Private artifact vital record

I think one of my biggest obstacles to citing all my sources is that I've been stuck on how to properly cite the records about myself and my direct family, so it felt like I couldn't really document my pedigree until I skipped to at least my grandparents, where I can find some "normal" records to cite. I'm specifically thinking of the marriage license & certificate that I possess for my own wedding, as well as the birth certificates for my children (attached image). This discussion ( has been very helpful to describe them as privately-held artifacts, but I still have some questions. The current citations I have are:

[1] Simpson-Doan Marriage License and Certificate of Marriage, 29 June 1996; Simpson Research Files, privately held by Michael James Simpson, [(E-ADDRESS) & STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] St. Joseph, Michigan, USA, 1996. Issued 17 June 1996 by Livingston County (Michigan) Clerk, local file no. 571128, state file no. 96-323.

[2] Samuel Luke Simpson Certificate of Live Birth, 18 April 2003; Simpson Research Files, privately held by Michael James Simpson, [(E-ADDRESS) & STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] St. Joseph, Michigan, USA, 2001. Issued by the Washtenaw County Clerk on behalf of the State of Michigan Department of Community Health on 11 March 2004, no file number.


My questions are:

1) I have the original paper documents in a safe-deposit box, and have scanned images of them on my computer. Does the exact item format I'm referring to change the citation at all?

2) What is the significance of putting the city and state of me as the owner of the items? I've had multiple addresses over just the last ten years, so I'm wondering what someone reading this is supposed to learn from it?

3) Before citing them as private artifacts, I tried to apply the QuickCheck Models of Local (County) Vital Records and State-Level Vital Records, but wasn't sure which to use based on the jurisdiction. Both are state-level vital records, but they are issued by the local County Clerk, so which model applies?

Thank you so much,


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Submitted byEEon Fri, 12/20/2019 - 10:01

Q1. Does the exact item format I’m referring to—scanned image or original in safe-deposit box—change the citation at all?

Mike, the reason format matters is the potential for changing the quality of the data or the specific location within the source. When we use sources elsewhere, we weigh their legibility, the potential for alteration, etc. To the extent that format might affect these considerations, we identify the format. If we are using a book in e-format with flowable text versus a printed book with fixed pages, then again format matters. In your case, you have the original. Cite it and state how you acquired it.

Q2. What is the significance of identifying the city/state of the owner of a document in private possession?

Are you the only Michael James Simpson in existence?  Accountability calls for us to provide a verifiable degree of evidence for what we assert. If we have something in private possession that is not available elsewhere, how  might others verify the authenticity? We cite the provenance of the document and we identify the current owner. Because of privacy concerns in today’s world, we may not wish to publish our exact street address; but a city, state, and date of possession will allow others to locate you if that privately held documentation is essential to their work. (As for living in multiple places across time, we can rest assured that all those online “people finder” databases have us linked to all of them!)

Q3. Should you cite them as private artifacts or as vital records in a specific government office?  If the latter, should you cite state or local office?

If you obtain the record yourself, you know exactly where it came from and you know exactly which agency to cite to get the same exact document that you obtained. If you did not obtain the record yourself from a government agency—if you inherited it or someone else shared a copy with you—then you cite it as a private artifact and state its provenance.