source citations that I write are written without the use of a template.

Ultimately, source citations provide exactly the information my commenter noted: “who,what, when, where, and where found.” And of course, the necessary key to the organization of the citation.

This is precisely the point that I wanted to make with my earlier posts, “Source Citations: Getting it ‘Right,'” parts one, two, three, and four. In these posts, I explain the logic behind why several of the more common citations are organized the way they are.

Take a look at the accepted citation for a book, in reference note format:

Michael Hait, Online State Resources for Genealogy, Version 1.0, e-book (Harrington, Del.: Hait Family History Research Publications, 2011), page 37.

This citation provides all of the necessary details to locate this reference.

Now, look at an example from Evidence Explained selected at random:

Midmar Parish (Aberdeenshire, Scotland), Old Parish Registers, OPR 222/1, p. 65, James Edward baptism (1727); FHL microfilm 993,344, item 1. [Evidence Explained, 1st ed., p. 366]

This citation provides the creator (Midmar Parish), the record (Old Parish Registers), the specific volume and page, followed by “where found” (the FHL microfilm).

Here is another example for a completely different record group, again selected at random:

Passenger list, El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, 1779; Papeles Procedentes de Cuba, edición 141, legajo 689, folio 414; Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain; consulted as microfilm PPC roll 68, Clayton Library, Houston. [Evidence Explained, 1st ed., p. 640]

This one is a little different, but ultimately the same. The first element cited is not the creator, but a specific record contained within a larger record set. Like an article in a journal or a chapter in a book. But otherwise the citation contains the same elements in the same order.

So do we really need an 800-page book of source citation templates?

Not if we “get it.” At least, not on every single citation. You may need to use the templates from time to time to figure out some idiosyncracy of a specific record.

But … (please read on in the next post) … but we need Evidence Explained.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Why we don’t always need source citation templates …,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 23 Sep 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Why citation software should be avoided

Carol Fisher Saller is a senior editor at the University of Chicago Press and an editor of the Chicago Manual of Style. Ms. Saller also contributes to a new collaborative blog with several writers and university professors of English and linguistics entitled Lingua Franca, hosted by the website The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In a recent blog post, “Citation Software, or How to Make a Perfect Mess,” Ms. Saller describes the problems inherent to the use of citation software like EndNote, RefWorks, and Zotero:

Browsing the tutorials at YouTube, you can quickly perceive the power and usefulness of citation software applications like EndNote, RefWorks, and Zotero, which promise to format footnotes and bibliographies with the click of a mouse. But all three of the videos I viewed at random showed even practiced tutors hitting potholes—for instance, here (“Oh, no—I don’t like to have this title—I want to have the short form”) and here (“It looks like this reference isn’t correct … but let’s just pretend it’s right”) and here (“Go back to your Word file, and OK, let’s go look for it … OK, it didn’t come over … what you’re gonna need to do is … ”).

Ms. Saller confirms what I have asserted in other blog posts, like “Source Citations: Why Form Matters,” parts one, two, three, and four. “[A]ll I ask is that a style be reasonable and consistent,” she writes. She continues to note the problems with the citation software:

But instead, thanks to the use of citation software, I frequently encounter the use of notes style in the bibliography and vice versa, all perfectly and disastrously consistent. The result for the reader is confusion and inconvenience.

No one can deny that we are living in a digital world ruled by the slogan, “There’s an app for that!” But when creating source citations, we don’t need a software that can do it for us. Ms. Saller begins her post by stating,

Preparing notes and bibliographies in a consistent style has long been one of the less glamorous tasks of academic writing. And now, with the increasing use—or rather misuse—of citation software, it is surely one of the most rapidly degenerating.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, author of Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), wrote,

Citation is an art, not a science. As budding artists, we learn the principles —from color and form to shape and texture. Once we have mastered the basics, we are free to improvise. Through that improvisation, we capture the uniqueness of each subject or setting. As historians, we use words to paint our interpretations of past societies and their surviving records. In order to portray those records, we learn certain principles of citation—principles that broadly apply to various types of historical materials. Yet records and artifacts are like all else in the universe: each can be unique in its own way. Therefore, once we have learned the principles of citation, we have both an artistic license and a researcher’s responsibility to adapt those principles to fit materials that do not match any standard model. [p. 41]

It is precisely this nature of citations as art rather than science that we must cling to as researchers. So many researchers that I know use Evidence Explained solely for its templates, but have not taken the time to learn the principles behind these templates. Once you understand basic citation principles, you no longer find yourself running to the index of the 800-plus-page tome to figure out how to cite this record or that.

Source citation software cannot learn the art. It can use a template, and create a standard citation from a standard work. There is not a single app in existence that could create the Mona Lisa. There are many that can reproduce the painting from a template, but none that can capture the essence of the subject.

SOURCES:

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007.

Saller, Carol Fisher. “Citation Software, or How to Make a Perfect Mess.” Lingua Franca blog. Posted 12 September 2011. http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca : 2011.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Why citation software should be avoided,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 21 Sep 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Source Citation Blog Posts – the Link List

This blog post is a response to the series “31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog,” at the Tonia’s Roots blog. This series is based on the Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) e-book 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.

This week, Tonia gives the following reasons for why bloggers should write “link posts”:

  • Linking out gives something valuable to your readers.  There is a lot of great information out there, but who has the time to sort through it all?  When you share a post or a site that you have found valuable, your readers will be appreciative.
  • Linking out builds your credibility.  Building on the above bullet point, by sharing the valuable information you have found, you establish yourself as an authority.
  • Linking out builds relationships with other bloggers.  They’ll appreciate that you are sending traffic their way and if your post builds on their ideas, it could lead to a continued dialogue and ongoing interactions.  Plus, it’s just a great way to support others in our community.
  • Linking out may help your search results.  Search algorithms consider outbound links to related content as a positive thing, so it could help you appear higher in search results.

These are very good reasons. I would like to emphasize the second.

Writing a “link post” – a collection of online resources, whether blog posts or others – helps to establish your own interest in the subject. Eventually this interest should develop into a specialty, and the specialty becomes expertise.

For example, many of you have read my posts on Source Citations:

But have you read the other blogs that have written recently on the subject of source citations? Not all of them agree with my philosophies and formats, but these posts should still be read. When blog posts do not agree, in fact, I feel that it is more valuable to the discussion. So go ahead and read all of these posts, and make up your own mind.

[UPDATED, 6 Jan 2012. I have verified that all of the links below still work, and added several new posts (some older, some newer).]

For this to be a real resource of value, I will continue to update this list as new posts are published!

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part four

I thought that I was finished with this series. But somehow, the concept of standardized source citations remains a bone of contention. To read the earlier posts in this series, use the following links for part one, part two, and part three.

This past Sunday, 17 July 2011, James Tanner posted “Looking towards a rational philosophy of citations,” in his Genealogy’s Star blog. In this post, Mr. Tanner describes a “broad spectrum of attitudes towards citations,” with one end being the casual researcher who is completely uninterested in the whole source citation issue, and the other end being the “super-professionals, journal editors, former or present academics” who cites everything in a “formal ‘acceptable’ manner.” Mr. Tanner identifies himself as being “firmly at the academic end of the spectrum.” Nonetheless, he concludes his post with the following passage,

So where does that leave us in the genealogical community. Here are some observations and suggestions:

1. We should be fully committed to the idea of citing sources. Most (all?) of the popular genealogical database programs have adequate to very good citation provisions. There is no real excuse for not having a citation to a source if you are using one of the newer programs. However, even PAF has an adequate source citation method.

2. When we write, speak or teach, we should always include a commercial announcement about citing your sources.

3. We should try hard to consistently cite sources in our own materials.

4. We should be charitable about others’ lack of source citations and remember that not everyone even knows that citations exist.

5. When we see a citation that is poorly written, contrary to our own version of a citation or otherwise bad, we simply ignore it and go on with our lives.

6. If we are in a position of deciding on the format and/or content of citations for a publication, online post or wiki or whatever, we try to be as liberal and inclusive as possible without undermining the integrity of the publication.

7. Let’s try not to argue too much about colons, commas, spacing and capitalization.

It is difficult for me to discern which of these are intended as observations, and which are intended as suggestions. As I read them, they appear to be a set of “best practices” regarding source citations.

I can absolutely agree with the first suggestion. We should all be committed to source citations. I would also add that we should be committed to educating others about source citations. However, the second suggestion is a little much, in my opinion. We do not need to have a “commercial announcement” about citing sources in every presentation or article. In these situations, we can teach by example. By properly citing all of our own sources in every instance, we can indirectly teach others to do the same.

Unfortunately, the remaining suggestions fall far short of what is intended by the Genealogical Proof Standard, in my eyes.

Regarding number three, it is not enough to “try hard” to consistently cite sources. We must do it. Furthermore, I have the sneaking suspicion that “consistent” as intended in this context does not refer to a consistent format, but only to a consistent presence.

As to number four, I agree that we should be charitable about others’ lack of citations. This is doubtless to ignorance about the importance of source citations, and we have all been there at some point in our careers. However, “charitable” stems from the word “charity,” that is, “giving.” We should use these opportunities to give these others a solid education about why source citations are important.

The fifth suggestion, in my opinion, is irresponsible. If we ignore others’ mistakes, without alerting them to the presence of these mistakes, then the mistake becomes perpetuated. This other genealogist, the author of “bad” source citations, may teach someone else to construct “bad” citations. However, if we show them how to create “good” and sufficient citations, then they can teach someone else to do the same.

Again, the sixth suggestion is irresponsible. Editors should not try to be as inclusive as possible. In no other academic field are editors inclusive. Take the time to look at the writers’ guidelines for academic journals in any discipline, whether a social science like history or a harder science like physics. Editors are extremely particular about the format of every aspect of an article, especially the source citations. If the editors of genealogical publications continue to be “liberal” and “inclusive,” those genealogists who have dedicated their lives to attaining the same level of respect given to other academic pursuits will continue to be lumped in together with those casual genealogists who “do” genealogy by clicking on shaking leaves, with no regard to citing sources.

And finally, we come to the last suggestion. The point is not to argue about punctuation.

When we were in elementary school and learning to read and write, our teacher taught us how to construct a sentence. We learned about the parts of speech, punctuation, capitalization, etc. To ignore this as an adult is unacceptable. We are expected in all segments of our life to follow these rules.

Source citation is the same. We do not live in those dark days 100 years ago when very few source citations appeared, and the few that did were not constructed in a consistent manner. Even if we did not have Evidence! or Evidence Explained, we still have the Chicago Manual of Style, which was used to create those EE citation styles. There are accepted standards of source citation.

Why do we use Evidence Explained, or even Chicago, as opposed to MLA or APA? What is the difference? Isn’t one as good as the next? Quite frankly, no. Let’s take a look at these styles, in the words of their creators:

  • Modern Language Association (MLA): “All fields of research agree on the need to document scholarly borrowings, but documentation conventions vary because of the different needs of scholarly disciplines. MLA style for documentation is widely used in the humanities, especially in writing on language and literature. Generally simpler and more concise than other styles, MLA style features brief parenthetical citations in the text keyed to an alphabetical list of works cited that appears at the end of the work.”[1]
  • American Psychological Association (APA): “The best scientific writing is spare and straightforward. It spotlights the ideas being presented, not the manner of presentation. Manuscript structure, word choice, punctuation, graphics, and references are all chosen to move the idea forward with a minimum of distraction and a maximum of precision.”[2] “Among the most helpful general guides to editorial style are Words into Type (Skillin & Gay, 1974) and the Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press, 2005).”[3] So even the APA recommends the Chicago Manual of Style.
  • Chicago Manual of Style:  According to a wonderful article by Yale University, that I will address separately, “Chicago style is especially popular in historical research. When developing a historical explanation from multiple primary sources, using footnotes instead of inserting parenthetical information allows the reader to focus on the evidence instead of being distracted by the publication information about that evidence.”[4] For an example of just how widespread this style is for historical research work, consider the following, from the writers’ guidelines of the Journal of American History, published by the Organization of American Historians: “All text, including quotations and footnotes, should be prepared in double-spaced typescript according to The Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press).”[5]

So why do we, as genealogists, use Evidence Explained and The Chicago Manual of Style?

Well, first of all, MLA is designed to primarily cite published work, especially for literary criticism and the language arts. We as genealogists are taught specifically not to rely on published work, but to review and cite the original record. So MLA Style is clearly insufficient for our needs.

APA Style is designed for scientific research, especially psychological and other behavioral sciences. They even refer their own readers to the Chicago Manual of Style, when the simplified APA Style does not address a specific issue! Again, this clearly does not fit our citation needs.

The Chicago Manual of Style, on the other hand, is the most popular style guide for postgraduate research, especially historical research. Unlike the other two styles, CMOS does provide citation styles for original records. This is what we need as genealogists. Unfortunately, the citation needs, in terms of the level of detail, of historians are much less specific than the needs of genealogists. This is why Elizabeth Shown Mills spent years compiling Evidence Explained: so that we could cite a specific original record (or multiple records) as our source(s) for the specific biographical details that we discover in the course of our research.

No other style does it better.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part four,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 21 Jul 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

SOURCES:

[1] “What Is MLA Style?,” Modern Language Association (http://www.mla.org/style : accessed 20 July 2011).

[2] American Psychological Association, “About APA Style,” APA Style (http://www.apastyle.org/about-apa-style.aspx : accessed 20 July 2011).

[3] American Psychological Association, “Why is there a specific APA Style?,” APA Style (http://www.apastyle.org/learn/faqs/why-specific-apastyle.aspx : accessed 20 July 2011).

[4] “Why Are There Different Citation Styles?,” Yale College Writing Center (http://writing.yalecollege.yale.edu/why-are-there-different-citation-styles : accessed 20 July 2011).

[5] “Article Submission Guidelines,” Journal of American History (http://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/submit/articles.html : accessed 20 July 2011).

The top 5 books on my bookshelf

Once again, I am taking a “page” out of Marian Pierre-Louis’s blog Marian’s Roots and Rambles; this time it is a different post, and I am not the first. Please take a look at Marian’s post, “The Top 5 Books on My Bookshelf,” and the post “My Top 5 Genealogy Research Books,” from Greta’s Genealogy Blog. These two posts–and hopefully others to come from other bloggers–provide recommendations for their 5 favorite genealogy books.

Here are my five, in ascending order:

5. Marsha Hoffman Rising, CG, The Family Tree Problem Solver: Proven Methods for Scaling the Inevitable Brick Wall (Cincinnati, OH : Family Tree Books, 2005): This book is the only standard methodological text that I consider absolutely necessary for every genealogical researcher. Ms. Rising goes through many different methods. There is also a newer book by the same author, entitled The Family Tree Problem Solver: Tried and True Tactics for Tracing Elusive Ancestors, published in 2011. I have not read this book yet, and do not know whether this is the same text or entirely new material. If it is new material, then I would once again have to recommend it.

4. The Board for the Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah : Ancestry Pub., 2000): The BCG standards require a high degree of thoroughness and accuracy in your research, but isn’t this what we all strive for? After all, who wouldn’t hate to discover that after years of research, you had been tracing someone else’s family? Many of the standards also deal with the work products of genealogical research, such as compiled genealogies and research reports.

3. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, editor, Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001):

2. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd Edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009):

I admit it–I cheated a little bit. There are really 6 books on my list, because I could not decide which of the next two books was more important. So first place is a tie between these two books.

If you have read these books, you will understand. If not, you must read them. Though I had years of research experience before I ever read them, these two books changed the way that I look at evidence and genealogical research in general. I am proud to say that I have now met both of these authors personally.

1. Christine Rose, CG, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, Third Edition (San Jose, Calif. : CR Publications, 2009): This is an updated third edition of the book, but I originally discovered the second edition several years ago. The small book uses examples to show how important it is to (1) conduct a search for all pertinent records related to your genealogical problem, (2) fully and accurately cite your sources, (3) analyze and correlate all relevant information, (4) reconcile all contradictory information, and (5) form a logical written conclusion based on the evidence.

1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997): This book was the precursor to Evidence Explained (see above), written ten years previously. It discusses how researchers should evaluate their sources. It also contains the first citation models for commonly-used record types, though most of them have been adjusted in at least minor ways in EE. Both of these concepts were expanded in EE, but I actually prefer the discussion on evidence in this book.

You will notice one difference between my list and several of the others: I do not name any location-specific or record-specific books. These are important, and I would recommend that every researcher have them, but the best books in this category will vary from location to location. I have many in my library, mostly concerning Maryland, but also several related to Virginia, New York, Delaware, South Dakota, and other states. Your library’s needs in this area are up to you and what you research.

But the research skills that you will need are foundational. Research guides and finding aids will help you in a specific area, but your basic research skills will be the same whether you research in New Hampshire, Florida, Washington (state), or New Mexico, or even Saskatchewan, Galway, Istanbul, or Zimbabwe. For more on this, read my post “Shouldn’t we all be ‘Primary Care Genealogists’?

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “The top 5 books on my bookshelf,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 8 Jul 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part four

In the last post, part three of this series, we discussed the logic behind citing a census record. However, we only cited part of the record we used. As selected in the last post, we chose to use the following sample record:

So that you can all see what record I am citing, I have included a link to an image of the 1860 census page containing my 3 x great-grandfather, Calvin Hait: http://www.footnote.com/image/#87912598 If you do not have a paid subscription to Footnote.com, you can sign up for a free 7-day trial to view this image. The image is also available on Ancestry.com. The free index entry on FamilySearch.org (while not the image) is available using the following short link: http://bit.ly/muMV9U

The citation for this record as it stood at the conclusion of the last post is as follows:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household …

So where do we go from here?

We have already cited the record itself–or more clearly stated, we have cited the census household. But we have not fully cited the actual source that we are using. In order to fully cite the source we are using, we have to specify what we are actually looking at.

For example, if you are looking at the actual original paper census record, you would cite this as such. For most of us, this is not the case.

My first exposure to census records came as a teenager at the National Archives in Washington, D. C. In those days, before any of the microfilm had been digitized, we would cite the microfilm. The National Archives microfilm publication for the 1860 U. S. Census is M653. So we would cite this as

NARA microfilm publication M653

As with the census itself, this is akin to a title, but is not a title, so it would not be italicized.

M653 consists of 1,438 rolls of microfilm. So, of course, it is necessary to indicate which roll of microfilm holds the record we are using. In this case it is roll number 865.

The full citation for this census record, as I read it on the National Archives microfilm years ago, would thus be:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household; NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 865.

Of course, unless you lived near Washington, D. C., you probably did not view the original NARA microfilm. Most researchers were more likely to use the Family History Library microfilm, which would have been indicated by citing “… FHL microfilm no. 803,865.”

Today, few people actually still use the microfilm–either the NARA publication or FHL’s copy–to access federal census records. Instead, we use the digital images provided online by Ancestry, Footnote, HeritageQuest, etc. This is how we would cite these:

First we must specify that this was a digital image (as opposed to a transcription, database, or some other format). The easiest way to state this is plainly.

We previously discussed the elements to citing a website, in part two of this series. These are no different in this case than in any other.

In the case of a digital image of a census record appearing on a website, the website itself is the publication. Think of it like you would a book, with the census image being  an article or chapter within the book. Again, we must remember that the census record does not bear a title, so it would not be enclosed in quotation marks the way a traditional chapter would be.

Using the principles outlined in part two of this series, we would cite the creator, title, and publication information (URL and date accessed) of the website publication. In this case, the citation would appear as follows:

digital images, Footnote.com (http://www.footnote.com : accessed 25 June 2011)

In this case, in order to provide the most accurate information possible, we would also want to cite the source of the digital image, as cited by the website itself. This is indicated by the use of the word “citing.” Footnote includes the source information as seen here:

This information includes the microfilm publication number, but not the roll number. So in this case we would state exactly what Footnote cites:

citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll not identified.

Here we also get into proper use of punctuation. According to the Chicago Manual of Style Online (16th Edition), a semicolon is used for various reasons:

In regular prose, a semicolon is most commonly used between two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction to signal a closer connection between them than a period would.[1]

When items in a series themselves contain internal punctuation, separating the items with semicolons can aid clarity. If ambiguity seems unlikely, commas may be used instead.[2]

Both of these apply in this case (and many others). First, we are combining multiple clauses into the formation of the full citation.  The citation of the census household is one clause, the citation of the digital image is the second, and the citation provided by the website is a third. These multiple clauses should be separated by semicolons. The second reason cited above, for a series containing internal punctuation, also applies. The first two “clauses” both contain internal punctuation, and therefore must be separated by semicolons.

Evidence Explained, by Elizabeth Shown Mills, specifically addresses the use of semicolons in this context:

When we use a published source that cites its own source, our citation will focus upon the derivative that we actually used. However, it is good practice to record also where our source obtained his or her information. Depending upon the complexity of the situation, we may need to separate the two with a semicolon, … or we may separate them more simply with a comma ….[3]

Given all of this information, the full citation for the 1860 federal census record for Calvin Hait, as viewed on Footnote.com, would be as follows:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household; digital images, Footnote.com (http://www.footnote.com : accessed 25 June 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll not identified.

Future posts in this series will discuss other common record groups and citation formats.

SOURCES:

[1] The Chicago Manual of Style Online (http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html : accessed 25 June 2011), chapter 6.54, “Use of the semicolon.”

[2] The Chicago Manual of Style Online 6.58, “Semicolons in a complex series.”

[3] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), p. 88.

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