Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Information Provenance

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Although I have years of experience with the old FamilySearch, I'm using the new one for the first time. I am getting two nearly identical results for what I presume to be the same records, except for the batch and source film numbers. Why? How do I cite these?

This has happened a number of times in the Virginia Marriages and Virginia Births and Deaths databases. For example, J.H. Holland/S.J. Stringfield marriage in Isle of Wight County, Virginia, 3 March 1898.

One result shows groom's father's name as Ed, the other Elwin. Batch and source film numbers are different. Why?

I'm awfully spoiled being able to contribute corrections to Ancestry's database, can that be done at FamilySearch too?

Robin in Short Pump

Dear Sensible Shoe Robin,

Here are the two results in question, with the differences highlighted:


Why Two Results?

Why is Some Info Different?

Information passes through different hands along the way from record to ourselves. This is called information provenance. It works much like chain of evidence that you hear about in cop shows.

These two records have batch numbers. That means they were indexed by FamilySearch volunteers. Because there are two different batch numbers, there were two different projects. The system origin is Virginia-EASy. EASy was the Extraction Administration System used before FamilySearch Indexing.

These records have a film number. That makes it easy to find out where the information came from. The film numbers are different, so the information might have come from different records. The possibility also exists that the same record was filmed twice.

  • Can you think of what you might do to further understand the information provenance of these two records?

How are They Cited?

There’s something we should do before thinking about citing these records.

  • Are these original or derivative sources?
  • Which provides stronger evidence, an image copy or a textual derivative?
  • Why is it a very bad idea to cite these sources?

As you can tell from that last question, we won’t be figuring out how to cite these records.

Can a User Contribute Corrections?

Sadly, no. I understand that FamilySearch has this on their roadmap.

After you and your capable co-readers have had a chance to respond, we can review the answers together. Feel free to post comments with your answers. (Scroll to the bottom of this article and click “Comments.”) Don’t send me e-mail; I ignore it.

--The Insider


  1. This is a clue for a search. Two individuals sent in their information whether to the Ancestor files or part of the IGI information. Will not know unless you search the batch numbers as to where it came from. It was not part of the Ancestor Files or ancestor charts process when information was turned in many years ago, to say where people got their research/information/source.

    I would not cite these sources in a genealogy software but do keep it as part of the searching path/road to find the real records or validate the information.

    Use a research log/planner/journal of each citation [include where you got it] found. Remember it is a clue to start your research or continue your research.

  2. I think you mean film numbers, not batch numbers, Nettie? (Sure would be nice if the film numbers were hot-linked to the FHLC listing, wouldn't it?)

    Insider, I'm guessing your recommendation NOT to cite THESE sources is really a recommendation to use these as REsources to point you to actual records?

    If it were me, I'd order film number 2048457, find the actual record, and cite THAT. But maybe that wasn't your point?

    Marriage registers, Henry County, 1908-1935 Highland County, 1853-1935 Isle of Wight County, 1853-1935 FHL US/CAN Film 2048457

    Another filming of register of marriages (film's title board: marriage register A), 1854-1900. Salt Lake City : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1949. on 1 microfilm reel ; 35 mm. FHL US/CAN Film 32020 Item 2

  3. I'm finding when I do a search for a vital record that there will be the same information repeated two or three times with different film information and different amounts of information transcribed. If I'm lucky, one of the records will have the image attached, and that is the one I use so the errors are mine. I have started to record if the information is a transcription or from an image to keep things straight. As a transcriber for FamilySearch (currently working on the Welsh 1871 census), I know the problems in deciphering bad handwriting, unusual names (people and places) and abbreviations. The transcriptions are done twice by different people to cut down on errors, and can be arbitrated, but the human factor is still there. I do wish that there were an image for all the FamilySearch data, and some day there may be, but for now, I take what I can get without leaving my living room

  4. I agree with lebjohnson. If there is one with an image, I go for that one. If there are two or more with images I always check them all. For example, in the Michigan marriages, if the license and the marriage were in different counties, there will be two records. The entry in the licensing county will be crossed off but it has more complete information than the entry in the marriage county.

  5. Robin in Short Pump said re: Ancestry,
    "I'm awfully spoiled being able to contribute corrections to Ancestry's database,..."

    What is the correct method to contribute corrections to Ancestry? I seem to search futilely for something to click on.


  6. Eirebrain must have searched in the FHL Catalog on "old site".

    When I searched in the Catalog at, in the wee hours this morning, for film #2048457, the search engine took me to the identical entry page containing film #32020, but the page did not list film #2048457 at all.

    The page said in part:

    authors: Isle of Wight County (Virginia). County Clerk, (Main Author)
    format: Manuscript/On Film
    Indexes to register of births, register of marriages, and register of deaths FHL US/CAN Film 32020 Item 1

    Register of marriages, 1854-1900 (p. 1-87). FHL US/CAN Film 1986798

    Register of births, 1853-1876 -- Register of deaths, 1853-1874 FHL US/CAN Film 32020 Items 3 - 4
    Another filming of register of marriages (film's title board: marriage register A), 1854-1900. Salt Lake City : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1949. on 1 microfilm reel ; 35 mm.


    Microfilm of original records at the Isle of Wight County Courthouse in Isle of Wight, Virginia.

    Includes indexes.

    Register of marriage gives date and place of marriage, full name of the parties (husband and wife), ages, marital status, birth places, residences, parents’ names, husband’s occupation, name of person performing the marriage, and remarks

  7. Batch number to an assistant librarian, if I remember right, lead to the film number. But in my day, we could not always order them at the local FHC. Have not worked with those files for over 20 years so things probably have changed. It makes more sense to do the film numbers linked to the source file. I agree on that. Was not aware that an image was attached. That is good if it is there.

  8. I was not using the old FamilySearch site. And I copied the results of my search directly into my comment. You might try your search again, Geolover. If you don't get the appropriate results, report it. I know there have been search issues on the wiki. I wasn't aware of any currently on the FHLC.

  9. I recommend ordering FHL US/CAN Film 32020 Item 1: Indexes to register of births, register of marriages, and register of deaths.

    "The commissioner of the revenue registered marriages for the county and then turned his books over to the clerk of the County Court. The clerk made abstracts to send to the state auditor and would preserve the books in his office."

    The Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics provided the records microfilmed on FHL US/CAN Film 2048457 implying the possibility that these are the abstracted records. (Microfilm of original records at the Virginia State Library in Richmond, Virginia.)

    The records on FHL US/CAN Film 32020 (Item 2) were provided by the county clerk of Isle of Wight county, VA...implying the likelihood that these are images of the original record books.

    Note: There is another filming of the Register of Marriages 1854-1900 (p. 1-87) on FHL US/CAN Film 1986798 which you might want to consider even though they are not indexed on

  10. Might I suggest that you include the two sources in your NOTES? I do this all the time. Actually, state these two sources and then my final (truest?) source as THE source. That way when I run across this again in a few years I will have already documented my work around, findings, etc. And, hopefully, not have to repeat it again?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.