Do You "Just Trust" Citations Offered by Digital Providers? . . . EE's Take on the Subject

26 June 2014

Those of you who accepted yesterday's challenge—here at the blog and at our FB page—caught several good points, especially the misidentified microfilm publication. M1882 is actually Schedules of the 1935 Special Censuses of Puerto Rico. It's not census maps of the U.S. states. The problem is compounded, of course, by the fact that the title of the publication is omitted from the provider's suggested citation.

Beyond that, EE’s suggested model reflects several other citation needs:

  • Our basic principle should be: Cite what you use. In this case, we are eyeballing images of a publication, images that are being delivered through a new medium. Our citation should lead with details on that publication. The medium that delivers it is an added layer, more appropriately placed at the end. Sure, the online providers would like to emphasize themselves; but they did not create this publication. It already existed. They just digitized it. They created a “reprint edition” of sorts. We identify their edition, but we still need to cite the actual publication.
  • The citation needs an identification of the map itself. The provider's citation only cites its image number. The map has a distinct name that helps to identify it outside the structure of that delivery system, and we need to identify that name.
  • The provider's citation offers no clue to the year of the map. We know it’s somewhere between 1900 and 1940. That roll of film offers a dozen or so images for this parish in the 1900–1940 period. If we extract all the images and just copy-paste the suggested citations into our database, then from the details of any citation, we have no way of knowing which map is which.
  • The source-of-our-source phrase, “Citing … ,” is unnecessary if we place our emphasis on the publication we are actually using. If we were using a set of images that does not self-identify the source, then is is appropriate to add whatever words the provider has used to identify the source from which the provider took its data. In this case, however, the NARA microfilm publication clearly offers all details needed to construct a citation to that publication. We’re personally eyeballing that. Ergo, we don’t have to say that a third party provider is “citing thus-and-such.”

On that issue of “trust,” an employee of this provider, someone who ranks way up there on my list of go-to people for advice on matters such as this, has wise words for all of us:

It is important for users to review the citations FamilySearch provides, augmenting them with missing information, and perhaps doing a little cleanup.

To that, EE would add: Apply this principle to every online provider you use. In preparing EE itself, as we found online items that would make good models for citations, more than a few times we found it necessary to go to the online providers (plural) to ask them: Would you correct this error so that EE can cite this nice item you are offering?

No person, no agency, no company is perfect and naive trust is something we'll likely regret.


Submitted byrraymondon Thu, 06/26/2014 - 14:21

We apologize for the publication information error and will get it fixed. We are always striving to improve our citations and welcome feedback. (You’ll find a feedback link at the bottom of every page.) We would prefer placing the emphasis on the imaged records, as Elizabeth recommends, but are not able to do so at this time. We depend on technology to produce the five billion citations on our website and technology has its limits. We echo Elizabeth's advice. Please take the citations we provide and improve upon them.

Robert Raymond

Submitted byemmygeeon Mon, 06/30/2014 - 16:46

A light-year is a distance, not a period of time. I know that it sounds like time but it is actually the distance travelled by light in one year.

Submitted byEEon Wed, 07/02/2014 - 18:05

Yes, Emmygee. We know. Our "light year or something" was said facetiously. But we just love it when readers take us seriously. :)