Friday, August 5, 2016

Darned Image Citations

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about the past. Yet sometimes records have anomalies. Some are amusing or humorous. Some are interesting or weird. Some are peculiar or suspicious. Some are infuriating, or downright laughable. Records say the darnedest things!

Let me briefly talk about two aspects of citations to online images.

I have seen citations that consisted of a URL only. I’m guilty of it myself (at least in my working notes). Is a URL sufficient? Consider the following two examples, taken from actual source references to the U.S. census. Neither one still works! A naked URL is insufficient because links rot.


The U.S. Federal census is now ubiquitously available on major genealogy websites. If you viewed it online, is it necessary to specify the one you used? Consider the following example.

     3.  1860 U.S. census, Jackson County, Ohio, population schedule, Scioto Township, p. 62; NARA microfilm publication M634, roll 992.

Depending on which website you go to, you might see this

Image sample from 1860 census from

or this

Image sample from 1860 census from Fold3

or this

Image sample from 1860 census from

If you don’t specify the website, others may not be able to see what you saw!

Darned image citations!

P.S. For extra credit, create complete citations for these three sources. For citation 1, cite Robert Black; for 2, cite Pearis Raymond; for 3, cite Lewis Rapp on


  1. That's fine going forward. But not of much help for the people following up on my sources. Most of my census work was done before the internet, from microfilm at the Wisconsin State Historical Society or the Family History Library. I didn't keep track of which one. (The Family Search catalog no longer lists the microfilm numbers.) Then when they became available on line, if the Ancestry copy wasn't clear, I checked They don't even have records any more. So even showing the website or the microfilm isn't always going to be the answer.

    Your example was before the ED was added. For later years, for browsing when indexes don't work, that ED number is essential.

  2. I know you focus on Ancestry and FamilySearch, but Internet Archive has very high quality images of all US Federal census records. They are not indexed, but they are fairly easy to page through and the download quality is excellent. If a genealogy website has a terrible image, you can use the ED and the volume reel info to find the census on Internet Archive and get a great image. Also, I have found browsing the images helps me understand the records and find more than I expected.