Multiple dates for one document

From looking around and searching, I seem to be understanding that in a citation it may not be necessary to cite dates unless it is fundamental to relocating the record(s). For example, will books that have no number or letter but do have a date range would be something like: state, county, Will book 1840-1846, p300, etc.; while one that does have a number/letter would be something like: state, county, Will book J, p300, etc.

My question is, if you want to include a date for something like a will in the citation, what date would you use? The will is written one date, brought to court and attested to by witnesses months or even years after it was written, approved and ordered entered in the record on a different date, and finally recorded by the clerk on still another date. All these dates could be recorded in the Will Book depending on how much detail about the will being brought to the Court the clerk includes when recording it. Do you use the written date? recorded date? both? all?

Submitted byEEon Thu, 05/14/2020 - 18:53

AnnaR, most legal documents have multiple dates associated with them. Here's a quick list of various situations and best practices for each.

  • When we cite a "loose" document (typically an original in a file, not bound), it is common to cite the document date. That ensures that the right document will be relocated.
  • When we cite a bound register, we typically cite the title of the volume, as you note. If the title does not include a date, then it is helpful to state a date for the document.
  • If the date the document was drafted or filed for recording is outside the range of dates given in the register title, then we would also want to note the date discrepancy.
  • Whenever we feel a need to include a date for the individual document, the choice of date is determined by the need and our citation should always note what that date represents.

I'll also add one further pair of situations introduced by your example:

  • If the courthouse register title ends in a set of dates, we typically write "p. ___" before the page number, for clarity: i.e., Mortgages, 1839–1847, p. 23.
  • If the register's label is a typical combo of series name + volume number, a colon is typically used to separate the volume number from the page number: i.e., Mortgages, 2: 23.   This follows the same pattern as citing a journal article, in which we cite Title vol. no: page number—as in American Historical Review 52:103.