Practicality in citation

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pbaum's picture
Practicality in citation


In most cases, for me anyway, I send for records by email, order online, or snail mail simply because I live at an inconvenient distance from the archives holding the records I need.

Here is a classic example that occurred recently. I sent to NARA for a copy of a widow's pension file, War of 1812. In the comments section of the online order form, I further requested that they include the location in their archives where the file is found so I can properly cite the record. But, of course they didn't remit the citation information.

However, let's face it, I got the file I needed merely by submitting a few details about my ancestor and NARA found the record. So, why should I not just include the details that NARA needs to pull the record and indicate I received the record from NARA as my citation? (This as opposed to listing volumes and series and sub-series, etc. etc.)

I suppose I could go to their web page and try to fish through their record system, and try to piece together where the archivists went, but I would still only be guessing that my citation is correct. In fact, if I do make a mistake, it would only serve to confuse things if someone else later tried to follow my incorrect citation; further, I have no way to even check my citation to ensure it is correct.

In this case in particular, if someone later is trying to follow in my footsteps, it is most important for the archivists at NARA to have what they need in order to locate the records, they don't need the full path to the records (especially if it's wrong) - and that can change from time to time anyway.

I'm not trying to be difficult, I'm all for robust source citations (or I wouldn't be here!), but I think sometimes, less is more. May I please have your input on this matter?

Thank you very much for your wonderful work!