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Citing Derivatives & Imaged Sources: The Basics, by Elizabeth Shown Mills

Genealogy Citing Image sources

The following essay was excerpted from Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3rd ed. Rev. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2017), p. 47, by the author, expressly for “Genealogy Pointers.”


Evidence Explained
Evidence Explained

“The range of materials and media in use today defies standardization. When we examine a publication to define the elements that need recording, we should bear in mind that this material commonly has two formats in need of identification:

  • most such material originated in manuscript or book format—whether in modern times or antiquity;
  • most such material is now being published in a new format by a firm or an agency that is not the original creator.

“Therefore, our citation should do the following:

  • distinguish between image copies and other derivatives, such as abstracts, transcripts, and information extracted into databases (see glossary for these terms);
  • credit properly the original creator;
  • credit properly the producer of the film or electronic publication;
  • identify clearly the nature of the material;
  • identify the film or electronic publication completely enough for others to locate it;
  • cite the specific place (page, frame, etc.) on the roll, fiche, or database at which we found the relevant detail; and
  • cite the date on which the microform or electronic data set was created (if that information is provided), updated, or accessed—as well as the date of the relevant record.

“Some publishers of film and electronic reproductions supply a preface informing us that they obtained their data from another firm or individual. Even so, to analyze the reliability of their material we also need to know:

  • the identity of the original compiler (individual or agency) who first assembled that data set;
  • the original source(s) from which the data were taken;
  • whether a database entry represents full or partial extraction from those sources; or
  • whether it was generated from materials randomly encountered by the original compiler.

“Tracking the provenance (origin) of material of this type can be difficult. A currently marketed database may have been purchased from a firm no longer in existence, which may have bought its information from a book compiler, who may have assembled materials randomly published elsewhere. Such a database could be of radically different quality from one issued by, say, a learned society using skilled copyists to extract every document in a record set or an image collection created by a company that contracts with an archive to reproduce an entire record series.

“If our attempts to track the origin of the material are unsuccessful, we should say so and explain the efforts we made. This will help us and others avoid unnecessary repetition of the same. When we carefully report our steps, we or a user of our work may be able later to plug some of the gaps in our research process or our findings.”


Publisher’s Note: Evidence Explained is the most comprehensive work on the proper citation of historical and genealogical sources available. For more information about this reference book, please click the button below.

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