Citation for Ancestry Database

 
 
 
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Brian G
Brian G's picture
Citation for Ancestry Database

I've gotten very confused attempting to create a citation to a database entry on Ancestry.

Citing only the database entry was straightforward:

"New Orleans, Louisiana, Birth Records Index, 1790-1915," database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 Aug. 2017), entry for Francesco Alberto Frayle, 9 June 1889, New Orleans.

The trouble began when I tried to add a layer for the source of the source. 

Ancestry provides this information for the entry:

Source Citation

New Orleans, Louisiana Birth Records Index, 1790-1899; Volume: 87; Page Number: 968

Source Information

Ancestry.com. New Orleans, Louisiana, Birth Records Index, 1790-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2002.

Original data: State of Louisiana, Secretary of State, Division of Archives, Records Management, and History. Vital Records Indices. Baton Rouge, LA.

 Ancestry also writes this in the description of the database:

 “A microfilmed copy of the index was obtained from the State of Louisiana, Division of Archives, Records Management, and History. In some instances the microfilmed copies were hard to read and the information from those pages could not accurately be keyed to be included in this database”

I can't figure out from Ancestry's information what the source of the database entry actually was.

1.       Was Ancestry’s database entry from a microfilm record or an original record?

2.       Is Vital Records Indices a publication?  Is it the microfilm Ancestry describes?

3.       Was the Louisiana State Archives the AUTHOR of the Vital Records Indices, or the repository?

4.        If a microfilm, was the microfilm an IMAGE of the document that corresponded to the "volume" and "page number", or did it merely list a  volume and page number with no additional information?

I could blindly use information from Ancestry (using their "Source Citation") and create a citation that implies the database entry was abstracted from an original record that resides at the Louisiana State Archives:

"New Orleans, Louisiana, Birth Records Index, 1790-1915," database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 Aug. 2017), entry for Francesco Alberto Frayle, 9 June 1889; citing "New Orleans, Louisiana Birth Records Index, 1790-1899; Volume: 87; Page Number: 968"; Louisiana State Archives, Baton Rouge.

I don't know if that's the case!  The citation looks good, but could be absolutely incorrect (or misleading).

An alternative (using Ancestry's "Original data"):

"New Orleans, Louisiana, Birth Records Index, 1790-1915," database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 Aug. 2017), entry for Francesco Alberto Frayle, 9 June 1889; citing "Vital Records Indices" [microfilm]; Louisiana State Archives, Baton Rouge.

This citation seems closer to the truth, but it definitely contains assumptions.

So I wonder, at what point is the "source of the source" unclear enough that it's better to omit than include?  Is this such a case (or have I simply confused myself)?

Brian

 

EE
EE's picture

Brian, once again you've proved the value of nitpicking the details of the sources we've used—and, yes, those "record descriptions" at Ancestry definitely require some deep thinking to parse out the essential elements.

You ask whether you should

  • "blindly use information from Ancestry (using their 'Source Citation' [data]) and create a citation that implies the database entry was abstracted from an original record that resides at the Louisiana State Archives ... which might be an incorrect supposition]"

or

  • create a much less detailed citation that "seems closer to the truth, but ... definitely contains assumptions."

"Blindly using" data is never a good idea, and there are safeguards we can employ. In fact, you have employed some of them.

Obviously, when we record source-of-our-source data (a step that’s vital because we need that data to run down a copy of the original) our challenge is to capture as much of the information as possible while making as few suppositions as possible.

Ancestry, of course, divides its source data into three sections arbitrarily called “Source Citation,” “Source Information,” and “Original Data.”  Details needed for an adequate citation then have to be cherry-picked from all three sections.

In this case, the “Source Citation” section tells us:

New Orleans, Louisiana Birth Records Index, 1790-1899; Volume: 87; Page Number: 968

However, it

  • doesn’t tell us where we can find this set of records (if we were to assume New Orleans, we’d be wrong)
  • places the title of the records in italics (a citation signal telling us that the set of records is published as a standalone entity—a book or a CD or a set of published film, etc.—which we’d assume, in this case, to be a set of books since the citation also cites “volume” and “page)

Then, under the “Original Data” section, Ancestry tells us

State of Louisiana, Secretary of State, Division of Archives, Records, Management, and History. Vital Records Indices. Baton Rouge.

However, this “Original Data” section

  • doesn’t tell us whether Louisiana’s Secretary of State was the creator of the original records or is the current custodian of the original (we are assuming the latter)
  • adds another italicized title, Vital Records Indices,  leaving us wondering how that publication fits into the set of published volumes already cited—and why we have two different publications to deal with.

Given all this, we have two options:

  1. Go online to other sites to learn more about where these records are and the formats in which they exist.
  2. Simply do what you’ve done and attempt to create a citation from whatever your provider gives, while taking proper steps to minimize misunderstanding.

Option 1:

When we do this, we learn that the records originated at New Orleans, where they were created within volumes—standard courthouse type registers. However, they have never been published and cannot be located by using any catalogs to published books. The italics used by Ancestry are misleading. The N.O. birth registers over 100 years old have, indeed, been transferred to the State Archives at Baton Rouge.  For more background, you might start with these two sitse:

Option 2:  Create a citation from what Ancestry gives, but clarify that you are not making assumptions.

The core citation to Ancestry’s database and the entry of interest (the first layer of the citation) would be this:

"New Orleans, Louisiana, Birth Records Index, 190–1915," database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 August 2017), entry for Franceso Alberto Frayle, 9 June 1889, New Orleans; ...

The second layer, which attempts to identify the source from which our source got its information, will then begin with the word “citing ….” as a flag to tell ourselves and others that “this is what Ancestry says it has used.”  For this layer, EE would follow your first instinct:

...; citing “New Orleans, Louisiana Birth Records Index, 1790–1899; Volume: 87; Page Number: 968,” Louisiana State Archive, Baton Rouge.

Here, you have put, in quotes, exactly what Ancestry cited under “Source Citation.” Those quote marks tell your reader (and you at a later date) that the details you are providing are not your assumptions. You have copied exactly what Ancestry says. Then you added a brief identity of the archive that holds the records and its location.  (As you will note above, I have not replicated the italics, given that Ancestry tends to indiscriminately italicize every title, every volume number, and every page number. It seems to do so by default, regardless of type of record, thereby eliminating any significance inherent in its use of italics.)

You’ve handled this well. The only suggestion EE would make is to not put a semicolon after the page number. The layers of this citation are separated by semicolons. You have two layers: the first cites what you’ve actually used—the database; the second provides the source-of-the-source data. The location of the records is part of that second layer. If you use a semicolon in the middle of that second layer, you create a third layer.

Now to add a complication ...

When I backtracked your source and used the Louisiana State Archives database to find the birth record you are citing, the archives database did not yield a record for the details (spelling, date, parental data, etc.) that Ancestry provides. When I used the index at USGenWeb, I also did not find the entry. Have you tried to find this record elsewhere?  Following the suggestion at the Nutrias website (link given above), the other options are these:

An Index to Orleans Parish Birth Records, 1790-1897 [FF655i] is available on microfilm and at US GenWeb's Orleans Parish website and at Louisiana State Archives' Vital Records Records Search (and on Ancestry.com -- subscription only).

This complication leads back to your original question and the two alternative citations that you constructed. The first of the two includes 'volume 87, page 968.' The second doesn't. Obviously, your first instinct is the better one. If your record of interest can't be found in the State Archives database under the data given, then the State Archives would not be able to find the record without that volume and page number.

 

The Editor

Brian G
Brian G's picture

Editor,

Thank you for your advice.

I did look for the record at the Louisiana Archives web page but (like you) didn't find it.  I actually wasn't able to find any records with that volume number. 

I did find the record on USGenWeb, with the same information as Ancestry provided.  That helped me accept that the information on Ancestry (whatever its source!) was correct.

From you explanations, I now see the value of using the information on the original document in my citation.

Is there any value in noting that the information at Ancestry likely came from a microfilm (not the original record)?  I believed there was, but now I don't think so.

Thank you again for your help,

Brian

EE
EE's picture

Brian, in our own working notes, we can add anything at all that we want to add to help us as we go forward.  

Re your discovery of an abstract at USGenWeb that repeats the abstract you found at Ancestry--though you don't find it at Louisiana's official site--is intriguing. Using the volume:page data from Ancesetry to order the record from the official site would likely shed light on that puzzling situation. It would also eliminate the concern that exists in using one derivative source to confirm another derivative source that a third derivative tells you doesn't exist!

 

The Editor