Pulling containment and derivation together – An experiment with Evernote

In The Original in Context, I examined how archivists place an original item in the context of a collection, using the 6 core elements of ISAD(G), noted in red below. Now I will use 2 more ISAD(G) elements (noted in blue below), linking to originals and copies, to record the relationships between original source items and copies or derivatives made from them that I discussed in How Many Copies?. For an adequate analysis of any source for genealogical purposes these 8 elements are the minimum set.

I have also added ISAD(G) element ‘System of Arrangement’ to link to the next lower level in the archival hierarchy (noted in blue). ISAD(G) assumes the reference code and level are sufficient to describe relationships between catalogue records and leaves implementation to the developer. I have used a non-standard element ‘Part of’ (noted in green) to implement linking the next highest level record in the archival hierarchy. The following 10 elements are used in an experimental Evernote implementation:

  1. Reference code
  2. Title
  3. Dates
  4. Level
  5. Extent & medium
  6. Creator
  7. Part of
  8. System of Arrangement
  9. Existence and location of originals
  10. Existence and location of copies

Staying with the Abinger baptism example, I created a set of linked notes as catalogue entries for a subset of the records identified in the earlier blog posts. In light of further analysis that benefitted from the insights of archivists at the Surrey History Centre and London Metropolitan Archives, whom I thank with gratitude, I have updated the diagram that explored the derivation of copies:

Derivaties of the Abinger Baptism - updated

Derivatives of the Abinger Baptism – updated.  Interactive version here

For the sake of brevity and clarity of concept, I have included just one of the derivation paths in the Evernote implementation.   Marked in blue above, I have included the original parish register, Bishop’s transcript, microfilm, digital image, Ancestry database, and copies I made:

Derivation path of Abinger baptism

Derivation path of Abinger baptism.  Interactive version here

The means of derivation, discussed in What is an Item, has been colour coded: green means an extract/abstract, red is a compilation that includes material from other collections, and blue or purple are my research copies.

Evernote Implementation

Evernote is popular and widely adopted by the genealogical community. The free version is accessible to all. As I want you to explore building you own catalogue of genealogical records, these are important considerations. Evernote was designed as an organisation tool, not a cataloguing system, so there are some drawbacks. I am not suggesting that is the ideal tool for the purpose of implementing an ISAD(G) compliant catalogue.

Archival cataloguing software, designed to implement archival standards, would be an ideal tool for testing my ideas. However, I have yet to find a consumer friendly version of archival software that is both freely available and requires little or no prior archival or information technology knowledge for use or installation.

Screenshot of shared Surrey History Centre Evernote notebook

Screenshot of shared Surrey History Centre Evernote notebook

This is how I built my catalogue using Evernote:

I created a notebook that documents repositories, and separate notebooks for each repository including my personal archive. I stacked the 6 notebooks to keep them together and made each notebook public so you can view or join them. For Evernote users joining the notebook makes it visible from your own account. If you join all of the notebooks, you will be able to see the whole catalogue. The notebooks are:

  • Repositories contains a note for each archive notebook with a listing of its contents.
  • Surrey History Centre contains a note for each level of the archive catalogue for the original Baptism Register, as discussed in The Original in Context.
  • London Metropolitan Archive contains a note for each level of the archive catalogue for the Bishop’s Transcript.
  • Family History Library, Salt Lake City contains a note for each level in the library catalogue for the microfilm of the Bishop’s Transcript.
  • Ancestry contains a hierarchy of notes for the digital image and database entry.
  • Sue’s archive contains notes for 3 copies I downloaded or otherwise copied.

Each notebook also contains a ‘Table of Contents’ note, which I used as a quick method of accessing the hyperlinks to each note. I used these hyperlinks to connect notes within a notebook, representing the archival hierarchy, and between notebooks, representing derivations from originals and intermediate forms. Please explore. Does this work for you?

Can ISAD(G) represent all of the source information genealogists need?

This experiment has been instructive and provided some insights. It does seem that all the information needed to describe the traditional archival hierarchy, treated as a series of containers, is covered in the experimental example. The information needed to describe derivation of copies, if restricted to just one final item, is also covered. If you were to add more items to this example, would you still be able to trace derivation? I think that may require a breadcrumb trail of links to be recorded for each item.

Differences in the views of archivists and genealogists have become starkly apparent to me. Archivists describe collections from a top down perspective, starting with an overview and working down to individual items, and emphasize original items. Genealogists encounter individual items, often as copies, and then work out how things fit together. Typically the researcher starts with a database or index search, then progresses to identify image copies, and then checking the authenticity of the image.

Please try this approach out for recording information about your sources. You can use tools other than Evernote, as that would make an interesting comparison.

© Sue Adams 2015

The Original in Context

In How Many Copies? and A Ghost and More Copies I explored a variety of derivative forms of the baptism of Alfred Munday on 30 November 1845 at Abinger. Archives are principally concerned with the preservation of original documents, so archival catalogues place an emphasis on the originals rather than copies.

A guiding principle to arranging and describing archival materials is ‘Respect des fonds‘, the grouping of documents that share a common creator, purpose and use. Archival catalogues use a hierarchy to record the relationships between documents in a collection or fond.

The General International Standard Archival Description, abbreviated as ISAD(G) provides general guidance for the preparation of archival descriptions, and is intended to be used in conjunction with national standards. The purpose of archival description is to identify and explain the context and content of archival materials. This is achieved by applying multilevel description rules:

  • Description from the general to the specific
  • Information relevant to the level of description
  • Linking of descriptions
  • Non-repetition of information

ISAD(G) provides 26 elements, which cover identity, context, content and structure, conditions of access and use, allied materials, notes, description control. However, only 6 elements are essential:

  • Reference code
  • Title
  • Date(s)
  • Level
  • Extent
  • Creator

Using just the essential 6 elements, I will build a description of the baptism register containing Alfred Munday’s baptism.

Employing the description from the general to the specific rule, I start with the top level collection or fond:

Reference code GB 176 AB
Title Abinger, St James: Parish Records
Date(s) 1559-1979
Level Collection
Extent & medium 22 series
Creator Abinger parish, Church of England

The reference code consists of 3 parts, a country code, GB, from the recommended standard ISO 3166, denotes Great Britain; a repository code, 176, from The National Archives’ catalogue of UK repositories, which denotes Surrey History Centre; and AB which denotes the collection.

The creator of this collection, Abinger parish of the Church of England, deposited their own records, identified by the title. Although the repository may hold other Church of England records, it was the parish that deposited this collection, not the larger church. The level of collection indicates that this group of materials was administered by the creator, which provides a clear provenance. The dates recorded are the range of the whole collection, a general indication of dates covered.

The collection is sub-divided into 22 series, which groups materials that served common purposes and uses. The hierarchy view of Sussex History Centre’s online catalogue shows the variety of materials in this collection.

Hierachy view of Surrey History Centre catalogue showing Abinger parish collection

Hierachy view of Surrey History Centre catalogue showing Abinger parish collection

One of the series, denoted by the reference code AB/4, contains baptism registers created between 1813 and 1898:

Local reference code AB/4
Title Baptism Registers
Date(s) 1813-1898 (creation range)
Level Series
Extent & medium 2 registers & 1 enclosure

Rose’s Act of 1812 specified the format of pre-printed books to be used for Church of England parish registers. In order to comply with the law, parishes typically started new registers around 1812-1813. The change in the way Abinger’s baptism registers were created and used is reflected in the placement of post 1812 registers in a separate series.

I have recorded the dates covered by the registers in the series to comply with the information relevant to the level of description rule, and left creator blank to comply with the non-repetition of information rule.

Within the series of post 1812 baptismal registers there are just 2 registers, the second of which contains Alfred Munday’s baptism:

Local reference code AB/4/2
Title Baptism register
Date(s) Jul 1841 -May 1898 (creation range)
Level Item
Extent & medium Printed & manuscript book, at least 74 pages (last ancestry page scan is p. 73 has reverse print visible)
Creator printed by Shaw & Sons (137 & 138 Fetter Lane, London), manuscript by John Massey Dawson (JMass Dawson) rector 1835-1850, John Wellsted Powell rector 1850-1881, G H Feachem curate, E J Cathrow curate, East Apthorp curate & others

An item is a single document or artefact, in this case a book. I have recorded only information applicable to the book at the item level. As I have not accessed the actual book, I have worked out the number of pages as best I can from the images on Ancestry. I could have left the creator blank, but have chosen to record more detail than usual, including who printed the book and the main clergymen responsible for writing in it. I referred to the Ancestry images and Abinger parish website for this information.

The descriptions are linked by their reference codes. In order to fully appreciate the context and content of this baptism register, all 3 descriptions are needed.

The Surrey History Centre’s catalogue give some more information, particularly at the collection level, which may influence the interpretation of the records. Always explore all the levels of archive catalogues.

Individual records of baptisms, the informational content of an item, are not included in an archival style catalogue. Finding aids such as an index, abstract or transcript provide navigation to information within an item. You can expect a Rose’s Act type of baptism register to have numbered pages and individually numbered entries (p.16 entry no. 123 for Alfred Munday’s baptism) because that was specified by the law to prevent falsification of records.

A finding aid is one of those copies that were the subject of the two previous posts. Linking to them is not supported by the 6 essential elements of ISAD(G). I will explore other ISAD(G) elements in a future post.


© Sue Adams 2015

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