I read a blog post about citing research process and sources supposedly geared towards a beginner but really seemed to be directed towards a genealogist with quite a bit of experience. The post seemed to miss a key point:

we don’t always know all that stuff

I understand if I say the will of Barbara Haase in Hancock County, Illinois, mentions her deceased daughter Francis Trautvetter, I need to be clear what I mean by “will” and I need to cite clear what version of the will that I used. But someone whose travels into genealogy has just started won’t be aware of all the possible iterations of Barbara’s will there are:

  • the paper original in the courthouse
  • a microfilm copy of that original paper
  • a digital image of that microfilm copy of the original paper–either on Ancestry.com or FamilySearch
  • the record copy of the will written in the county’s will record book
  • the microfilm copy of that will record copy
  • a digital image of that microfilm copy of the will record book
  • a reference to the will’s mention of Frances in an original paper petition by the executor filed at the courthouse
  • a microfilm copy of that petition
  • a digital image of the microfilm copy of that petition, either at FamilySearch or at Ancestry.com

If I’ve not researched too much in a certain area, I may not be aware of all the various formats in which local records can be accessed. While I should learn as much about the records as possible, it’s not necessary to know all those details to create a citation. You can be clear about how you accessed something without knowing all the possible places the information could be available. The essence of citation (particularly for local records) is:

  • What is this record?
  • When was it created?
  • When was it recorded?
  • Where was it recorded?
  • Who originally created this record?
  • In what format was it originally created?
  • How did this record get to me (how did I access it) and in what format did I access it?
  • When did I access it?

There may be times when a few of these questions can’t be answered–especially the exact day for the creation and recording. But if you have these answers you’re on your way.

That’s true even if the punctuation in your citation isn’t perfect.




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