Why What Record It Is Matters to the Pragmatic Genealogist

A researcher sent a copy of a death certificate that had the letter “P” stamped on it. This post is not about that letter “P.” It’s about why it is important to know what you are looking at and to create a citation that clearly indicates what you actually have. Just calling it a “death certificate copy” is not specific enough.

The researcher had made a digital image of a printout of a microfilm copy of the record. That’s what she did.

That’s different from a digital image she might have made of a photocopy of the original record she obtained from the courthouse. Or a digital image made from a photocopy made from the state office of vital records.

And that’s different from a digital image made from the original record itself directly.

If she had obtained the digital image from a photocopy of the original, that “P” may have been stamped on the photocopy, but not on the original record. It’s a little difficult to stamp an image on a roll of microfilm, so we’ll eliminate that possibility. Because she had an image made from a paper copy of a microfilm image, it lead me to believe that the “P” was actually stamped on the death certificate.  Of course there’s no way of knowing completely beyond all doubt if the original is not seen. Seeing the original is not always possible or practical.

But if she just said “here’s the death certificate” and gives me nary a clue of how the image she sent me came to be, I won’t be able to easily determine where the “P” might have come into play.

Her citation won’t get her kicked out of the genealogy club if her commas and semicolons are in the wrong place. But her analysis will be easier if she’s indicated that her paper copy was made from a microfilmed copy of the image at the state office of vital records. That can be written without punctuation. The grammar people may care and quibble, but the pragmatic genealogists will be satisfied.




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