Friday, July 29, 2011

FamilySearch Embracing the World

Ransom Love addresses the 2011 BYU Family History Conference “Some of the problems that archives are facing are almost overwhelming,” said Ransom H. Love in his keynote remarks yesterday at the 2011 BYU Family History Conference. While their budgets are being slashed, they are also being asked to digitize their records. “Digitize or die,” one archivist told Love in one of the many meetings he holds with archivists in his role as senior vice president of strategic relationships at FamilySearch.

“The lack of resources is really painful in the archival community,” said Love. Georgia’s state archive has closed its doors to the public because they have no money. Volunteers can’t help; archives are down to skeleton crews too thin to manage them. Contributions can’t help; state laws prohibit accepting donations.

FamilySearch is exploring ways it can help, said Love. It can share the technology it has developed to capture, index, host, and preserve records. “It changes the whole paradigm if we can make it possible for them to host their own records.” Love said that it’s more important that the records are available than it is for FamilySearch to acquire its own copies.

Love told of several projects that FamilySearch is currently piloting. FamilySearch trained Catholic seminary students in Venezuela, the archbishop among them, who are now indexing their own records. The Guatemala government approached FamilySearch and FamilySearch provided them with technology they are now using to digitize and publish their records.

The National Archive of China has approached FamilySearch. Chinese veneration of ancestors permeates their culture and they are looking for ways to preserve the Jiāpǔ, family history records, that survived the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution. FamilySearch is a natural partner because they have the second largest collection of Jiāpǔ in the world, said Love

“There is absolutely no way that FamilySearch is going to do everything,” he said. “The only way that we’re going to do this is if we embrace the world.”

“What’s exciting is when people’s hearts are turned to their ancestors, they are better people. They come to know who they are.”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Generations of Genealogy

Josh Taylor spoke at the 2011 BYU Family History Conference

“What a gift,” said D. Joshua Taylor of genealogy on prime time television. “Once they’ve had a taste, they always come back for more.” Taylor made the remarks in his “Genealogy in Prime Time: Family History’s Next Generation” keynote at the 2011 BYU Family History Conference. Taylor is currently director of education and programs at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Genealogy has gone through several generations, each with successively better technology, better access to records, richer interactions among genealogists, and an ever widening potential audience.

“Genealogy will change because the tools are changing with it,” said Taylor. iPads are used for taking notes and photographing documents. In the future, keyboards will be projected images on your desk. Paper will be able to talk. Imagine if your pedigree chart was interactive and talked to you! Drag a document image onto your tree and it will fill in the information where it goes, complete with source citations.

“Genealogy will no longer be an activity for old people. It will be undefined by age, gender, or nationality,” he said. Younger people want Interactive results represented in digital format. The experience will become more important.

New genealogists descend from recent immigrants and we need to get the records of their ancestors from places like China and India. “If we don’t, the average person walking into a FHC will find nothing to look at.”

Taylor’s final injunction was to reach out to these young genealogists. “It is just as much your responsibility to find your ancestors as it is to find the future generation of genealogists.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

BYU Genealogy Conference Opens

Dennis E. Simmons Dennis E. Simmons, immediate past president of the Family and Church History Mission at the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave the opening keynote at the 2011 BYU Genealogy Conference. Audience members chuckled when Simmons reported hearing a genealogist call the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah “the genealogist’s Disneyland.”

Simmons repeated the remarkable 1947 forecast of Archibald Bennett (secretary of the Genealogical Society of Utah) that accurately describes the objectives of the New FamilySearch Tree.

A universal system of intelligent cooperation will bring together on one record sheet every fact in existence regarding a particular family. This wealth of data will insure accuracy and banish error. Expensive and time-consuming duplications in research and repetitions in ordinances will be eliminated. No sooner will a new fact be uncovered in any part of the world by a researcher than it will be communicated to the Archives center and be assigned to its proper place, on some family record.

(Archibald Bennett, “The Great Cause of Tomorrow,” Church News, 20 December 1947, p. 20, col. 3; online images ( : accessed 26 July 2011).

Simmons touched a more spiritual chord with most of his address. Like members of other faiths and philosophies, Church members experience serendipity in genealogy and Simmons shared several experienced by missionaries during his tenure. Howard Cheney, a missionary in his mission in August 2010, said, “When someone asked me what I enjoyed most about my mission experience I answer that each day I accomplished things I could not do.” In one instance a particularly difficult Spanish record rebuffed all attempts to read it. A man happened to show up and volunteer to read it. The man turned out to be a university professor who told them that the record was not in Spanish, but a pre-Spanish dialect in which he had expertise. Were it not for this extraordinary coincidence the record could not have been read.

Simmons said that family history work is full of such miracles. That is my experience as well.


Simmons address will be posted later this week on the conference website.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Mailbox: County or Parish?

Dear Insider,

I enjoy reading your columns. Thank you for all that you do. 

I have a problem with that I have written them about to no avail. I wonder if you can help or at least write a column about it to bring it to their attention. 

Not all states have always used counties for their political divisions. South Carolina used courthouse districts from about 1800 until about 1868. always indexes a district, such as Williamsburg District as “Williamsburg, Williamsburg” and Sumter District as “Sumter, Sumter.” This seems to indicate that people lived in Sumter town in Sumter County, which they usually did not. They lived in Sumter District and Sumter town was one place within the District. I don’t think there even is a “Williamsburg, Williamsburg.”

People add this mistaken data to their trees which extends and perpetrates the problem.

A similar problem arises in Louisiana, where they use parishes to this day, and in territories, where often has the territory indexed as a state before it actually became a state. They really need to index a place as what it actually says it is, not try to fit it into a set mode such as county or state. 

Thanks for “listening,”

Dear Teresa,

Thank you. I appreciate your kind words.

As you are no doubt aware, those are not the only problems. It is common practice in computerized databases to shoehorn place names into three levels of jurisdiction without specifying jurisdiction types. Thus these places:

Beverly Farms (a neighborhood of Beverly city), Essex county, Massachusetts commonwealth
Bristol village, Bristol town, Addison county, Vermont state
Bristol town (outside the village), Addison county, Vermont state

often appear as:

Beverly Farms, Essex, Massachusetts
Bristol, Addison, Vermont
Bristol, Addison, Vermont

Add a plethora of exceptions. Add a multitude of oddities (Salt Lake city vs. Salt Lake City). Add boundary disputes and overlapping claims. Add historical changes. Add old world jurisdictions. Add civil versus church. Add all these factors together and it presents a major challenge to

I would be interested in hearing from your fellow readers. When it comes to locale issues, what are your favorites?

-- The Insider

Thursday, July 21, 2011 Allows Image Citations

I was pleased recently to see an option to create citations for images uploaded to member trees:

Is that new? I'm at that age where I no longer trust my own memory. Assuming it is new, this is a great step forward. Previously, I had to store the citation in the image description field:

I was excited to try out this (possibly) new feature. I uploaded a photograph. I created a citation. (I won't take the time to describe that nightmare here. Baby steps. Baby steps.) I came back to the image to see where the citation was displayed. I looked in every nook and cranny of the page and could not find it anywhere!

For a while I believed had thrown my citation away. I even contemplated reentering it. Ultimately, I found had associated the citation to the person, not to the image!

Shoot! I've already used up my negativity budget for the month. I guess I won't say how awfully weird that is. Instead, let me commend for a positive step toward evidence management.

Baby steps. Baby steps.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Correcting Inaccuracies

I wish to correct a number of inaccuracies recently published by a blogger in response to my article, “FamilySearch SSDI Citation Review.”

  • I understand the operating principles of a wiki community. I believe in and champion genealogy wikis. ( and others also have wikis.)
  • I love the FamilySearch Wiki. I regularly contribute. When a presenter didn’t show up to teach a session about the Wiki at a BYU conference, I helped Alan Mann and David Rencher pinch hit the session. When the FamilySearch Wiki team needed volunteers to staff the Wiki table at NGS this year, I jumped at the chance. Several attendees told booth managers that they loved my enthusiasm. At NGS the previous year I got me one of those “I Wiki. Do You?” badge holders and I wear it everyday for my employee badge. The Ancestry Insider supports the FamilySearch Wiki. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.
  • FamilySearch personnel author the record collection citations found in the Wiki.
  • I respect and honor everyone who contributes to the FamilySearch Wiki. Before I criticized the citations in the FamilySearch Wiki, I verified that they had not been touched by non-FamilySearch personnel.
  • I participate in the wiki community’s discussions about citation policy.
  • The link between record collection citations and the wiki is temporary. The wiki community can continue to set its citation policy (unless FamilySearch does something stupid) and FamilySearch Chief Genealogical Officer David Rencher will continue to set FamilySearch’s.
  • In Evidence Explained Mills attempts to teach citation principles, giving guidance on when and how to adapt formats, presenting alternatives, and warning that citations are more art than science. A citation can agree with Mills Style without precisely matching one example in the book.

It is unfortunate that misunderstandings arise. If any of you forwarded the blogger’s article with the inaccurates, may I ask that you forward this article to the same people?

-- The Insider

Friday, July 15, 2011

Darn FamilySearch?

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Pet Roach: Mother, Father, or Parent?

Several alert readers added additional commentary about the Pet Roach document mentioned in my article “Darned Indexes!

Dear Insider,

Why do you say Pet is a “young girl?” “Pet Roach” is given as the husband's parent, which could as easily be Travis's father as his mother.


Dear Bib,

Wow! You’re right. FamilySearch said that Pet was the mother and I believed them. Rechecking the image as you did, I see that FamilySearch manufactured that information. Pet Roach is a parent of unknown gender.

FamilySearch manufactured information that wasn't there Pet Roach is a parent of unspecified gender

I’m tempted to say, “shame on you FamilySearch.” I know the sentiment would ring true with many of you.

However, I think I know why this sort of thing happens. FamilySearch and—any record publisher—must strike a balance between quantity and quality. The genealogist in me thinks that FamilySearch sacrifices too much quality. The engineer in me says that the cost of handling exceptions is astronomical.

-- The Insider

The subsequent commenter illuminated the expected source of the parent’s gender.

Dear Insider,

How'm I supposed to do some work if you guys keep making interesting comments?

Looking at this image, I think it highly likely that the form has actually been completed incorrectly anyway! If you go to the next image, the way the form is filled out makes sense.

It is likely the form is completed incorrectly
The subsequent image is completed correctly

How are we supposed to interpret records if they're not correctly filled in in the first place?!

Adrian B*

Dear readers,

The take away is that indexes are finding aids whose evidentiary value is nowhere close to that of transcriptions, abstracts, or summaries. Without the images, the index is suspect.

Yes, records—especially indexes—say the darnedest things.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Record Search Pilot Retirement

I think most of you know already. If not, please be aware that FamilySearch Record Search is being retired. They haven’t given a date yet, but they’ve been giving warnings ever since the revised came out last December.

The latest warning showed up recently on the Record Search home page (

Warning the Record Search will soon go away

If you’re not ready to see Record Search go away, I suggest you tell FamilySearch why. Use the little box titled “Tell us why you prefer Pilot…” Before you do, make certain you’ve tried the search filters added to at the end of April. They may do everything you like about Record Search. Or you may have the same experience as FamilySearch senior vice president, Craig Miller, who didn’t feel the filters were up to the bar set by Record Search. (See my notes on his presentation at the NGS Conference earlier this year.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 SSDI Citation Review

I’ve been writing about the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for the past several weeks:

And I should warn you that I digress into a tirade against FamilySearch because of 40 years of pent up frustrations. I apologize to current decision makers who I think “get it.”

Suggested Citations

I expect more from a professional genealogist than from a hobbyist. In this review I’m going to nitpick details that you don’t need to worry about. and FamilySearch have a responsibility to create your citations. That’s a major reason why I am not pulling any punches.

FamilySearch should provide citations to its SSDI collection and to individual records. I think they should look (similar to those I proposed for like this:

How to Cite This Record (full reference note):
     1.  “U.S. Social Security Death Index,” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 12 July 2011), entry for Donald N. Sider, 322-26-3895; derived from U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, 30 June 2011).

How to Cite This Record (shortened reference note):
     2.  “U.S. Social Security Death Index,” FamilySearch, entry for Donald N. Sider, 322-26-3895.

How to Cite This Collection (Bibliography):
“U.S. Social Security Death Index.” Database. FamilySearch. : 2011. Derived from U.S. Social Security Administration. Death Master File. Database. Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, 24 July 2011.

You Too Can Fix FamilySearch’s Citations

As I write this, FamilySearch supplies this citation on the SSDI collection page:

FamilySearch SSDI citation 
Collection citation from the SSDI collection page

As I understand it, the citation is automatically copied from the wiki for display on the collection page.

Collection citation from the wiki page

If you don’t like it, you can “fix it” in the collection’s wiki article, “United States Social Security Death Index (FamilySearch Historical Records).” I need to write an article or two explaining how that works and how one goes about fixing something in the Wiki. It’s a bit like being the first bird in a flock to react to a predator. If you are going to fix it, you better do it fast. There is talk of pulling the citation from some internal place. But I digress…

Bibliography/Source List

This citation has numerous problems that you could fix.

  1. Identification. If this citation is not of the source of the collection, why title it “Sources of Information for This Collection?” FamilySearch should identify these citations as how to cite the entire collection.
  2. Bibliography punctuation. Elements in a bibliography (source list) citation are separated by periods. (It’s as if the citation is a paragraph and each element is a sentence.) Elements in reference notes are separated by commas (as if the citation is a sentence).
  3. Source of the source. FamilySearch failed to provide an adequate source-of-the-source citation. This is especially sad, given the title.
  4. Repository. No repository need be given for publications. For printed publications, the only time I would specify the repository is if the publication wasn’t listed in That’s the only time. Uh… I guess the other only time would be if I were quoting an annotation someone had written into a particular published book. (Penciled corrections and additions to family histories used to be an acceptable practice.)

Listing the Family History Library as a repository is not only unnecessary, it is untrue.

The Internet is a publishing mechanism. FamilySearch’s record collections are published works. The information comes to your computer screen from a farm of computer servers which can be anywhere on the planet.

Where is the repository serving up FamilySearch’s record collections? Jay Verkler once told me and a bunch of other bloggers not to tell you that they were thinking of establishing a second vault someplace. It was not to be the kind that you hollow out of a mountain, but an electronic one. It would give FamilySearch a second, redundant location for the website. Oops. Did I say that out loud.

Well as long as I’m in trouble…

There are newspaper accounts of a server farm in the Granite Mountain Record Vault, but I don’t recall if Verkler said it is the home of the website. There are accounts on FHCNET that FamilySearch has a server farm in Virginia, but I don’t recall Verkler mentioning it. There was a RootsTech session stating that parts of the lives in “the cloud.”

The point I’m leading up to is that while I don’t know where it is—the repository that houses’s Social Security Death Index—I know it isn’t the Family History Library.

One good thing I want to point out is FamilySearch’s use of the term “from” to set off the source-of-the-source citation. I like the little prepositions that Chicago Manual of Style uses to connect parts of a citation.1

Reference Note

FamilySearch SSDI citations Record citations from the wiki page

FamilySearch does not provide citations to its records. This is critical. Hobbyists rarely use any other citation type. Citations can be extremely easy for users if the vendor would make it so. Instead, FamilySearch provides an example with a sloppy typo (the lack of a space after a period and before an uncapitalized “entry.”

I’ve used FamilySearch products from way before they were called FamilySearch and their inattention to sources is epoch.

  • Microfilm: Unique citations not consistently captured.
  • Family group sheets (early): no space for citations.
  • Four generation program: miniscule space for optional citations.
  • Individual and marriage entry forms: citations discarded (not keyed).
  • PVRL: discarded.
  • PAF (early): no citation support.
  • GEDCOM: lossy citation exchange.
  • FHLC: incorrect citations for hierarchical archives.
  • Ancestral File: citations discarded from patron submissions.
  • TempleReady: sources made optional and discarded if present.
  • Pedigree Resource File: citations discarded before online publication.
  • new FamilySearch Tree (NFS): no source management.
  • NFS (early): sources specified nothing besides the date the information was loaded.
  • NFS (early): citation entry takes longer than login timeout.
  • NFS: sources optional, although the tree is intended for collaboration.
  • NFS: can’t exchange sources with desktop tree managers.
  • NFS: IGI source information (meager as it is) discarded.
  • NFS: for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no sources are given for ordinances (even though NFS replaces the IGI as the official repository of this information).
  • record collections are published without source coverage.
  • records don’t have citations.
  • printouts don’t have citations.
  • images don’t have citations.
  • copy to clipboard doesn’t include citations.

Decade after decade, product after product, new decision makers arrive at FamilySearch, treat sources as an afterthought, sometimes making irreversible blunders. About the time they finally get that genealogy is harder than it looks and that sources are genealogy, they move on. It’s genealogical maturity. It’s the chasm. It’s frustrating beyond belief.

But I digress…


Requirement Meets Requirement?
Citations meet professional standards Almost. A for effort.
Provides citations for published collections Yes, but mistitled as “Source Information” and “Sources of Information for This Collection.”
Provides citations for individual records No.
Citations to published collections distinguished from citations to collection sources Yes.
Citations indicate source-of-the source No.
Record citations contain information necessary to locate the cited records No record citations are provided, but the suggested example contains the necessary information and more. I wouldn’t bother including birth date.
Record citations contain information necessary to locate archive originals Again, no record citations are provided, but the example contains the necessary information, the social security number.
Reference notes and Source list entries are labeled accordingly No.

The final score for FamilySearch is 2 yeses, 5 nos, and 1 tirade.

UPDATE: Since seeing my article, FamilySearch has substantially improved the citations in the Wiki. They’ve asked that I reiterate that everyone is invited to contribute to the FamilySearch Wiki.


     1.  The Chicago Manual of Style 15th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003; CD-ROM version 1.2.3), 662 (“in”), 666 (“by”), 667 (“of”).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Mailbox: Access Date

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Speaking of . . . "I fail to see the value of including . . " I would be interested in your explanation of including the date you viewed the internet record. Surely such a reference would only have meaning if the internet record actually displays a publication or last updated date.


Dear Stewart,

That is an excellent question. For print publications, one can access the old edition after the release of a new edition. This makes the publication date useful. For web publications, it is rarely possible to return to an old version of a web page, database, or website. What value, then, is the access date?

I’d like to hear what other readers have to say; I have two feeble reasons.

First, my expectation is that the older the access date, the harder it will be to find the source and the higher the likelihood that I will never find it. That is useful information to find in a citation.

The second reason is that sometimes old versions are available. Wikis archive every version of wiki articles. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has archived a limited number of web pages. The access date allows me to determine which version to access.

Speaking of web publications that display a publication or last update date: If I have a great deal of trust that a website provides accurate publication dates (such as the FamilySearch Wiki), I feel like I can use the publication date instead of the access date. and FamilySearch record collections have publication dates, but because they don’t make them available, you have to specify access date.

Thanks for your insight,
-- The Insider

If You’ve Seen One SSDI…

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I'm having a problem applying your recommendations for citing SSDI as a source. The SSDI is available on several web sites. In addition to Ancestry, I frequently use the Rootsweb site ( because I find that search engine more effective. That is also a non-subscription site. I think it is useful to include the SSA description, but I don't even keep track of which website I found the information on.

Grandma Shirley

Dear Grandma Shirley,

If you never share your research with anyone, if you have arranged to have it destroyed upon your death, if you’ve never forgotten something you thought you’d never forget, if the SSDIs on every website were the same, then you wouldn’t need to specify the website.

It is incorrect to say “the SSDI is available on several web sites.” There is no “the SSDI.” “An SSDI” is available on several web sites. None of them are exactly the same. What if you cite information from the DMF that no one but RootsWeb published? (Field 7 comes to mind.) What if the information you cite was inaccurately added? (Towns associated with ambiguous zip codes come to mind.) What if you cite entries that were removed from other sites? (Living individuals come to mind.) What if you cite information that is easily found using the RootsWeb search engine, but nowhere else?

Adding the website is such a minor addition, I don’t know why you wouldn’t. It only has to be done once in your master source list. Wait… Are you documenting your sources in the new FamilySearch Tree? In that case…

--the Insider

Friday, July 8, 2011

In Memoriam: Victims of 1927 Floods

In memory of those who perished in the flooding on this day in 1927, I’m republishing this article from 23 September 2008.

Last week I indexed a batch of Louisiana Death certificates. Soon I was so drawn into these people's lives, that it took all week to get one batch done.

I started on the first certificate. Cause of death? Drowning. How sad. How old was this person? A ten year old boy. Wow; that is sad. Why did someone write "refugee" at the top?

Death certificate of drowning victim

Next certificate. Also "refugee" at the top. Cause of death? Also drowning!

Wait a minute. Duplicate certificate? No. This name was North Hudson. I see he’s only five years old. Next I see he is his father's name sake.

Same date? Yes, 8 July 1927. Both in Port Barre, St. Landry Parish; wow. Opelousas is crossed out and Porte Barre written in. Wonder what happened.

Second certificate, 12 July 1927 in Port Barre, St. Landry Parish.

Third and fourth certificates. Also refugees who drowned on 8 July 1927. Both named Hudson. North Hudson was here again, as informant. Does that mean he had to identify family member’s bodies?

Another two drowning victims

Fifth, sixth, and seventh certificates are all children of Delphine Thornton, ages 13, 9 and 5. All 8 July 1927 in Port Barre. Oh, my goodness. She lost three children in whatever happened.

What did happen? It didn't take very long before Google uncovered the Great Flood of 1927. The Mississippi had overflowed her banks during the spring runoff.

1927 flood at Moreauville

The two photos, below, show Kerr's Drug Store in Port Barre early in the flooding and 13 days later.

Kerr's Drug Store 10 May 1927 Kerr's Drug Store 23 May 1927

Displaced "refugees" were evacuated to neighboring communities.

Avoyelles Parish residents fleeing to high ground

I'm still unclear of all the goings on, but the floodwaters seem to have lasted for months. On 8 July 1927 I think the levee protecting Port Barre failed. It fell to the medical examiner in Opelousas to perform the terrible last reuniting of lost family members. I found myself feeling awkward, standing in the back, an unbidden guest, witnessing this pervasively private moment.

Then I thought that perhaps, if caring members of these families ever come looking for them, my indexing will bring them to this very same spot, let them see what I am seeing. I will have quietly slipped out the back, letting loving family unite again across time. And grieve. And remember.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Citation Principles: Websites are Like a Book

The Insider's Guide to Citations

Citations have two purposes: locate the source and indicate its strength. This series of articles explains what we must do to accomplish these purposes for genealogical sources.


Citation Principle: Treat Websites Like Books

Treat major websites like publications (which they are), and titled parts of websites—web pages and record collections—like titled parts of publications (which they are).1 For example,

     10. “Texas Deaths, 1890-1976,” database and digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 December 2009), search for Lyndon Baines Johnson, died 22 January 1973; death certificate 00340, Bexar County, Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics, Department of Health, Austin.

Book2 Web3 Web example4
Chapter author Item author  
Chapter title Item title “Texas Deaths, 1890-1976,”
  Item type database and digital images,
Book title Website title FamilySearch
Book editor Website producer  
Place of publication Place of publication ( :
Publisher Publisher  
Publication year Publication or access date accessed 5 December 2009),
Page number Location within item search for Lyndon Baines Johnson, died 22 January 1973;
Source-of-the-source citation Source-of-the-source citation death certificate 00340, Bexar County, Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics, Department of Health, Austin.

Notice that several fields are missing in the web example: item author, website producer, and publisher. These are not specified because they are all “FamilySearch.” This leads to another citation principle.

Citation Principle: Don’t Be Redundant

Citations have two purposes: locate the source and indicate its strength. As we’ve seen, citations to derived sources require inclusion of source-of-the-source citations. This produces scary long citations. The last thing we want to do is make a citation any longer than is absolutely necessary. To that end, avoid redundancy. We saw several common redundancies in the example above:

  • If a website and an item on the website have the same author/producer, drop the item author.
  • If a website title includes the name of the website producer, don’t redundantly specify the producer.
  • Gone are the days when you had to be a professional publisher to publish. Websites are self published and don’t require redundant specification of a publisher.
  • Drop information from the source-of-the-source citation when already specified. For example, Lyndon Baines Johnson’s name and death date have been dropped from the source-of-the-source citation in the previous example.



     1.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 1st ed., PDF images (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 57-8, 127.

     2. The Chicago Manual of Style 15th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003; CD-ROM version 1.2.3), 662. Mills, Evidence Explained, 647.

     3. I’ve shown website title and producer in the same order as book title and editor. Mills recommends listing website producer before website title. See Evidence Explained, 94, 126-8. Also see Elizabeth Shown Mills, QuickSheet : Citing Online Historical Resources : Evidence! Explained, 1st rev. ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 1.

     4.  Robert Raymond, “Citing Online Sources,” research wiki article, FamilySearch ( : dated 26 June 2011, 00:35 UTC), the research wiki is in the Learn section of the website.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 SSDI Citation Review

First let me say that I believe there may be more than one right citation in many instances. It’s been said that “citation is an art, not a science.”1 It depends on what the researcher wishes to emphasize and how the researcher has organized the bibliography. As we saw last week, and FamilySearch apply a number of treatments to the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF) before publication, adding and removing information, and possibly introducing errors. Since their Social Security Death Index (SSDI) collections are not verbatim copies of the Death Master File, the citation should emphasizes its derivative nature.

Here are the citations that I think should provide with records from its Social Security Death Index (replacing the accessed date and the DMF publication date):

How to Cite This Record (full reference note):
     1.  “Social Security Death Index,” database, ( : accessed 5 July 2011), entry for Donald N. Sider, 322-26-3895; derived from U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, 24 July 2011).

How to Cite This Record (shortened reference note):
     2.  “Social Security Death Index,”, entry for Donald N. Sider, 322-26-3895.

How to Cite This Collection (Bibliography):
“Social Security Death Index.” Database. : 2011. Derived from: U.S. Social Security Administration. Death Master File. Database. Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, 24 July 2011.

At the time of this review, here are the citations supplies with individual records:

 image citations

Reference Note

What is this thing they call a “Source Citation?” It lacks the most basic elements of a citation: title, author, and publisher. Perhaps is stuck in the outdated PAF citation paradigm, as this appears to be a stripped down set of the citation elements not present in a source list (bibliography) citation. Modern genealogy programs have replaced the PAF paradigm with a standard we all learned in school: reference notes and bibliography.

Regardless, I fail to see the value of including “issue state” and “issue date.” These are derived fields, subject to error, and I can’t see how they would help anyone locate the cited record.

While not strictly necessary, I included the deceased’s name in my citation. I do so for a couple of reasons. Sometimes citations over-specify information to guard against typographical errors or unforeseen circumstances. Publishers regularly do stupid things like failing to allow searching by social security number. (I won’t mention any names, but their initials are w, w, w, and FamilySearch.)

Bibliography/Source List

Interesting that the thing they label a “citation” is not and the thing they don’t label a citation, is. I can tell from the punctuation that what calls “Source Information” is, in fact, a source list (bibliography) citation. Because fails to label it as such, users will have a hard time knowing whether to use it as a reference note or a source list entry.

Perhaps the biggest blunder, has treated the record collection like a published book. That violates a citation principle that I haven’t written about yet. Websites should be cited like books and parts of websites should be cited like parts of books. I’ll write about that soon in my citation principles series and explain why.

A less serious problem is their use of “[database on-line].” It is not Mills standard and it is not the latest Chicago/Turabian standard. When people pay you money, you are obligated to stay up to date.

On the positive side, I liked their inclusion of the source-of-the-source in their source list citation. I liked it so much, I went back and added it to mine.

Score Card

Here’s a summary of’s conformance to “Citation Principles for Genealogy Record Publishers.”

Requirement Meets Requirement?
Citations meet professional standards No. The reference note citation lacks author, title, publication, etc. The source list citation mishandles the collection and website.
Provides citations for published collections Maybe. It does have one. But it is mislabeled (“Source Information”) and does not meet professional standards. Should I score this as a “yes” or a “no”?
Provides citations for individual records No. “Source Citation” does not qualify.
Citations to published collections distinguished from citations to collection sources Yes. “Original data” serves this purpose.
Citations indicate source-of-the source Yes. Ditto.
Record citations contain information necessary to locate the cited records Yes. The social security number is sufficient and it is present.
Record citations contain information necessary to locate archive originals Yes. Same.
Reference notes and Source list entries are labeled accordingly No.’s score: 4 yeses, 3 nos, and a maybe.

Next time, SSDI citations.


     1.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 1st ed., PDF images (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 41.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Monday Mailbox: Removing Living Info Off

Dear Ancestry Insider,

The U.S. Public Records Index contains the records of almost a billion living people. The data include name, date of birth, and address. It doesn't require much more than that to steal an identity.

I wrote to Ancestry about this issue, and here's the response I got: “All requests to have information or data removed from our website are handled by our Executive Office department. These requests should be sent by email to requesting that the information be removed.

“Note: Please include in the following information so we can better serve your request.
Your email address
The URL address to the page in which the information appears
Specify which portion of the page you would like to have removed

“Once these requests have been sent to, the Executive Office department will respond to your email within seven business days. Any further questions about information removal should be referred to the Executive Office department.”

This information should really be made widely available. Ancestry Insider, what do you think? How 'bout a blog post on this?

otosankeith *

Dear Keith san,

You got it. Thanks for the info.

The Insider