Difference in Online Databases

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Cynwrigte's picture
Difference in Online Databases

So, I have a few records that I don't have the original documentation, but records of the documentation are available in several places.  For example, my parents marrige license.   There is an index of it on FamilySearch that I have cited (first ref) as:

"Texas Marriages, 1966-2010," FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:------- : accessed 06 Dec 2014), John Doe and Jane Smith, 01 Jan 19--; citing Harris, Texas, United States, certificate number ---------, Vital Statistics Unit, Texas Department of State Health Services, Austin.

However, it is also available if you search for the grooms name on the http://www.cclerk.hctx.net website, which is the offical site of the County Clerk of Harris County, Texas.  This gives different (not conflicting) information, so I obviously want to include it, but for some reason, this just feels different to me than an index on FamilySearch.   More, official, I guess? Should I be considering this as a registrar (9.31) instead?  If so, then would I cite it as:

Harris County, Texas, Marriage Licenses - December 1947 to present, entry for Smith Joe 19--; Harris County Clerks Office, Houston.


EE's picture

Cynwrigte, a database is a database, regardless of who compiled it. All databases are cited by the same basic pattern.  

However, a database is a different thing entirely from the original marriage license, marriage bond, or marriage return. It's a different entity from a page in a register of recorded marriages. It's a different entity from a marriage certificate. 

If we take our information from the database entry for a marriage event, we cite only the database. If the database offers an image copy of one of the various types of records relating to marriages, then we cite the image but also identify the database that provides the image. 

If you used the database for which the search portal is accessed at http://www.cclerk.hctx.net/applications/websearch/MAL.aspx and you are seeking a marriage license dated 1 January 2003 or later, then you have the ability to access an image; normally, you would want to do that and then you would cite the image.  

However, if you're using this database for earlier marriage items (of whatever type), then your only data will be the details in the database. That has to be what you cite. One column therein gives you data as to date license that was issued, date couple married, date record was processed, date of the marriage return on file, and the status of the license. Not all pieces of information are filled in for many couples; so the details in that column will determine how you identify the information you take from the database.  For example, if only the license date is given, you would want to explicitly identify it as a marriage license.

"Official" is no guarantee of accuracy. There are "official" originals. There are "official" recorded copies. And now there are "official" databases made from officially recorded copies of the official originals.  "Officials" frequently make mistakes in each copying process.

The Editor