A Ghost and More Copies

In How many copies? I challenged you to find some more versions of the Abinger baptism for Alfred Munday. Did you find any?

Take a close look at this extract from the Ancestry digital image.

Abinger baptism extract

Abinger baptism extract

Notice that in entry no 22, ‘Alfred’ was written then crossed out. Entry no 22 records the baptism of Sarah Luff on the 9 November 1845, but it had not been written in the register when Alfred was baptised on the 30 November. The curate who performed the ceremonies likely made some sort of note of the details, either mental or written, and filled in the register later.

Parish registers are considered an ‘original’ source in American genealogist’s terminology, or a ‘primary’ source in general historian’s terminology. If you look very closely, ‘original’ might not be the first record. Examination of changes in handwriting and ink might give some insight into the length of time between the baptisms and filling of the register. I would need access to the original register or a high quality colour copy to make such an assessment.

In this post I have added another copy of Alfred Munday’s baptism to those available online, an annotated and cropped version of Ancestry’s digital image. In addition to the file I have uploaded, there are several files in different formats on my computer, a Photoshop file and jpegs saved at different resolutions. Copies downloaded or shared on social media will be further modified, producing yet more copies.

I could also print copies for the relatives who don’t do computers. I have received photocopied records from relatives, such as the example discussed in Copies of Copies, Citation and Source Evaluation with FamilySearch.

Remember, copies are not equal. The further removed from the original the copy is, the more reliant you are on information associated with it. You only know the above extract image is from Abinger parish because I told you so in this post, or from the filename.


© Sue Adams 2015

How many copies?

During recent discussions in the FHISO Sources and Citation Exploratory Group, Nick Hall suggested this baptism as an instructive example:

1845, 30 Nov, Alfred son of James & Lucy Munday

This entry, numbered 123, is recorded in the parish baptism register for Abinger St James on page 16 of a bound book of printed forms.

It is likely that you would not be permitted to inspect the original register, but would be directed to a copy instead. Popular records like parish registers would deteriorate through being handled by many people. The primary concern of archives is the long term preservation of documents in their care. The archivist is not being an obstructive pain, but doing their job.

Copies offer much wider access, especially to those who cannot easily travel to the archive. However, copies are not equal, so it is important to know exactly which copy of a record you are using.

I have tracked down as many copies of this baptism record as I can find. Here is how the copies were derived:


Derivatives of Abinger Baptism Register (Follow link for an interactive version)


I count 18 versions in addition to the original register. Can you find any more?


© Sue Adams 2015


Thoughts on Mastering Genealogical Proof: Chapter 4 Citations

During this week’s Hangout-on-air, I publically criticised Evidence Explained, widely regarded as an essential reference to genealogical citation. In particular, I find the examples for census and civil registration records in the United Kingdom confusing.

In this post I will examine one census example, a first reference note on page 304:

“1871 England Census”, database, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 September 2006), entry for George Lucas (age 33), Bromley St Leonard, London; citing PRO RG 10/571, folio 27, p. 3; Poplar registration district; Bow subdistrict, ED 14, household 9.

The original of this record is held at The National Archives, Kew, and its catalogue entries are arranged in several levels :

Level Reference Title, Creator, Date
1 RG Records of the General Register Office, Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys
2 RG 10 General Register Office: 1871 Census Returns
Creator: General Register Office, 1836-1970
Date: 1871 April 2
3 Subseries within RG 10 – LONDON – MIDDLESEX
4 Sub-subseries within RG 10 – Registration District 20.POPLAR
5 RG 10/571 Registration Sub-District 1C Bow.
Civil Parish, Township or Place: Bromley St Leonard (4)

There is extensive documentation of the parliamentary Acts, instructions, forms and resulting publications at Histpop Online Historical Population Reports.  The RG 10 subseries and sub-subseries follow the order of registration districts in the Registrar General’s Annual Reports. Sub-districts were further divided into Enumeration Districts, an area that could be covered by one enumerator. The enumerator collected household schedules (which generally were not preserved) and used them to fill in the Census Enumerators Books (CEB). The census record we have here is a page from a CEB. There could be one or more CEBs for each Enumeration District, and several EDs for each Registration sub-district.

Before the CEBs were microfilmed, each sheet of paper or folio was stamped on the top right corner of the front side, starting with no 1 on the first page of the first CEB and continuing the sequence through subsequent CEBs. Consequently, the combination of folio number and page number uniquely identifies each page within a sub-district.

To cite the original page following Thomas Jones “who; what; when; where in; where is.” format:

General Register Office; 1871 Census, England & Wales, Census Enumerators Book; 2 April 1871; Entry for George Lucas, line 1 [counted], schedule no. 9, folio 27 [stamped], p. 3, Bromley St Leonard, Enumeration district 14; Registration Sub-District 1C Bow, Registration District 20. Poplar, London – Middlesex, 1871 Census Returns, Records of the General Register Office, The National Archives, Kew.

The thing that is missing from the above is an archival reference, also known as a call number. The reference elements are included, but are scattered. The National Archives type of reference is a well established convention that is widely understood. If you were permitted access to the original, you would quote the reference RG 10/571 for the bundle of CEBs and RG 10/571/27/3 for the page, because that reflects the current archival arrangement and makes it easy for archive staff to retrieve.

Ancestry image page showing refernce elements

Ancestry image page showing citation elements

Now let’s take a look at the Ancestry version of this record. Ancestry often re-arranges records because the website deals with digital images rather that the original thing. Treating each image as a separate ‘thing’ within a series is sensible because each image is a separate file. This is different from the original CEB or bundle of CEBs that comprise RG 10/571. Ancestry’s card catalogue splits the census by year and country into separate collections. Within a collection, the breadcrumb trail shown above the image reveals the arrangement, the last element is the image number at the bottom of the image. A complication for this example is that the digital image was derived from microfilm, of which I have no details.

Citation of the Ancestry copy requires a layered citation, which gives details of both the digital image and original:

General Register Office; 1871 Census, England & Wales, Census Enumerators Book; 2 April 1871; Entry for George Lucas, line 1 [counted], schedule no. 9, folio 27 [stamped], p. 3, Bromley St Leonard, Enumeration district 14; Registration Sub-District 1C Bow, Registration District 20. Poplar, London – Middlesex, 1871 Census Returns, Records of the General Register Office, The National Archives, Kew; digital image from microfilm, Ancestry, “1871 England Census”, database, Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 27 March 2014), London, Bromley St Leonard, District 14, image 4.

I much prefer this citation to the Evidence Explained version. With census records I more interested in “what” rather than “who”, so I might change the order of citation elements or drop the creator. The title in the form ‘Census, 1871, England & Wales, CEB’ would make all my census records appear together in a source list. I could omit the first ‘Ancestry’ and abbreviate common terms. I did not give the full URL that takes you directly to the record because that could change, and it is rather long.

How would you cite this record?

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?’

Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013)
Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained. Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007)

© Sue Adams 2014