citation of hard copy of one of 3 original copies of a will dated 1721 and held at the Borthwick


I am wondering how to cite a hard copy of a will I obtained from the Borthwick Archive. This is not a hard copy from a film from a copy in a book ( I am dating myself as this was before digital copies were made for research purposes) as you might assume. I originally sent for and recived a copy of this will (18 pages long) from the Borthwick. It was was totally unreadable. I complained. What they then did for me was to find one of the three original copies of this will, (who knew that scribes made three copies of original wills), repaired it so that it could be copied and then sent me a hard copy of this repaired copy .... all 80+  pages (he was a solicitor). Problem: how to cite?

Submitted byEEon Wed, 01/02/2019 - 09:46

Ah, Relativity, how nice it would be if all archives were that helpful.  It's also wonderful when archives provide copies of "original" documents—not just for the obvious reason of having a more trustworthy record but because we then don't have to identify all those extra processing layers that can affect the reliability of a record and its information. The question now is this: What kind of cataloging or "locational" information did the Borthwick provide you?  

As you know from reading EE 3.1, the introduction to the "Archives & Artifacts" section in which we discuss "Archival Arrangements," archives typically* organize their material in this hierarchy:

Record Group > Collections and/or Series > Files > Item or Piece

To relocate the record within the archives, we need to cite this basic information. Did the Archives provide these breadcrumbs? 

* The word "typically" needs explanation. Most archives outside the United States use this hierarchy, going from the largest element to the small. Conversely, most archives inside the United States use the same elements, but arrange them from smallest to largest.

Submitted byRelativityon Wed, 01/02/2019 - 11:55

Thank you for your reply.
I only have:
155 - Northumberland Archives
NRO 324/0.1/3

which I have just taken off the national archives website as the cataloging info for the " probate of John Ord of Newcastle made 1720 and proved 1721".

The actual will of course is not in the NRO Discovery site but in the archives of Northumberland ( I actually got my copy from the Borthwick as he held land in at least 2 counties). I had a researcher search the archives in Northumberland and the will was not to be found there in 2003 but was found by another resercher at the Borthwick. Unfortunately the records for the Borthwick and of course the Northumberland archives are not on line (such a PITA) and although I have kept all my email correspondence I cannot any more open my email archive for 2003 .... this will teach me to keep hardcopy of everything and my pile of paper will be grow quickly to be a mile high.

So is this enough or do I need more?


Submitted byRelativityon Wed, 01/02/2019 - 12:22

I should add (as I forgot that you are in the US and may not be familiar with the peculiarities of English record keeping.) The Borthwick archive is the archive for the Prerogative Court of York... the ecclesiastical province covering Northern England including the counties of Northumberland and Yorkshire and where a will of a person holding land in more than one county would be kept. John Ord could also have opted to have his will filed at the PCC (the Prerogative Court of Canterbury... the more senior of the two Prerogative courts) but I guess he did not.

Submitted byEEon Wed, 01/02/2019 - 19:38

Relativity, yes, the Borthwick Institute for Archives holds records for the Prerogative Court of York. The notations that you have been given do reflect the typical type of notation from UK government archives:

155 - Northumberland Archives
NRO 324/0.1/3

In addition to the more pattern to which I referred you this morning (EE 3.1), EE 9.48 and 11.60 will help you understand what each number in those sequences mean and provide patterns you can follow.

For more clarity, most government archives offer a descriptive catalog online—even when the records themselves are not online. Undoubtedly, you have studied the guides posted by the Borthwick. The UK National Archives also has a relevant guide for those records at Borthwick:…

Submitted byRelativityon Thu, 01/03/2019 - 10:36

I am now really confused. Yes I understand the  the National Archives notations for wills. What I am confused about is the referencing numbers (I think). For example, the will of "Francis Hutchinson" which you will be able to find in Ancestry here:

has the notation at the top of the page "PROB 11:Will Registers > 1737-1743 > Piece 714: Spurway, Quire Numbers 329-374 (1741)"

which I have always understand (mistakenly?) to be the file reference number for this particular will and should be used in referencing this will. 

Getting back to the will of John Ord, the National Archives notations for his will will lead you yes to the archives in Northumberland where his will can be found. Would there also be in addition the same kind of referencing as found at the top of the will of Francis Hutchinson.. and yes it is at the top of the digital copy I have and was obtained years ago from the National Archives. Would not also the will of John Ord be referenced similarly and would the finding aids and referencing be different for the hard copy will I obtained from the Borthwick



Submitted byEEon Thu, 01/03/2019 - 13:29

Relativity, when you cite an image in an Ancestry database, that "notation at the top of the page" represents the digital path by which Ancestry has organized its own images. (The same is true of FamilySearch and some other providers of this type.) In some cases, Ancestry (or whoever) does follow the exact cataloging scheme and wording from the original archives. In other cases,  Ancestry (or whoever) creates a path that reflects other expediencies that it has encountered in making that set of records digitally available. 

When we cite an image in a database of this type, we include that path in the field that immediately follows the parentheses containing the "publication data"—i.e. (place of publication=URL : date published or accessed). To indicate the path, we start with the largest element and work down to the smallest, using the "greater than" symbol to separate the elements or waypoints along that path. The image you are working with would warrant this citation:

“England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1834-1858,” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 3 January 2019) > PROB 11:Will Registers > 1737–1743 > Piece [Volume] 714: Spurway, Quire Numbers 329–374 (1741) > image 134 of 383, p. 132, will of Francis Hutchinson; citing Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11, The National Archives, Kew, England.

You'll notice that the URL to this citation is considerably shorter than the one you give in your message above. You appear to have accessed the image by searching Ancestry trees for a specific person and found one to whom this image was attached. Therefore, your long URL represents not only the citation to the original location of the image in Ancestry's database, but also a redirect to one person's page in one tree at Ancestry

When we cite the person page or specific tree as the source of the image, what happens when that person's page or the tree disappears from the site? That's a common problem, which means that our long URL no longer will take us to the image. It's better to drop the redirect from the citation—i.e., all that part of the URL that begins with the question mark.




I would suggest that the citation can be improved with a better URL. The URL that you have used is subject to change if Ancestry reorganizes their databases. However, a more durable URL is available. If one were to click on the title bar in the first line of the "notation at the top of the page", one would be taken to a page providing a description of the database--in this case, Database ID numbers are more likely to be durable than the URL for a particular image because the latter is subject to reorganization of the folders indicated the the slashes in the URL. Now if you examine the page giving the description of the database, at the top, right-hand side you will see a box labeled: "Browse this collection". By successively entering the data fields of the "path", as well as the image number, you will be taken to the record in question. So, I believe that a better citation of the imaged item would be: 

“England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1834-1858,” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 3 January 2019) > PROB 11:Will Registers > 1737–1743 > Piece [Volume] 714: Spurway, Quire Numbers 329–374 (1741) > image 134 of 383, p. 132, will of Francis Hutchinson; citing Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11, The National Archives, Kew, England.

Thanks for your dedication in responding to questions of this sort. I am learning a great deal.

Submitted byRelativityon Thu, 01/03/2019 - 15:32

The will of Francis Hutchinson I have had in digital format since 2003 or thereabouts long before Ancestry started to upload digital wills from the PCC at the National Archives of the UK. My reference then would just use the pointers on the website of the National Archives PLUS the reference found at the top of the will ... or am I still confused.
John Ords will.... since I have had my hardcopy for many years and obtained it from the it referenced with pointers from the National Archives Website pointing to the archives of the county of Northumberland and if so what about the fact that I obtained it originally from the Borthwick and not from the copy on film as well as my missing (if indeed the will is referenced the way they are at the PCC and I can not think why the two courts would reference wills any differently) data from the top of the will.

Perhaps less confused


Re the Hutchinson will, you can take either approach. EE would lean toward citing the digital image that is online at Ancestry, because that is the easiest medium to access now and the record is legible there. To that citation, you might append a statement that you also possess a copy supplied by TNA since 2003 or thereabouts.

Re the Ords will, from our discussions and explorations above, we've learned that this set of records in the county archives held by Borthwick is cataloged into the TNA system. Whether you cite it to Borthwick or TNA, the core of the citation is the same—the identifiers of the document, the collection, and the record group. The difference is the physical location of the records. Given that you obtained it from the Borthwick, which also has possession of the records, citing it to the Borthwick is logical.

Submitted byRelativityon Thu, 01/03/2019 - 19:04

I am sorry to have been such a nuisance and to appear to be quite obtuse. I had noodled around the Borthwick Archive site for a few days and have finally discovered that I can find reference to the will of John ORD d 1720 probated 1721 on the Findmypast website. So I have ordered a copy of the original probated file from the Borthwick which should give me all the referencing data I need plus hopefully any bonds and inventories I did not originally know about the first time round.
I have never in the past (when at university) had to include digital pointers and repositories for citations made in essays and thesis I wrote and am, as you can tell, having trouble getting my mind around it.
Thank you for your patience.

Submitted byEEon Fri, 01/04/2019 - 10:41

Relativity, no one is a "nuisance" in this forum.  But that word "noodling" is one I’d replace with studying. Noodling connotes an idling. Study pays dividends.

Many of those who lurk on this forum—and will read your discussion without publicly commenting—will learn from what you've shared. Particularly this: time "spent" studying the finding aids that archives offer, as opposed to "gathering records," will help them save time on many future efforts, even if they never use that particular archives again.  Documents offer information that applies to one thing. Study offers knowledge that is transferable to everything else we do.

The last sentence of your first paragraph also makes an important point. Even in college, and even in post-graduate studies, source identification is treated as a mechanical process—basically a formula to follow so we can show that we didn't just make something up.  But when we come back to historical research as more-mature adults and deeper thinkers, we realize that source identification is not just about “citing something” so we’ll look good. And it’s not about doing it by some formula, preferably the easiest possible. The real purpose of source identification is to understand each source so that we can judge its reliability and, thereby, make sound conclusions.

And yes, that’s a skill we should be learning in college. But  ….