Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Mystery of the Non-Duplicate Duplicates

You may recall the question last week from “Robin in Short Pump” (obviously, a family name of Italian origins). Robin found two nearly identical records in the “Virginia Marriages, 1785-1940” collection that had several differences.

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I posed some questions and enlisted your feedback. Thank you, to those of you who shared such great comments.

Here are the questions and my answers (which echo yours).

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

Because we have film numbers we can easily look up the descriptions of films 32,020 and 2,048,457 in the Family History Library Catalog. Film number 32,020 contains (among other things) marriage registers from the county clerk of Isle of Wight County in Virginia. Film number 2,048,457 contains marriage registers from the Virginia state Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Here’s my stab at the information provenance: The bride and groom provided the information about themselves and their families to the Isle of Wight county clerk’s office. The marriage officiator provided the information about the marriage. The county subsequently provided a copy to the state of Virginia. FamilySearch came along and microfilmed, indexed, and published both the county and state copies.

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Each time a record is copied, something is lost.
Textual derivatives are particularly lossy.
If you can’t access the original,
an image copy of the original is almost as good.

Are these original or derivative sources?

Since the Virginia state record is a copy of the Isle of Wight county’s, I consider it a textual derivative of the county’s original. However, what we see online is a index (textual derivative) of an image copy (microfilm) of the county original and the state derivative.

Which provides stronger evidence, an image copy or a textual derivative?

I didn’t ask that very well. Assuming you make an image copy and a textual derivative of the same original, the image copy is preferable. Examining Microfilm 32,020 would be nearly as good as examining the county original.

This illustrates another idea. Not every textual derivative is created equal. If the official state copy of the county original is created under controlled conditions by the same clerk that created the original, it can be given nearly as much consideration as the microfilm copy. The FamilySearch indexing from the microfilm will likely be the biggest source of textual errors.

Why is it a very bad idea to cite these sources?

Because Microfilm 32,020 is readily available to anyone in a local family history center, the responsible genealogist will consult and cite it rather than the online textual derivatives.

Thank you, Robin of the Short Pump, for your question. And thank you to all who provided feedback.

1 comment:

  1. I use these transcriptions all the time because with my research on an extended family line I cannot afford the $5 a pop for the microfilm at my Family History Center. I do include the film number so, if some time in the future, either I or someone else wants to see the microfilm, it will be easy to find it. I resent being labeled as irresponsible genealogist, just because I am recording more than my immediate family and cannot afford the documentation of allied families.

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