Citing an online database with no obvious name

 
 
 
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ACProctor
ACProctor's picture
Citing an online database with no obvious name

There are a few online databases that have no obvious name, and so make it hard to cite them umabiguously. The ones I'm thinking of all fall into the FreeUKGEN projects; the most familiar of these being FreeBMD.

According the EE, 2nd ed., p.475, citing the latter would use a database name of “England & Wales, Free BMD Index: 1837-1983", but the quotes imply this is its name rather than a description, and yet I see nothing on that site that identifies this name. p.476 gives the same name in the case where it is accessed via Ancestry, except for the possible spurious space between Free and BMD.

I would like to cite an entry from the FreeREG database but I have the same problem there -- and there's no suggestion in EE in this case. I could construct one, such as "UK, Free REG  Birth, Marriage, and Death Parish Record Transcriptions", but that would be more of a description than a database name.

Is a description enough? Where did the FreeBMD database name come from?

 

Tony

EE
EE's picture

Tony, the second edition was published in 2009. That was six years ago—an eon in the lifespan of an online source citations. Every time we do a new edition, and I find that any website has kept the same title, that a database has not changed its name, or that a record is at the same URL, I say reverential thanks to Clio, St. Genie, and St. Isidore of Seville. The FreeREG site tends not to earn those.

The last time we constructed a citation to FreeREG, this is what seemed to work the best:

     1. Free BMD, “Basic Search,” database, FreeREG (http://www.freereg.org.uk/cgi/Search.pl : accessed 1 April 2015), parish register, burial entry for Daniel Smith, 15 April 1825, Kingsclere, Hampshire; citing St. Mary’s Church, reg. no. 498, file no. 15445.

As you can see, that was a whole month ago—which means it might not work now.

 

The Editor

ACProctor
ACProctor's picture

Thanks for the help, but I'm still a little confused. You're acknowledging that FreeREG (you say "FreeBMD" in your example) has no published database name, but you don't indicate where the FreeBMD database name came from.

That's in both my EE hard-copy (yes, it's old, but I'm waiting for the next edition), and my Adobe Digital Edition; I don't think FreeBMD has changed in that respect. Although there's a new version of FreeREG waiting in the wings, it's only in beta trials.

Tony

EE
EE's picture

Tony, I'm not sure that I understand your question. Yesterday's example cites FreeREG as the website—one operated by FreeBMD; both are "acknowledged" in the citation.

When you ask "where the FreeBMD database name came from," are you referencing FreeBMD as the database name or the creator of the database? The website's title, as far as a user can tell, is FreeReg; and Free BMD is the creator, according to the website's footer: "The website, its layout, search engine, and database are copyright by the Trustees of FreeBMD, a charity registered in England and Wales. ... We make no warranty whatsoever as to the accuracy or completeness of the FreeREG data."

But, as the "Subject" line of your original query points out, the database has no "name" other than the website title, so I'm not certain what you mean by saying that the example doesn't "indicate where the FreeBMD database name came from."  How would you re-shape that citation to include what you think is missing?

Incidentally, the digital editon of EE is 2012's Second Edition, Revised.  There are quite a few differences between it and 2009's Second Edition—almost all of them generated by the basic issue in this thread: the chameleonic nature of  Internet offerings!

The Editor

ACProctor
ACProctor's picture

OK, I think I see where we're getting lost...

When I asked where the 'FreeBMD database name' comes from, I'm referring to the “England & Wales, Free BMD Index: 1837-1983" name that I mentioned at the start. In fact, FreeBMD and FreeREG (and FreeCEN) are independent projects under the FreeUKGEN umbrella; I would disgree that FreeBMD operates FreeREG.

I see what you're saying about the footer. However, that statement of "...copyright by the Trustees of FreeBMD, a charity..." will be replaced by "...Copyright © 1998-2015 The Trustees of Free UK Genealogy, a charity..." in the newer version of FreeREG (currently named FreeREG2 on the main page). The FreeCEN site currently doesn't have any similar notice at all.

I'm happy to cite a simple FreeREG database name, such as "Basic Search" (which I really hope FreeUKGEN will give some thought to, one day), but your FreeBMD one is now ubiquitous and and I can't see where it originates from. The FreeBMD Web site doesn't provide it. Interesingly, Ancestry gives three similar database names: "England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915", "...Marriage Index...", etc., rather than a generic "...Index...". Maybe I've just missed where that name is provided, but I can't see a database name for any of those three projects.

Tony

 

P.S. Looking forwards to EE 3rd ed.  :-)

EE
EE's picture

Tony, I would not say that we have a disagreement. I'd call it a matter in which you have "inside information" about a change that is planned but has not happened yet  ("about the footer ... that statement ... will be replaced by ..."). In the meanwhile, those who use the website can only cite what is there.  For certain, you've just underscored the point I made in my tongue-in-cheek last line: "As you can see, that was a whole month ago—which means it might not work now."

As for the database title in the example used in 2007 and verified for the 2009 edition: when each edition is created, I make print-outs for each database and each website—working copies for use until the project is done. I then keep those for a couple of years after the release, in order to answer questions if they arise. I no longer have those for the 2007 or 2009 editions. However, I would not have used “England & Wales, Free BMD Index: 1837-1983" in quotation marks if that title was not on the entity I used at the time I consulted it; and I would not have accessed it through Ancestry.   There is one purposefully fictional title in EE—but it definitely isn't this one.

The Editor

ACProctor
ACProctor's picture

Oh no, I'm not trying to disagree. Heaven forbid... It was a genuine question.

I accept that the title was there once, but at least you've confirmed that I'm not simply being short-sighted when looking for it. Interesting that Darren didn't mention it, though.

I don't have any "inside information". The FreeREG2 site is mentioned on the main FreeREG page, and if you go to it then the modified copyright statement is visible in the footer. I was just assuming that the intention is to replace the current one with that newer one at some point.

I understand things more clearly now, although I find a database title of, say, "FreeREG" a little defiicient. If someone read the associated citation and they had never heard of the site then how could they evaluate the strength of my claims without some description or extra commentary? For instance, the scope of the transcriptions would be a crucial factor when claiming negative evidence.

Tony ("Mr Newbie")

rworthington
rworthington's picture

Tony,

On the FreeREG beta website, isn't the collection title

Welcome to the home of U.K. Parish Register Information

That is where the search was made?

Just asking.

Thank you,

Russ

 

ACProctor
ACProctor's picture

I can't see that particular introductory message on there Russ. You could read it as suggesting a database name of "U.K. Parish Register Information", although it's inconsistent with the FreeREG site. I believe the difference between FreeREG and FreeREG2 is a revised UI and search-engine rather than the actual database, but I'm not entirely sure.

When I go to the new beta site (http://freereg2.freereg.org.uk/), I see "Birth Records Online. The Complete Set of Birth Records. 1837 - 2006 for England & Wales", which is not correct; the records are parish ones from around the UK (incl. Scotland), and go back beyond 1837. That title seems to have more in common with FreeBMD than with FreeREG.

Tony

rworthington
rworthington's picture

Tony,

I went to the new beta site, and like the one I mentioned, that is like going to Ancestry.com to do searching.

I am attaching an image from that site.

Didn't do any search, so I doing have any citation. BUT, like Ancestry, when I did find a collection, as I think you have found, I would cite 

"Birth Records Online. The Complete Set of Birth Records. 1837 - 2006 for England & Wales; FreeReg (http://freereg2.freereg.org.uk/ : accessed 05 May 2015)

but, I am not an expert here

Russ

ACProctor
ACProctor's picture

As Darren said, Russ, that was an ad. for some other product, and so nothing to do with FreeREG. It would actually be wrong for that other product, though, since the data in which it's based is merely the GRO Index of England and Wales -- not really a "complete set of birth records", eh?

Tony

rworthington
rworthington's picture

Tony,

I'm not seeing and add. Did you look at the image I attached. It has the name of the website and places to search. Didn't do any searching.

That is why I am saying it's like going to Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Fold3.com and not doing any searching.

Russ

ACProctor
ACProctor's picture

You've probably got an "ad. blocker" on your machine Russ. I get them here, unfortunately.

Tony

Darren_Wright
Darren_Wright's picture

 

 

 

Hi,

I think I might be able to help. 

Free UK Genealogy is a charity that operates three databases. 

These databases are called:-

FreeBMD
FreeREG 
FreeCEN

The descriptions of these databases are:-
FreeBMD - The General Records Office for England and Wales index of Births, Marriages and Deaths (1837 - 1983)
FreeREG - Transcribed Parish Registers (pre-1837)
FreeCEN - Transcriptions of Nineteenth Century Censuses

The message you are seeing at the top of the new version of FreeREG isn't a description of the content of FreeREG, it's a Google Ad for another Geneaology site that has the complete set of Birth Records. Or at least claims to have them. The adverts are generated by Google Ads./

Thanks

 

Darren Wright

Executive Director
Free UK Genealogy.

ACProctor
ACProctor's picture

Can I assume, Darren, that FreeREG is UK-wide, while FreeCEN is only the census of England &Wales? The description probably needs to mention that, somewhere.

Tony

ACProctor
ACProctor's picture

Thanks Darren. That does help a lot.

I apologise about the advertisement. It must be a "shifting" one as it's changed now. It caught me because it was beside the FreeREG logo.

Tony

Darren_Wright
Darren_Wright's picture

Hello,

Both FreeREG and FreeCEN are nationwide.

Thanks

Darren

ACProctor
ACProctor's picture

I decided to approach FreeUKGEN over this issue because it's a little like having a book with no title -- rather chaotic. I suggested the titles as shown below, in my sample citations, since they would have kept the FreeBMD title as widely observed in EE, and let FreeREG and FreeCEN follow suit. After talking to Darren Wright (Executive Director FreeUKGEN), we agreed on a compromise between his descriptions (shown elsewhere on this thread) and my suggested titles as follows:

    "FreeBMD - Transcribed GRO Index for England and Wales (1837 - 1983)"

    "FreeREG - Transcribed UK Parish Registers (pre-1837)"

    "FreeCEN - Transcribed Nineteenth Century UK Censuses"

I thought that we had reached some agreement, but he then said "We're more than happy for you to use those titles", which made me feel a little uneasy. He also suggested the titles were unlikely to appear on the FreeUKGEN Web sites, which is little more than allowing me, personally, to reference those databases via these titles, and effectively relegates them to mere descriptions. I explained about having a single consistent title documented each FreeUKGEN project and he closed with:

"As I say we are quite happy for you to use the name but as I'm sure you've gathered things don't change very frequently on our sites. FreeBMD hasn't changed since 1998.

We will need to consider what the advantages are to us in adopting this within the wider academic community. We weren't aware of the Evidence Explained site and have had no contact with the author so we're a little reluctant, with little notice, to begin adopting a naming convention without proper consideration.

We will continue to keep an eye on it."

That means that we're no closer to reliable citations than before. I anticipated that the requirement would be obvious, and independent of any particular author or work, and so I'm at a loss as to how to proceed. Would it be acceptable to simply unquote the titles and rely on a source description rather than a title? Each project has just one database (at the moment, anyway) so a consistent description might be a workable alternative to a normal database title.

My suggested citation formats for these three FreeUKGEN databases -- which probably need some revision now -- were:
 

FreeBMD

Source List Entry

"England & Wales, FreeBMD Index: 1837-1983." Database. FreeBMD. http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/search.pl : 2015

First Reference Note

"England & Wales, FreeBMD Index: 1837-1983," database, FreeBMD (http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/search.pl : accessed 6 May 2015), birth entry for Simeon John Webber; citing Portsea, June [quarter] 1868, vol. 2b:379

"England & Wales, FreeBMD Index: 1837-1983," database, FreeBMD (http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/search.pl : accessed 6 May 2015), marriage entry for Frank Whiley and Laura Belshaw; citing Nottingham, June [quarter] 1915, vol. 7b:937.

Subsequent Note

"England & Wales, FreeBMD Index: 1837-1983," database, FreeBMD, database birth entry for Simeon John Webber, Portsea, June [quarter] 1868.

"England & Wales, FreeBMD Index: 1837-1983," database, FreeBMD, database marriage entry for Frank Whiley and Laura Belshaw, Nottingham, June [quarter] 1915.

 

FreeREG

Source List Entry

"UK, FreeREG Parish Register Transcriptions: pre-1837." Database. FreeREG. http://www.freereg.org.uk/cgi/Search.pl : 2015.

First Reference Note

"UK, FreeREG Parish Register Transcriptions: pre-1837," database, FreeREG (http://www.freereg.org.uk/cgi/Search.pl : accessed 6 May 2015), baptism entry for Simeon Adams, 23 May 1824, [father unidentified]; citing St. Catherine (Swell), register no. 5, file no. 4954.

Subsequent Note

"UK, FreeREG Parish Register Transcriptions: pre-1837," database, FreeREG, database baptism entry for Simeon Adams, 23 May 1824.

 

FreeCEN

Source List Entry

"UK, FreeCEN Census Transcriptions: 19th Century." Database. FreeCEN. http://www.freecen.org.uk/cgi/search.pl : 2015.

First Reference Note

"UK, FreeCEN Census Transcriptions: 19th Century," database, FreeCEN (http://www.freecen.org.uk/cgi/search.pl : accessed 6 May 2015), 1891 census, entry for Lizzie S. Mills (age 19), Witney, Oxfordshire; citing RG 12/1176, f.48, p.15, Hailey civil parish, St. Mary ecclesiastical parish, ED 5, schedule 109.

Subsequent Note

"UK, FreeCEN Census Transcriptions: 19th Century," FreeCEN, database entry for 1891 census, Lizzie S. Mills (19), Witney, Oxfordshire.

 

Notes

1) As from 1 January 1912, the surname of the spouse was identified in the GRO Marriage Index (as accessed via FreeBMD) . This usually means that the complete name of the spouse can be inferred -- if the surname wasn't ambiguous and all of the relevant entries for that volume and page were transcribed correctly. Before that time, the spouse wasn't identified, and there will usually be of a choice of several possibilities. In such cases, it is the norm to indicate "[bride unidentified]" or "[groom unidentified]" in editorial brackets, and certainly not make a conclusion based on data from elsewhere.

2) The samples show US-style punctuation, where comma and period would be within a preceding closing quote. UK-style would do the opposite, and have them following the quote.

3) When citing similar FreeBMD entries that have been accessed via a different site, then the database title may differ. For instance, Ancestry has three distinct database titles: "England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index: 1837-1983", "...Death Index...", and "...Marriage Index...".

 

EE
EE's picture

Tony,

Thank you for your efforts. You have highlighted just one of the issues that modern researchers struggle with in their efforts to apply longstanding citation principles to many wonderful sites borne of grassroots initiatives.

When working with print matter such as books or journals, it is easy for even novice researchers to scan a title page and extract the essential data, because print publishers follow traditional academic formats. When working with many websites, however, even experienced researchers can have trouble discerning (or distinguishing between) the title of a site, the title of an individual page on a wite, the identity of the site creator, and a workable identification of this-or-that database. This particular site is one that many users have struggled with, because it doesn’t follow the expected conventions.

You ask:

Would it be acceptable to simply unquote the titles and rely on a source description rather than a title? Each project has just one database (at the moment, anyway) so a consistent description might be a workable alternative to a normal database title.

The answer is Yes—not only acceptable but preferable. When a manuscript, register, or database is untitled and we must create some sort of description to identify it, we should not put quotation marks around those descriptive words because we are not quoting anything.* Presenting it in a manner that suggests it is an actual title would be misleading to everyone else who uses our work and cause wasted time for them as they search fruitlessly for a database of that title.

*A keyword-search to any edition of EE, for “descriptive” or “generic,” will yield several discussions of this issue. Cautions include not only the omission of quotation marks but also the use of lowercase for those descriptive words rather than the traditional use of headline-style capitalization as in formal titles.

You are also correct that a citation to a FreeBMD/FreeREG/FreeCEN database accessed through Ancestry, rather than through the parent site, should carry the exact database title that users will need to access it at Ancestry (with standard quotation marks and standard capitalization for formal titles).

In the forthcoming 3d edition of EE (which our publisher has just announced for 1 June), we have handled this particular website in a different manner. Rather than creating a generic title for the database, we have used as a webpage identifier the two-word header "Basic Search" that appears below the website name at the top of the search page.

For the identity of the site creator, we have used the “responsible agency” footer that appears on the same page:

© 1998-2013 The website, its layout, search engine, and database are copyright by the Trustees of FreeBMD, a charity registered in England and Wales, Number 1096940. 

The combined result is the first reference-note example below. The second example shows how the citation would be constructed if we were using the Ancestry version of FreeBMD, to which Ancestry has given a specific title.

First Reference Note

     1. FreeBMD, “Basic Search,” database, FreeREG (http://www.freereg.org.uk/cgi/Search.pl : accessed 1 April 2015), parish register  burial entry for Daniel Smith, 15 April 1825, Kingsclere, Hampshire; citing St. Mary’s Church, reg. no. 498, file no. 15445.

     2. “England & Wales, Free BMD Index: 1837–1915,” database, Ancestry.co.uk (http://search.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 1 April 2015), marriage entry for Daniel Dendy [bride unidentified]; citing Surrey County, June quarter 1841, Dorking District, vol. 4: 77.

I should also address one point in your quoted communication from the site’s executive director:

We will need to consider what the advantages are to us in adopting this within the wider academic community. We weren't aware of the Evidence Explained site and have had no contact with the author so we're a little reluctant, with little notice, to begin adopting a naming convention without proper consideration.

Mr. Wright is correct that, as author of Evidence Explained, I have not contacted him, to address the manner in which he has organized his site. To do so would be presumptuous of me. Evidence Explained exists to provide instruction in standard citation principles and to help researchers apply those principles to the myriad of sources they use—including materials at any of the 644 million active websites. It’s not EE's place to tell websites how they should construct their sites or organize their materials; and it’s certainly a human impossibility to debate the details with the thousands of them about which users inquire.

Given how valuable this site is to UK researchers, we especially appreciate the efforts you’ve made to create more reliable citations to it.

The Editor

KristinaClever
KristinaClever's picture

I'm trying to figure out the best way to cite the Civil Registration indexes for England and Wales on Ancestry. I looked at the example in EE p. 476. However, since the birth, marriage, and death indexes are separate databases, shouldn't the citation specificy the name the each database? 

Also, the online course I took with NGS indicates we should include the original source for databases at Ancestry. I would assume that means we should include the General Register info as listed on Ancestry.

Is this citation below, too much?

“England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007,” database and digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : viewed 19 March 2018), entry for Henry Parlour, p 136; citing General Register Office, England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes, London, England; Gloucestershire County, June [Quarter] 1929, Newent District, Vol. 6a:323.

Kristina Gow Clever

clevergeneticancestry@gmail.com

EE
EE's picture

Kristina, a citation is never "too much" unless you're being needlessly redundant! When you provide information that enables the reader to better understand the source (and "reader" includes you, at a later date after your memory of the source goes cold), then you're not providing too much.

Your draft is excellent. The NGS course obviously taught you well.

Yes, whenever births and deaths are in separate databases, then we cite them separately. We always cite the database title exactly as it is at the website, and we place that title in quotes to show that we are quoting it exactly.

And, yes, when we are using a derivative source, we should also copy the source-of-the-source info given by the derivative we're using. We separate those two things (1-what we're actually using; 2-what our source says it came from) via a technique we call a layered citation.

  • In layer 1 we cite what we're actually using;
  • In layer 2 we cite the source-of-the-source data

Then we separate the layers with a semicolon, to show that both parts of the citation sentence all identify the same record or record set.

To dissect your citation for our readers who have not taken the course or don't yet have EE, the pattern you have used is this (using color coding to separate the layers):

"Name of Database or Article," type, Website Title, Which in This Case Is The Same As The Creator So You Don't Have to Be Redundant and Cite the Creator (Publication Place = URL : Date), [specific item]; citing [here we place whatever our provider says is the original source].

In layer 1, when we cite a database or article at a website, we're using the same format we'd use for citing a chapter in a book. Layer 2, on the other hand, has almost no structure: after we use the word citing, so that our readers understand what follows, we put whatever our provider says. If we quote the provider exactly, then we use quotation marks around the phrasing that we've copied exactly.

The Editor