Citation and Verification or ‘Where the hell did I get this from?’

Wh50 Marriage Mondaysen starting out, every budding genealogist collects information, but fails to properly document where it came from.  We get excited with our discoveries and forget to make note of how we came by it.  So, several years later, the computer says:

Bride: Florence Annie Lavender
Groom: Edward Harold Percy Adams
Date: 11 September 1901
Location: Wesleyan Chapel, Constitution Hill, Birmingham

In this case I did make a note of the source: Roger Thomas website (25 March 2005) with a URL (web site address).  Given that I accessed the website over 7 years ago, it might be a bit hopeful to expect the page still exists. Web pages are ephemeral things that disappear when the author or web master stops maintaining them.  Estimates of the average lifespan of a web page vary but generally suggest a few months.

Fortunately, Roger Thomas’ website does still exist, even though the URL I recorded leads to a different page to the one containing the marriage information now.

A better citation would include more information to maximise the chances of finding the relevant page even if the URL changed.  Michael Hait blogs regularly about genealogical citation from the American perspective at Planting the Seeds suggests thinking of the web page as a digital publication and treating it like citing a book chapter:

Roger Thomas, “Lavender Family Tree, Edward Harold Percy Adams (1875-1972),” Roger Thomas’s Family History Research (http://www.rogerthomas.co.uk/dsp_personDisplaycd8e.html?familyName=Lavender&id=57800 : accessed 4 September 2012).

I would add:

  • Information of interest: Marriage of Edward Harold Percy Adams and Florence Annie Lavender
  • The date the page was last updated is not on the page.  The next best thing is the date the home page last updated: 26 Aug 2012.

In this case the title “Roger Thomas’s Family History Research” and last updated only appears on the home page.  Unlike a book, web pages are effectively loose-leaf – they can be removed and added at the will of the author.  Publication dates of web pages are slippery things.  There is the original date of creation, and dates of each change thereafter, which are similar to multiple editions. So, it would be helpful if all the citation data appeared on the page to which it refers.  Of course, no web designer is going to add all that stuff because it would mess up the carefully crafted attractive page.

Umm, the website does not say where the information came from.  I should verify it from as original a source as possible.  Checking the civil registration index for marriages on FreeBMD is a good place to start, and confirms that a marriage took place between the right people in the Birmingham registration district sometime in the July-September quarter of 1901.  From here I could order a copy of the marriage certificate using the reference Vol  6d, page 359 from either the General Register Office (£9.25) or Birmingham Register Office (£10 plus £1 online processing fee or postage).

Another verification approach is to ask the website author, as they may have original documents.  In this case, the source is thought to be a now deceased member of the family (Bernard Sharrock), and Roger tells me some digging will follow and he is now much more careful to record where information came from than in the past when he “was always keen to move on to follow the line of research”(sound familiar?).  Mike, the other researcher behind the website also comments that he now has another project to document all the certificates he has.  Thanks to both Roger and Mike for their helpful responses.

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3 Comments on “Citation and Verification or ‘Where the hell did I get this from?’”

  1. Update: Roger tells me that the bespoke process of updating his website changes the single ‘date last updated’ and may change the URL for individual pages. That makes me wonder what Content Management Sytems (CMS) and other website generation software may do.

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  2. […] Citation and Verification or ‘Where the hell did I get this from?’ […]

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  3. […] I have previously pondered citations. What do you make of these examples: Copies of Copies, Citation and Source Evaluation with FamilySearch Citation and Verification or ‘Where the hell did I get this from?’ […]

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