Citing Courthouse Records vs. Authored Manuscripts: Are We Consistent?

cartoon of fighting pencils

Researcher Michael W. McCormick, in another forum, raised a question about Evidence Explained. The answer was too long to post there. With his permission—and my thanks for raising a helpfully analytical question—I’m using the Q and here.


I like EE, how it gives example for so much that the Chicago Manual doesn't. … I like the idea of including levels in the citations, citing what you see first, adding provenance, etc. At the same time I find small inconsistencies in the EE book that I personally see no particularly good reason for doing.

For example EE will start deed citations with "Burlington County, New Jersey," and their listing of the county clerk comes as a second layer as in "...; County Clerk's Office, Mount Holly" at the end of the citation. Most of the other document types have a style that if followed one might think that they should start the citation with "Burlington (New Jersey) County Clerk."


The author/creator of a county’s records is the county—the governmental unit. It’s not a particular clerk; clerks change. It’s not a particular office name, because office names change. The most consistent across time is the name of the geographic jurisdiction that created the record.

Yes, counties change their bounds also. New counties were cut out of bigger counties. But a county record book was still created by the county as it existed at the time.

The longstanding practice for citing a manuscript volume, wherever it is housed, is this:

Author/Creator, “Title of Manuscript Volume,” page number, identification of exact item [if needed]; Collection, Series, Record Group [if applicable]; Repository and City.

This basic pattern applies whether we use a manuscript in a courthouse, a university library, a state archives, or most other places. (Some special situations exist, which EE also covers.)

This is the pattern that EE follows for deeds, mortgages, marriage books, court minutes, and all bound volumes in a courthouse or city hall. Let's borrow a passage from EE's Chapter 10: Local & State Records: Property and Probates. At 10.5 (Basic Formats: Original Registers), we find these examples:

First Reference Note

1. Elmore County, Idaho, “Homesteads, 1898–1946,” p. 23; County Court Clerk’s Office, Mountain Home.

2. Baltimore, Maryland, Superior Court Land Records, Liber TR 11:144–45; City Archives, Baltimore.

3. Sussex County, New Jersey, Mortgage Book G: 404, John Bescherer to Gersham Coursen; County Clerk’s Office, Newton.

4. Franklin County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book 18: 155, William Timmons and wife & Samuel Witter and wife to John Gouter, 8 April 1839; Register of Deeds Office, Chambersburg.

As a comparison for the consistency issue, let’s look at Chapter 3, Archives & Artifacts. The QuickCheck model on page 101 treats a manuscript volume that is in a research library in the UK:

Major James Rennell, “Journal of a Voyage to the Sooloo Islands and the North West Coast of Borneo [1762–1763],” p. 12; MS. Add. 19299, The British Library, London.

The basic format is the same:

Author/Creator, “Title of Manuscript Volume,” page number, identification of exact item [if needed]; Collection, Series, Record Group [if applicable]; Repository and City.

Some items from a basic format may not be needed in a specific case. Some records are more complicated (or less complicated) than others. Some archival storage arrangements are more or less complicated than others.

That, of course, is why EE encourages researchers to think about each source they are using, to thoughtfully decide what is needed in each specific case, and then adapt the basic format to fit the situation at hand.

Consistency is valuable. But so is flexibility.

IMAGE CREDIT: "Pen Pencil Fight," PRESENTER MEDIA ( : downloaded 2 September 2018), item 240049, used under subscription-based license.

HOW TO CITE: Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Courthosue Records vs. Authored Manuscripts: Are We Consistent," blog post, QuickTips: The Blog @ Evidence Explained ( : posted 2 September 2018).