Friday, March 21, 2014

Darned Half Records

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.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Half Records

Here’s a citation FamilySearch supplies to a record on

"Utah, Tooele County Records, 1855-1956," images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 08 Mar 2014), Probate records > Index to wills 1887-1955 > image 5 of 51.

This is a perfectly fine citation to the record. One can quibble about dropping the word “digital” from before “image.”1 Rather than cite the URL of an individual record, it is best to cite the website homepage to guard against broken URLs.2 FamilySearch has broken that general practice, but presumably FamilySearch knows how persistent these URLs are. So while an entire URL is a bad practice for you and me, it isn’t necessarily so for a website publisher. (I wish FamilySearch would implement a shorter URL, but it is what it is.)

Still, these are quibbles insofar as citing the online image.

But what they’ve provided for this record is only half a citation! A complete citation to an online record needs to cite both the online record and the offline original from whence it was derived. Why is it so important to cite both the online derivative and the offline original?

Here’s the image cited by the above citation:


Without knowing where the original was, one would not be able to track down the original to see the other half of this record. (I’ve informed FamilySearch about this record set. Hopefully it isn’t too late for them to retake the photographs.) Fortunately, this citation, as is, contains enough information that with a little effort one could track down the original. But that isn’t always the case.

Darned half citations to half records!

[After I wrote the above article, I was pleased to see that FamilySearch added the missing half to many of its citations. Hat’s off to FamilySearch. In some cases the citations to the offline originals are still incomplete, so you may still want to examine and supplement them. I’ve learned from FamilySearch why this is so and I may explain it in future articles.]


     1.  See Elizabeth Shown Mills’s comments about the practice in “Citing FamilySearch images,” forum comment, Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage, website ( : accessed 18 March 2014), path: Forums > Evidence Explained > Citation Issues > Citing FamilySearch images > comment #14.

     2.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 1st ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 59. The page is the same in the second edition.


  1. I will defend Family Search and any other source for citing full URL's. When we cite a book we include a page number, to take a researcher directly to the information quoted. Likewise with deep links to web documents: if a website has been restructured (and hence a broken URL) the citation should provide enough information to search for it, but just because it's on the web is no reason to be lax citation detail. How would you like if I quoted a web document and simply said "Google it! It's out there somewhere."

  2. 1) Your will index image is a good example for also looking at the previous and following images, in case of alternate and additional information. In this case, the adjacent (full) pages are blank, but I've seen duplicate (better positioned or more focused) images and images with obstructing inserts moved out of the way.
    2) I've found I can truncate most ancestry and FamilySearch urls to a few key elements. Always check to make sure the altered version still works. (Ancestry includes a lot of search criteria information in the long versions, FamilySearch adds navigation to other parts of the database).

  3. I have trouble with this all the time. Often "About this collection" will offer additional clarifying information about originals, but not always.

  4. The 1940 Census, show my parents with two sons?......we are two daughter, only children.. Our names were manipulated to be unusual names, most of our letters in our names......Who do you think was hiding what? This was the actual form. Our birthdays were corrrect....


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