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


  1. Re "access date" - I do add this to my citation data - although I find I can never be bothered to go beyond the month and year.

    Ideally, as suggested above, you need to know the (alleged) publication date so that, at some point, you can go back and cross-check current (alleged) publication date and your access date, to see if there's been an update.

    If there isn't an (alleged) publication date - or, as you might guess, you have so little faith the in publication date that you keep writing "alleged" - then at least your access date gives you a clue that you looked at this data five years ago (having I really been working on my tree that long?) and maybe a double check might not be a bad idea.

    Adrian B

  2. The Ancestry Insider says: " and FamilySearch record collections have publication dates, but because they don’t make them available, you have to specify access date."

    Actually, Ancestry does provide the original publication date and the most recent update date for each collection. In the card catalog, if you mouse over the hyperlink to the collection, a pink pop-up will say, for example:
    "Published on Ancestry 9/26/2007
    Updated 1/13/2011"

    Also, information on Ancestry does change. When recently double checking some information I had abstracted from Ancestry's Texas Death Index, I discovered that while previously (when I had originally abstracted the information) it had included middle initials; but when I rechecked this month the middle initials were gone . . .



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