Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Do I cite the Entire Census or the Page?

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I have just read your article on sources and citations (May 26, 2010).  I agree that such terms should be properly defined to avoid ambiguity.

I have constructed my UK family tree, using BMD indexes to determine the basic structure of the family relationships.  To record it I used PAF and, more recently, converted to Ancestral Quest v14. 

I now wish to add the information about residential addresses and occupations that I can find in the published census returns.  To do this in AQ I need to associate the information with events in the individual's "timeline". However, the "event" is the census process itself, which is also the ultimate "source" of such information - on a national scale.  Furthermore, if I wish to include a scan of the relevant census page, AQ only makes a provision for this in a "source" record.

So, is the source the relevant census page, or is it the entire collection of records for that year?

I tried to get help from the [AncestralQuest] email group, but they didn't seem to understand my difficulty.

Are you able to advise me on how census derived information should be recorded in family histories?

Kind regards,
Paul Grant

Dear Paul,

It’s kind of scary going back five years and seeing what I wrote about citations. I’ve learned a lot since then. I’m pleased to see that what I wrote stands the test of time.

I’ve not looked at AncestralQuest citations since then. Let me speak generically so that my advice will be applicable to any revision of any tree management software. I will use dictionary definitions for source and citation. Ignore AncestralQuest for a moment, or the mismatched definitions will confuse you.

A census of a nation is a source. There is a citation that applies to this entire source.

All the pages for a county (or some other sub-jurisdiction) are a source. There is a citation for this source. It includes all the elements from the previous citation, plus some more.

A single page is a source. There is a citation for this source. It includes all the elements from the previous citation, plus some more. 

A line of a census is a source. There is a citation for this source. It includes all the elements from the previous citation, plus some more.

All of these statements are true at the same time.

Most tree managers provide some mechanism to speed citation entry. One can enter some of the more general details of a source citation into a data structure so they can be reused over and over. I will call this a Master Source List. When specifying the citation for a single fact, one references an entry in the Master Source List and then adds additional citation detail.

What you specify in your Master Source List is entirely up to you and the specific research project. The Master Source List feature (or whatever it is called in your tree manager) is there for your convenience, so you get to decide to what specificity you use a Master Source List entry.

  • You could specify the national census in the Master Source List entry and add remaining detail each time a specific fact is cited.
  • If the majority of the citations are for a particular county, one might wish to add a second entry that includes the county details. Add remaining detail each time a specific fact from within the county is cited.
  • It is conceivable, but unlikely, that a situation could arise, perhaps for a small project in a small file, where a majority of the citations specified a particular page. In addition to a national or county entry, one might have a Master Source List entry for that one page.

There are other considerations that might affect your decision:

  • How long of a Master Source List is too long? How easy does your tree software make it to find an entry when you need it? (I do most of my work in an Member Tree and has awful, awful, awful management of source citations. Any length is too long. But I digress...)
  • Will you be producing a research report that includes a bibliography? And do you want to use the Master Source List entries verbatim in the bibliography?
  • Are you collaborating with another person?  Making your citation entry optimal may not work the same for them.
  • Does it bother you to mix jurisdictional levels in your Master Source List? Some people may find it illogical and a violation of mutual exclusion. Others may find it too difficult to remember what they've done if they are inconsistent.
  • Are you synchronizing your tree with an online tree? Citation exchange is still in the wild, wild West. It may take some experimentation to learn what works best with your desktop software and your online software.

The bottom line is that the feature is created for you, not you for the feature.

---The Ancestry Insider

1 comment:

  1. Well answered A I, in complete layman terms for all to understrand