Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It’s Not My Fault! URL Citation Principles

I apologize about the broken FamilySearch image links in last Friday’s article, “Darned Second Enumerations.” But I must say, IT WAS NOT MY FAULT! At the time I wrote the article, the links worked. Today, they don’t.

Long time users will recall has broken links to their images on several occasions. In particular, when switched image viewers (they used to use a 3rd party viewer called MrSID), all links, favorites, and bookmarks to their census images broke.

The same seems to be true for Since I wrote the article before released a new image viewer. The old links still bring up the old viewer—with a message that says, “The image is currently unavailable. Please try again later.” That confused me for several minutes. The message is misleading and should be reworded.

Old FamilySearch links display misleading message

Here are the images from Friday’s article, with the links repaired.

1870 Census, 1st enumeration of New York City 1st Ward, 1st District, page 2 1870 Census, 1st enumeration of New York City 1st Ward, 1st District, page 2
(Links to image:, ($), Internet Archives)

1870 Census, 2nd enumeration of New York City 1st Ward, 1st District, page 1 1870 Census, 2nd enumeration of New York City 1st Ward, 1st District, page 2
(Links to image:, ($), Internet Archives)

Citation Principles

This situation is illustrative of a couple of citation principles.

1. When you print a record, make certain you write a complete citation in the margin. Write it on the front so it isn’t lost when photocopying. The website should do this for you. But if you’re using a lame website, add it when you print it.

2. A web address or URL is never a sufficient citation. Addresses change. And they change more frequently than vendors would like to admit.

I included full citational information in Friday’s article and it certainly saved my bacon.

Repairing Broken FamilySearch Image Links

If you have old links and you didn’t save enough citation information to easily relocate the record, there is an easy way to find it. But you may have to work fast. I fully expect FamilySearch will inadvertently break this workaround when they “fix” the aforesaid misleading message.

When you get to the page with the misleading message, look at the breadcrumb trail and image number. It contains the citational information. Add the information to your citation. To view the record and get the new URL, use the breadcrumb information.


In the example above, it is “United States Census, 1870 > New York > New York > New York City, ward 01 > Image 396 of 792.”

Don’t Try This at Home

For the technically savvy, it is possible to directly edit the URL. If you aren’t technically savvy, skip now to the conclusion.

Being able to fix addresses is rare, but in this case it is possible. Consider this a temporary fix to get you to the record. Again, you ought to act fast. Once you’ve found the record, capture the citation. It is only a matter of time before something else changes and this method no longer works.

Follow these steps:

  1. Click the link or otherwise paste the old address into your browser. You will see the error message above (until FamilySearch fixes it).
  2. Delete this part, starting with the slash before search and ending with the word records:

  3. Replace “pal%3A” with “pal:”
  4. Replace “%3Fcc%3D” with “?cc=”
  5. Replace “%26wc%3D” with “&wc=”

For example, the old address of the second image above is

Deleting this part:



Replacing “pal%3A” with “pal:” gives

Replacing “%3Fcc%3D” with “?cc=” gives

Replacing “%26wc%3D” with “&wc=” gives the address you can use temporarily to see the image and record the necessary citation information.


Standards and best practices exist so each of us don’t have to learn the hard way (or should I say, relearn) the mistakes of the past. A web address or URL is never sufficient. If you don’t create a full citation, it is just a matter of time before you regret it.


  1. Awesome writeup, AI. This sort of changes with URLs really bugs me, but is unavoidable when a website changes it's image viewer. The breadcrumbs lesson is a good one? :)

  2. A minor correction, but the 3rd party viewer used by Ancestry was MrSID by LizardTech. It was only a Mister, not a Doctor. :-D

  3. Dear Jeff,

    With the passage of time, my entertaining misremembers are guaranteed to increase.

    Thanks; I'll get that fixed.

    -- The Insider


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