Archive for the ‘Source Citations’ Category

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part three

In the first two parts of this series, we explored the logic behind citing a publication and a webpage. You can read these articles here:

Derivative sources such as books and webpages, however, are among the easiest citations to get “right.” Far more difficult are the original sources that make up the bulk of our research.

For this example, we will use a U. S. federal census record. After all, census records are often the most-used of all genealogical sources, as a general record group. 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

In order to cite a record using the correct format, it is necessary to understand why the citation is organized in the manner in which it is organized.

If I am citing the 1860 census record for Calvin Hait, I must ask myself: what exactly am I citing?

  1. When citing a book, you are in actuality citing the book’s author, as published in the book. This does not apply to a manuscript record, which has no author. What you are citing is the record itself.
  2. In order to cite the federal census, you would start with the title, in precisely the same way that you would cite a book with no author. Unlike a book, which is known by a specific title, this record set does not bear a specific title, so you would not use italics. The title is a descriptive name for the record group.
  3. The 1860 U. S. Census, as microfilmed by the National Archives and Records Administration (microfilm publication M653), contains 1,438 rolls. Obviously, we need to be more specific in our citation than this. The key is to understand how the census is organized. As you can see by referring to the descriptive pamphlet for M653, available online at the NARA website, the 1860 U. S. Census is organized by county. So the next element that needs to be included is the county and state.
  4. Within each state, the census is further organized by schedule. For each state, the population schedule for each county appears first, followed by the slave schedule for each county. This manner of organization dictates the specification of the schedule next.
  5. What we have recorded to this point are the specifics to the record subset that we are using. We now have to get more specific as to the entry. In keeping with the general form of citations, proceeding from the largest group (i.e. the author) to the smallest group (i.e. the specific book, then the page number), we will proceed from the largest unit to the smallest unit, increasing in specificity as the citation continues.
  6. When you look at the specific page on which your record appears, you see a field at the top that provides the name of the town or municipality. This would be the next element in the citation. Following this would be the name of the post office, provided on the last line of the header.
  7. The 1860 census also includes a field for a specific page number, so you would include this page number as well. Then on the page, each household is identified by both a dwelling number and a family number. All of these would be included in your citation.
  8. Finally, for clarity’s sake, you will want to also specify the name(s) of the person or people that you are specifically examining. In most cases, this would be the entire household.

So, here is the first part of the citation for the 1860 census record for Calvin Hait:

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 …

This citation will be continued.

Read more:

Source citations in your online writing

The funny thing about WordPress (the platform that hosts this blog) is that it will try to find other related blog postings, and link to them at the end of each new post. On one of my recent blog entries concerning source citations, WordPress recommended the post “The new citation,” originally published on 29 March 2010 in the (non-genealogy) blog Brave New World. This blog is written by Tania Sheko, the “Learning Enhancement Coordinator and  teacher librarian at Whitefriars College in Melbourne, Australia.”

In “The new citation,” Tania recommends using hyperlinks to sources rather than footnote or endnote citations. In her words,

The hyperlinked citations are much more than an attribution of cited sources; they are also:

  • a direct link the the source itself
  • a solution to wordy explanations which interrupt the flow of the sentence
  • a dense and complexly charged way of writing

She concludes,

What I like best about hyperlinked citation is that it leads me to places I haven’t discovered, giving me the option of following new research paths, often serendipitous. It’s an exciting way to learn – not didactic, not limiting, but opening up options for independent learning.

Shouldn’t we start to teach students this new way of reading and writing?

This is an extremely interesting concept for writing online, especially in blogs. You will notice that many bloggers already do this exact thing, when writing their blog posts. In this post, for example, I include hyperlinks to both “The new citation” and to the home page of Brave New World.

But is this really a citation?

In some ways, yes, and in some ways no, from the perspective of a genealogist.

For the purposes of connecting to an original online source, a hyperlink is efficient, and should be used wherever possible. As Tania calls it, hyperlinked online writing is certainly a “new way of writing.”

On the other hand, it neglects to take into consideration the mutable nature of the Internet. Simply put, websites change. Pages and the resources held on them move and sometimes disappear. When this happens, will you be left without a citation?

If you are citing an online record source–whether it is an image copy, an abstract, a transcription, a family tree, or an article–you still need to provide a full source citation. As discussed in the post “Source Citations: Getting It ‘Right,’ part two,” a proper citation for Tania’s blog post, as part of a bibliography or “Sources Used” list, would be

Sheko, Tania. “The new citation.” Brave New World. Posted 29 March 2010. http://tsheko.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/the-new-citation/ : 2011.

This citation provides the name of the author, the title of the article, and the publication (blog) name. In addition to this, it would be proper to note the date of the post (just in case she decided to post another article with the same title). And then of course the URL (the publication location) and the date on which the article was accessed. This second date reveals a recent date on which the particular item was located on the cited webpage. As mentioned in my earlier post, if the page moves or disappears in the future, it may be possible to access the item using the Wayback Machine or a similar utility.

All this being said, I do also agree with Tania’s point. The capability to embed a hyperlink to the source directly in the text is there, so why not use it? My recommendation would be to use both methods. Hyperlink within the text itself, but also include a source list (or numbered endnotes) with the full citations. This solution would allow the independent research described in Tania’s blog, but also meet the standards for citations expected by genealogists.

I would like to hear the thoughts of others on this topic.

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part two

In the first part of this series of posts, “Source Citations: Getting it ‘Right,’ part one,” we reviewed the format for source citations for books. However, books are not the only kinds of publications. There are magazines and journals, of course, but webpages are also considered publications. In terms of resources available for genealogical research, websites may have overtaken even books as the most popular. In general, citing a webpage follows many of the same principles discussed in the last  post, for publications. Please read this earlier post prior to reading this one.

As noted in the first part, publication citations contain the following elements:

  • Creator
  • Title
  • Publication Place
  • Publisher
  • Publication Date

The format puts these elements in the following order, for use in a “Source List” or “Bibliography”:

Author (last name first). Title. Publication Place: Publisher, Publication Date.

A web page would be cited in a similar manner, with one exception. The author and publisher are likely the same, so they do not need to be noted separately. In some cases, the author name and title of the website are the same, and these can also be combined, such as in Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

Here is an example of a website citation:

Genealogy Trails. http://www.genealogytrails.com : 2011.

Only rarely, however, do we have need to cite an entire website, in the manner shown above. In most cases, we are citing a single part of the website, such as an online article, database, or digital image. The individual item that we are citing would also have to be cited, just as we would cite an article in a magazine, or a chapter in a book. In a Sources Used list or bibliography, this would appear as follows:

“Documents Regarding Slavery.” Washington D. C. Genealogy Trails. http://genealogytrails.com/washdc/slaverydocuments/documents_regarding_slavery.html : 2011.

We will most often create citations for specific facts, using footnotes or endnotes (whether in a narrative or in a genealogy software program). The format for notes differs slightly from the format for a bibliography, most notably by requiring much more specific information, similar to a page number in a book:

John G. Sharp, “Certificate Of Freedom, William Winters, August 7, 1816,” online article and transcription, Washington D. C. Genealogy Trails (http://genealogytrails.com/washdc/cof_winters_w.html : accessed 30 May 2011).

The various parts of this citation might need to be explained:

  • Once again, it is important to remember that we are citing the author of the resource first. On this particular page, the author is identified. In some cases the author of a website may not be identified, just as the author of a book might not be known.
  • The next item that would be cited is the title of the article. This is cited in the same way that a magazine article would be cited, using quotation marks.
  • We also need to note the type of material that this. Is this a digital image, an abstract, a transcription, a database of extracted information? All of these carry their own unique qualities, that can only be recorded and conveyed by noting the type of resource you used.
  • This one article is not the entire publication–the Washington D. C. Genealogy Trails website, with all of the various sub-pages, is the name of the publication. Like all proper titles, italics are used to designate the titles of websites.
  • Of course we need to provide more information, akin to the publication place, company, and date of a book. Websites, of course, are not physical objects that you would locate in a library or bookstore. On the other hand, you can locate them in a very specific online place–the URL. For this reason, the URL serves the purpose of the publication place. Websites are also extremely mutable. They can be changed at any time of any day. Rather than citing the date of original publication (which we often are not able to discern anyway), it is more important to note the date on which we accessed the information. Using tools like the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we can actually visit many websites on a specific date in the past. These details qualify the title of the website, so they follow the title within parentheses.

There are other variations on websites, depending on the type of material being presented.

So far, this series has focused on two relatively simple types of citations. Of course, they can get far more complex. We will continue to look at other citation models, as well as the reasoning behind them.

Read more:

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part one

As discussed in my recent series on “Why Form Matters,” many of the issues that genealogists have in writing source citations stem from the pressure to “get it right.” I described in that series why the form of the citation is important, but that there is a learning curve involved in creating accurate source citations. As a means of trying to help any genealogists out there who are struggling with “getting it right,” I will present a series of articles discussing the basics of the source citation format commonly accepted in genealogy. Hopefully, you will find this useful.

The most basic format to use is the publication format. This is pretty easy to learn and actually forms the basis of many of the citations that we create as genealogists.

This format contains several parts:

  • Creator
  • Title
  • Publication Place
  • Publisher
  • Publication Date

The format puts these elements in the following order, for use in a “Source List” or “Bibliography”:

Author (last name first). Title. Publication Place: Publisher, Publication Date.

To give you an example, this is how I would cite my most recent book:

Hait, Michael. Records of the Slave Claims Commissions, 1864-1867, Volume Three: Journal of the First Maryland Commission. Harrington, Delaware: Hait Family History Publications, 2011.

One important aspect to note, especially when dealing with self-published books, including many nineteenth-century books that were published prior to many of the large publishing houses, is that the Publisher is not the same as the Printer. For example, I use Lulu.com as my printer. However, I could just as easily take the same content to any printer. The Publisher would be my own publishing imprint. Self-publishing is popular with genealogy resource books (derivative sources), so be sure that you are citing the author’s imprint, not the name of the printer.

When writing a footnote, a key point to remember is that the footnote is in the format of a sentence, and should follow the same rules of punctuation. Citing the same book above, in the form of a footnote:

Michael Hait, Records of the Slave Claims Commissions, 1864-1867, Volume Three: Journal of the First Maryland Commission (Harrington, Del.: Hait Family History Publications, 2011), pg. 23.

Just as in any sentence, there is only a single period, at the end. The other elements are separated by commas. The publication information appears within parentheses, with no comma between the publication information and the title. After all, the publication information refers to the specific publication being cited. Finally, you would cite the page number after the publication, again separated with a comma. Some people do not include the word “pg.” or “page” to specify the page number. I choose to, simply for clarity’s sake.

Part of understanding how to form a source citation is understanding what you are citing. Using this simplest of formats as an example, here is the thought process behind the formation of this citation:

  1. In your text, whether a compiled genealogy, a case study or article, or a research report, you state a fact.
  2. You are citing the source of this fact. This would be in the form of either a footnote or an endnote. This way, anyone reading the text would know that this specific fact came from this specific source.
  3. Ultimately, the source of the fact is the author of the book being cited. So this element, the author, comes first.
  4. Now you have to explain where the author provided the information being cited. In this case, it is a book, so you provide the title of the book.
  5. For clarification about the specific book, you will provide the publication information. This is important in case there are multiple editions, which may contain slightly different layouts, etc.
  6. Within the book itself, you must then cite the page on which the information appears.

The same principles will apply to all forms, though there are distinct differences.

Read more:

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part three

In recent posts I have been discussing other bloggers’ comments about source citations, and generally why I disagree with some of them. In this post, I want to go in another direction, and discuss two recent blog posts about source citations that I agree with to some extent.

The first is the post “Genealogy Citations: Good, Better, Best,” in the Luxegen Genealogy and Family History, posted on 6 March 2011. Joan writes,

As I mentioned in my comments on a couple of blogs, my philosophy is good, better, best.

We all strive to do our best but start out as ‘good’ and become ‘better’ along the way to ‘best’.

I feel the genealogical community can put a positive spin on the citation issue by helping newbies grow.

Most newbies (or casual hobbyists) simply don’t know how to do it better because they haven’t been exposed to better or best yet.

A kind, gentle approach to educating them is the key.

I suggest using a toastmasters approach which is sharing what they are doing well, offering constructive suggestions for improvement and leaving them hopeful and wanting to help build the best research possible. We can offer suggestions that provide concrete examples for others to follow.

Contrast this with slamming them for what they don’t know they are doing wrong now, and you can see why issues don’t improve.

Perhaps, if we do this in a kind, humane fashion, the casual genealogists will buy into being part of a community that is striving for the good of all. Being part of a community can be a big draw. …

My suggestions are to create a Good, Better, Best Genealogy Approach

GOOD might be – copy the link to where you got the source into the notes section of your genealogy software program

BETTER- photocopy or scan all pertinent identifying documents (title page of the book flap, ISBN number, publisher, page numbers, etc).  Have a log book of that microfilm record; copy the pension record source down, etc etc.  (insert myriad of examples here).   We would also need examples of organization systems to keep track of the information.

BEST – Evidence Explained to the letter

I agree with Joan’s assessment that part of the problem is a lack of education on the part of the beginning genealogist. I also agree that learning to cite your sources properly involves a steep learning curve. Joan offers a productive level-based philosophy toward improving source citation skills.

This also brings to mind the “Genealogical Maturity Model” developed by the Ancestry Insider last year. You can view his GMM levels in the post, “Rate Your Genealogical Maturity,” posted on 6 March 2010. The levels he defines for Source Citations are as follows:

  • Entry: “Captures URLs for online sources and citations for published sources.”
  • Emerging: “Increasingly captures necessary information for manuscript sources.”
  • Practicing: “Typically produces complete source citations.”
  • Proficient: “Gives complete and accurate source citations including provenance and quality assessment.”
  • Stellar: “Overcomes limitations of genealogical software to create well organized, industry standard reference notes and source lists.”

Personally, I would actually reverse the positions of “Proficient” and “Stellar.” I don’t use genealogy software for any of my client research projects, and I believe that this is the case for many professional genealogists. The use of genealogical software is completely unrelated to source citation skills. But this is beside the point.

Both of these posts display the development of the skill of source citation. It is important to note that genealogical skills, like all skills, do take practice to develop into proficiency.

On the other hand, I also believe that some might be settling a little short of the end goal.

When you are learning to drive, parallel parking might take a lot of practice before you can do it well. But you don’t really have the option of saying, “It’s too hard,” or “This is good enough.” You have to keep practicing until you get it right.

This is how source citation should be treated. It is a vital part of the genealogy research process. Not only for the end result of the finished citation, but the actual process of creating the citation. The citation-creation process involves a level of awareness about the record you are using that makes the process itself extremely valuable.

The second post I wanted to mention, “Is Mills Style Necessary?,”  is part of a series of posts on the subject of source citation also written by the Ancestry Insider. I would recommend that anyone conducting genealogical research read the entire series. I actually agree with almost everything that he has written in this series, so there is no need to comment further here.

In the three parts of “Source Citations: Why Form Matters,” I have discussed why a consistent format for source citations is necessary. I am sure that not everyone agrees with me, especially among some beginning hobbyists that are only researching their own families for their own entertainment. The points that I hope that everyone comes away with is that (1) source citation is necessary, (2) a consistent format for source citation is necessary for purposes of clarity, even if you will be the only person who ever looks at your research, and (3) the skill of developing proper, consistent source citations is achieved through practice.

We are extremely fortunate that Elizabeth Shown Mills took the time and energy to adapt the Chicago Manual of Style citation format to address the citation needs of genealogists. Just a generation ago, there was no commonly accepted, consistent format for genealogical source citations. This caused confusion, which is exactly why Ms. Mills wrote first Evidence! and later Evidence Explained.

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part two

In an earlier post, I mentioned a discussion on the Transitional Genealogists Forum mailing list regarding a comma vs. a semicolon within a source citation. This discussion was followed, apparently coincidentally, by several blog posts related to the importance of form in source citations. (I originally, mistakenly, believed that this was not a coincidence at all, but was corrected by the author of the first such blog post.)

Two related blog posts appeared in other blogs shortly after the first.

On 16 February 2011, Kerry wrote in the post “Source Citations in Genealogy: Church or Cult?,” in her Clue Wagon blog,

Source citations are important. I believe this.

What I don’t believe in is the Cult of Citations. The Cult is different from the Church. The Cult is so intense that it freaks people out. It accepts no compromise, no continuum, no baby steps. It will say in public that people who don’t agree are wrong wrong WRONG. Nobody wants to join a cult, and when people see members of the Cult, they run. They run far and fast, so that the cult can’t catch them. The problem is that when they run, the Church can’t catch them either. So they remain unsaved heathens who don’t cite their sources.

Now, why would that be a good thing?

And the thing is, the members of the Cult of Citations are right. They’ve worked hard for the past 30 years to clean up the field, and they’ve done an admirable job (truly). They’re upset that there’s still so much crap out there. They’re upset that after all that work, the internet has allowed the pile of crap to grow exponentially. They’re upset that people are poo-pooing the idea that nobody can appreciate your hard work on your tree if they can’t evaluate where the information came from. They’re right when they say that we all need to cite sources in the same standard way, with the stuff in the same order, so that it’s not a big sloppy mess. Cult members: You’re right. You’re right on every point. I’m not arguing with you.

But when you are condescending, people run away. When you express your frustration with the nonbelievers in public, people run away. When you say, “The comma goes here, not THERE. That was 1972,” people run away. When you imply that every source must be in the perfect Evidence Explained format from the get-go, people run away. And when they run away, they don’t come back. We lose them. And then we have crap trees with no sources, and it’s our own fault. People who aren’t yet saved see that gleam in your eyes, and they become hypersensitive to what you say. They know you’re trying to convert them, and they don’t like it (even though they really do need converting). They think you’re making things hard. They don’t understand your zeal. …

See, when I talk to people about why they hate citations, I find that it’s not the gathering of the citation information they hate. It’s the formatting. People find that getting it in the right format is hard, and they don’t want to do it. We need to make it abundantly clear that it’s okay to sin in your own files in terms of the formatting. It’s okay if the page number and the publisher date are reversed, as long as you have the citation information. The goal is to be able to find the stuff again…not to be a formatting saint. It would be delightful if everyone’s files had perfect citations in them, but they don’t, and by implying that that’s even an appropriate goal, we’re losing people. It’s not working.

The other thing I think we need to stop doing is talking about the mechanics of citations on all of the well-known public listservs. Way, WAY more people read those than I ever imagined (far more that the subscriber numbers would indicate, I believe). When they see the dialog about citations and semicolon placement, they get the idea that that’s all the glitterati cares about. They see people rigorously debating how a citation would appear, and even when the people involved know each other and are fine with the tenor of the dialog, to an outsider, it can appear contentious. I know that that’s not always true, but the perception is definitely out there. Beginning and intermediate genealogists see those discussions, and they’re intimidated. They turn away. It’s not working. If I were crowned queen, I’d create a list just for source citation questions. That way, the semicolon placement specialists could parse their brains out, and we could all benefit from their wisdom…without having a disproportionate emphasis on the mechanics of source citations on the professional lists. People who truly need help could get it, and we could make sure that we aren’t overwhelming people who aren’t yet members of the Church (and in fact, I think most real churches keep their doctrine discussions fairly private for that very reason).

Later, on 17 March 2011, The Ginger Jewish Genealogist posted “Jewish Genealogy – The Anti-Cult?” In this post, she wrote,

Go to an IAJGS conference (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who has heard of Evidence Explained or knows what the Genealogical Proof Standard is. Sure, there are a few that do; those who have been in professional genealogy for a long time, the rare certified or accredited genealogist in the crowd, or someone from outside the Jewish genealogy world who’s “visiting” us that year. There might even be a vendor selling copies of EE. But the general population of attendees has no idea. …

Clients don’t care about source citations. I have never had a client ask me where I found a record, or where I searched and didn’t find a record. Of course, this information is already in their client reports. With the exception of the one company that requested EE-type citations (and they completed them for me), other genealogists I’ve worked for also seem to be unconcerned with detailed source citations. The most I’ve been asked (only once) was, “On what film did you find the record?”, to which I replied, “It’s in the file name.” Ever since NGS, I have added that information to all my scanned file names and been a little more specific with my sources, but still not remotely up to EE standards.

I am obsessive about keeping track of my sources for my own research and my clients. If I add a person or an event to my own database, there is a source for it. Just like everyone else, some of my earlier work had no sources, but everything was eventually given a source in one of my revisions.

While some genealogists may freak out when they read that I don’t follow these rules, I hope they realize that I do have citations for everything, just not in their style. If it wasn’t important enough to mention at the IAJGS conferences, I didn’t much pay attention even if I saw it online, and I just haven’t switched over. That doesn’t make me a bad genealogist, it just means I don’t follow all the “rules”. I can check any information in my database to find the source, whether it was from a primary document, a census, or from a relative, to compare with any new information and determine what source should be more trusted.

Will I ever change my source citations to the EE-style? Possibly. But not today.

I’m not sure that I like the analogy of a cult vs. a church. Because I may be considered part of the cult. I admit that I will (and have, as the TGF discussion proves) debate the placement of a comma or period or semicolon, whether something should be capitalized or italicized, or placed in quotation marks or parentheses. In my experience, these issues are far more important than some might realize.

The difference comes in experience, I believe. Not the number of years of experience per se, but the variety of records with which one has experience researching and citing. If you are citing a journal article or a book, the citation can seem plain and straightforward. It is not difficult to tell which element is which, and any old citation will allow the article or book to be located. For many amateur genealogists, most of their research is conducted in articles and books, so this will do. There is simply no need to learn how to develop proper citations when you only use a few types of sources. To these genealogists, the placement of a comma or semicolon is indeed tedious.

Once you start using microfilmed or online digitized records, the citations become a little more complex, but the format still does not seem all that important. As long as the reel number or the website URL are included, the source can be found, so it appears sufficient.

The problem starts to arise when you begin dealing with original records, which may be parts of multiple sub-groups as parts of larger collections of records held under an even larger record group. There is no easy author/title, microfilm reel number, or URL that can easily identify this record. So how do you accurately and fully identify this record?

You can “wing it,” of course. Just make up your own format on the spot, and record your improvised citation.

Now imagine that twenty years have passed, and you decide to go back and check your own work. Can you make sense of your own citation? Unless you have an impeccable memory, the answer will probably be no.

Or suppose you get stuck at a brick wall and decide to hire a professional. How is that professional to be expected to identify the source that you used? Will you be able (and have the time) to explain to the professional your makeshift citation format?

Wouldn’t it be easier and more efficient in the long run to simply take the time to learn a consistent format for source citations that everyone can understand?

This discussion will be continued…

A suggestion for FamilySearch…

FamilySearch has been busy lately. During the NGS Conference last week, two announcements were made for recenly digitized Civil War records and South Carolina records. But many other records have come online in the past few months.

I was excited to learn of two new databases for Maryland: “Maryland, Probate Estate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940″ and “Maryland, Register of Wills Books, 1792-1983.” Though I frequently work with these record groups in their original form at the Maryland State Archives, the convenience of online access is still much-desired and much-appreciated.

However, I would like to make a suggestion to FamilySearch: Please identify the records correctly.

For the “Maryland, Register of Wills Books, 1792-1983,” for example, the search page provides the following “Source Information”:

“Maryland Probate Records,” database, ”FamilySearch” ([https://www.familysearch.org https://www.familysearch.org]); from various county clerk offices throughout Maryland.

I’m not sure which edition of Lackey’s Cite Your Sources or Mills’s Evidence! or Evidence Explained you are using, but this is not a source citation for the records in this collection.

The actual images of records included in this collection, furthermore, are not even all records from the Register of Wills. In Prince George’s County, for example, more than half of the records are actually records of the Circuit Court. This includes, but is not limited to, the record group identified on the website as “Circuit Court of Prince Georges County, 1841-1881.” There is no other identification as to what this collection actually contains.

In another example from Prince George’s County, the collection “Wills on Deposit, 1866-1958, A.H.L. No. 1″ does not contain any wills, but is actually a will index. The title of the collection is misleading.

Where did these records come from? Are they digitized microfilm from the Family History Library collections, as are most of the FamilySearch collections? The website does not say.

The FamilySearch Wiki page for these collections offers no other explanation of the collection. Instead it offers basic information about probate records in general. The “Record Description” reads,

Probate records were court documents and may have included both loose papers and bound volumes. The loose records were generally known as a case file or a probate packet. These files normally included wills, settlement papers, inventories, receipts, and other records pertaining to the estates.

Some probate records were recorded in books that may have been labeled with such titles as accounts, administrations, appraisals, minutes, petitions, guardianships, inventories, or settlements.

The wiki page contains the following information for “Citing FamilySearch Historical Collections”:

When you copy information from a record, you should also list where you found the information. This will help you or others to find the record again. It is also good to keep track of records where you did not find information, including the names of the people you looked for in the records.

A suggested format for keeping track of records that you have searched is found in the Wiki Article: How to Cite FamilySearch Collections

Examples of Source Citations for a Record

  • “Maryland, Probate Estate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940.” index and images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org): accessed 25 March 2011. entry for Emma Maude Carter, filed 1930; citing Probate Files; digital folder 4,103,819; Cecil County Courthouse, Elkton, Maryland
  • “Maryland, Register of Wills Books, 1792-1983.” index and images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org): accessed March 25, 2011, entry for James C Allen, 2 April 1969; citing Wills Books, Prince George’s, Index to Wills and Administrations, 1698-1978, A-D. Image 15; Prince George’s County Courthouse, Landover, Maryland.

This citation does not fit the standard format as defined by Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, though it comes close. But more importantly, the county seat of Prince George’s County (and Circuit Court) is in Upper Marlboro, not Landover. The county seat has been in Upper Marlboro since 1792, precisely the date of creation of the cited records. I am not sure where exactly in Landover these records would have originated.

I find it extremely problematic that the wiki page instructs users of the importance of citing sources, then does not heed its own advice. I have been unable to identify any reliable source information for the records in these collections anywhere on either the FamilySearch collection pages or the FamilySearch Wiki site.

I have not checked any of the other collections, but I would assume similar difficulties must exist elsewhere on the site.

So, FamilySearch, are you listening?

Please provide us with the actual sources for the records that you are digitizing. I want to know the real, actual source and provenance of any records that I use on your site.

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