Privately held or a vital record?

I am in possession of an abstract of my mothers birth certificate she obtained from the state of Pennsylvania in 1972. I am not sure if I have a privately held artifact of merely a vital record of her birth. Of course if it is not considered privately held the citation is incorrect. I have treated it as a privately held document with the following source citation..

Pennsylvania. Department of Health. Birth Certificate. Vital Statistics Office. Harrisburg. birth certificate no. 87995-09 (7 June 1909), Mary Catherine Diethrich, certified copy no. 374003 dated 19 June 1972, passed from Mary Stephen (1909 - 2003), privately held by Ronald Stephen, address withheld, 2015.

I will attempt to provide the document for your review. 

Thank You

Ron Stephen 

Submitted byEEon Sun, 06/28/2020 - 19:11

Ron, if you acquired this from your mother, then it is a family artifact. If you obtain it yourself, then it is an officially supplied document that you cite to the office from which you obtained it. Even though an agency identity is printed on the certificate, odds are good (with birth certificates) that that a version issued in 1972 is not the same that the office issues today.

Regarding your citation draft, see EE 2.38 for the basic differences between a reference note (i.e., footnote or endnote) vs. a source-list entry.  Your example above is a hybrid of the two. It contains the essential data for a reference note, with provenance. However, each element is in a separate "sentence," as though you were creating a source-list entry. The result is seven separate "sentences" for this one source. As you study the examples at 2.38 (and everywhere else in EE), you will note that

  • Reference notes put all details essential to identify a specific source into one single sentence with a period at the end to inform readers that you are finished with all the details for that source.
  • Source-list entries, written paragraph style, do carry internal periods to separate elements. However, citations in a source list are generalized identifiers, usually citing collections rather than a specific document with all its locational details.

The provenance information that you've patterned after 3.25 is good. Chapter 9 offers a variety of birth certificate examples that also demonstrate the difference between creating a reference note vs. a source-list entry.

Thank you so much for your help. I see now that I will need to make some corrections in my source citations. As I understand your comments the difference between a privately held document and a supplied document depends on how it was obtained. Anything I myself obtain is not considered a privately holding.

Ron, yes, but let's rephrase that. The differences we're talking about are these:

  • family-held materials passed on to us, for which (a) we identify the provenance of the artifact as a means of helping ourselves and others evaluate the authenticity of the artifact; but (b) we cannot ourselves vouch for the processes, situations, or custodies that artifact went through before it came to us;


  • documents maintained by an appropriate authority that provides copies to the public, with reasonable assurance that the document has legitimate origins and has not been tampered with.

With everything we cite, we also identify where the record can be found, unless it is a widely published source that can be found in most libraries. That means:

  • In the first case above, the piece of paper we are citing is privately held, so we identify the person/place of that paper's custodian.
  • In the second case above, the record we are citing is in a public office and anyone who contacts that office should be able to get an exact copy of what was supplied to us, so we cite the public office.

Submitted byEEon Sun, 06/28/2020 - 19:15

Ron, I also note that the certificate carries a warning at its top: "It is illegal to duplicate this copy by photostat or photography." You might want to delete it from your query.