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.

7 thoughts on “A suggestion for FamilySearch…

  1. This portion of FamilySearch at least is listening. =) We deal with the FamilySearch Historical Records portion of the wiki but I can offer this knowledge of how the wiki works:

    It is actually up to YOU 😉 and the community as a whole to follow that advice of citing. The content is decided by the users (aka the entire world if they are registered!) and edits are generally not made by the FamilySearch wiki team. We want the public to have a site to place their knowledge and find collective information from the genealogy community. Almost every aspect of the FS wiki depends on the public to keep it going, keep it edited, and keep it correct. We do try to keep an eye out for misuse of the wiki, but other than that it is just like Wikipedia- user generated and user-edited.

    In other words, the public determines the content. That includes how sources are cited. If they are cited incorrectly, we invite those of you who know how to cite correctly to pitch in and fix the errors. It helps everyone! =)

    • Thanks for reading my comments and responding. I am glad to know that FamilySearch (at least the wiki part) is responsive to its users.

      Unfortunately, therein lies the problem. We users simply cannot make informed changes to the wiki without being provided accurate information by the Records team. I would be happy to step up and make the changes myself if given more detailed information about what the records are and where they came from.

      I wonder if anyone over in that section is also listening? 😉

  2. I’m glad that you’ve been reading the FamilySearch wiki articles about digital collections in familysearch.org.
    This week I changed the instructions listed in both of the articles that explain the format that we follow when we cite bibliographic citations and personal findings, according to how we have recently changed our formats after consultations with citations experts in FamilySearch.
    I would love to have you chime in and help us improve our collections. Feel free to e-mail me at: Horandm@familySearch.org.

  3. Excellent post, Michael.

    This is a problem with images I’ve been using for other states, for example the “Illinois, Probate Records, 1819-1970” database.

    One can become a detective and figure out, using the old FHL Card Catalog, which FHL microfilm these images probably come from, but they are divided up differently and it can be confusing.

    It would help tremendously if the Source Information would specify the FHL microfilm numbers and preferably link to the FHL Card Catalog which often gives more information about the records.

    • I would hesitate to use the FHL catalog, simply because the “source citation” provided by FamilySearch does not specify that microfilm was even used. It is a far cry from the Ancestry.com images of thw WWI draft registration cards or 1850-1860 slave schedule, both of which cite the publication number but not the reel number.

      Hopefully, this is a problem that FamilySearch will soon rectify!

      • Absolutely; if one did so the citation would have to say something like “probably from FHL microfilm xxx” or “perhaps from FHL microfilm xxx.” I’ve seen some image groups where if you go to the beginning of the set, it is stamped on the images which microfilm it is, but it takes a lot of work to find it and the first few frames of the film are not always there.

        I don’t think there is much doubt that, currently at least, the images are from microfilm, but it is a major oversight on the part of Family Search not to specify that in the Source Information section.

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