Citing image of actual WWI Draft card (not from microfilm or online databse w/images)

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mecrymes's picture
Citing image of actual WWI Draft card (not from microfilm or online databse w/images)

Now that you can order color JPEGs of the original draft cards for $7 a pop, I couldn't resist buying a few. I'm a bit lost as to how to cite them though. For those of you not familiar with the process, you place an order, and then you're emailed JPEGs of the front and back of the original card. I'm inclined to think I should cite this draft card image in a similar manner to other copies of original materials from the National Archives, along with a mention of the fact that it's a digital image provided by the Archives themselves--a sort of mash-up of a manuscript citation;image copy citation.

What would the citation experts do? 


EE's picture

mecrymes, technology makes some aspects of life so easy and others so difficult!

Your current dilemma underscores, we think, the beauty of the "layered" citation concept.

  • Layer 1: Cite the record
  • Layer 2: Cite the medium through which we accessed it—i.e., physically in an archival collection, online, or via email
  • Layer 3: Cite the source-of-the-source details, if the provider in Layer 2 gives us those details.

Care to try this approach?

The Editor

rworthington's picture

Dear Editor,

Does this get close to what you are asking: (from my genealogy software program)

"World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942", digital image, The National Archives ( : accessed 29 January 2018), Draft Registration Card for James Thomas Lee, Birth Date: 2 Oct 1877; Serial Number U2087.

I am guessing that the Serial Number may not be required,

What Ancestry suggested that the Citation would be:

The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of New York; Record Group Title: Records of the Selective Service System, 1926-1975; Record Group Number: 147; Box or Roll Number: 354

I just picked on that I had done when trying to learn the full Reference Note for this type of record, I am gussing that I could have layered it with a "citing" statement.

My reasoning for my first example: It is an digital image from NARA, but I found it on Ancestry. Searching for the full name and birth date will find that record in that Record Collection.

I am probably wrong here, but sometimes, I don't provide enough detail in the Citation. (Reference Note, in this case). When I find that record on Ancestry, and want to go back to the National Archives record itself, that information is in my notes and on the Ancestry website. I shorten it because I can see the digital image.

Thank you for posting the question on Facebook and for the question on your Wonderful Forum.




mecrymes's picture

Yes, "layered citation" was most definitely the term my lack-of-lunch-addled head was reaching for earlier today, thank you. :-)

Because there's no online database involved with this record (it's a digital image of the original record, direct from the Archives in Atlanta via email), nor is it from the digitized Draft Card microfilm images we're all so familiar with by now, most of the models floating around the internet are of absolutely no use.

My instinct is to describe the singular record (the actual thing I'm looking at); then the form in which I'm observing it (in this case, a digital image via email); and then to cite the source of the source (which is of course the original record in at the Archives in Georgia). Here's what I'm toying with (which I meant to include earlier, but hangry-brain was driving at the time):

Doe, John. WWI Draft Card, serial no. 1234, [Local Draft Board #], [Town], [County], [State]; digital images via email, Joe Archivist (, to M.E. Crymes, 13 February 2018, "WWI Draft Card for John Doe."; citing Draft Registration Cards, 1917 - 1918, Record Group 163: Records of the Selective Service System (World War I), 1917 - 1939, National Archives at Atlanta, Morrow, GA.

I'm not feeling especially confident about it, particularly with regard to the first layer--and I feel like the second layer may need to be longer in terms of where the email is in MY files. 

agilchrest's picture

If I ordered a pension file or any other copies of documents  from NARA I would not include, " photo copies made by so & so...."  or recieved in a letter on such and such date. Nor would I put I didn't view the original but viewed a copy. That information would be included in my working notes and not a citation. Personally I don't see a difference between recieving a copy digitally or on paper. In my working citation I might add "Recieved as a color digital image." at the end of the citation. Other wise that information would be in my working notes.

This would be my citation:

John Doe,  Draft Card, serial no. 1234, [Local Draft Board #], [Town], [County], [State]; Draft Registration Cards, 19171918, Records of the Selective Service System (World War I), Record Group 163; National Archives, Atlanta, GA.

Ann Gilchrest


mecrymes's picture

I tend to agree with you, Ann, (which is part of why I found myself so frustrated yesterday) but I'm also inclined to think the citation should make it clear that I did not examine the actual record itself in person. With no disrespect to the working archivists at NARA, it's hard for me to know if a page was missed or cut off when I receive copies (either digitally or the old-fashioned way). In the case of a draft card, it's a simple front and back deal and therefore unlikely to be incomplete in anyway, but with a land entry file or a personnel record the room for error is much greater.

I do believe that long-established best practice leans your way, however, otherwise there would be models upon models for citing the provenance of copies of originals provided via the good ol' USPS. :)

Perhaps the most practical thing is to cite the draft card image as I would any other physical item from the archives in terms of writing up the research (as in your example), and add the extra information about the provenance of my particular copy on the actual image files themselves (as in my crack at it, posted up the thread).


agilchrest's picture

I have been there, thinking about all the ways I could write up the providence of how I came by a record. For example citing microfilm from SLC. When I go to Salt Lake I have digitally scanned entire rolls of microfilm. I finally just decided to write my citations as if I was looking at the microfilm on the readers at the library. I sometimes add a note if appropriate, that I digital enhanced the image. But I don't even put in my citation that I used a digital image I made from the microfilm in the library.

I maybe the odd duck, but when I see a citation to anything from NARA or any archive for that matter, my assumption is not that the person examined the original record at the archive. My assumption is that it was a record that was copied in some way either by an archivist or the researcher and sent or given to the researcher in some way. 

In many archives you are not allowed to make the copies an archivist has to. At an archive in Bavaria I found letters written from Minnesota to Bavaria. The archives had to make the copies and then they would only mail them to me on a disc or on paper. I made a note of the number of pages just to make sure I got them all. But that was no guarantee that I got them all.

I sometimes think that as genealogists we what to turn our citations into a citation plus research notes, having trouble figuring out when the citation ends and the research notes begin.