How to handle changes to Indexing

A question about how to handle changes in indexing. I view some online records of the Nova Scotia Canada provincial archives. They have digitized and transcribed and indexed the records but you can still read the original images. I cite the record as they have indexed it in my family tree "Fred Smith and Mary Jones married 6 May 1877 in Kings Co" plus the record book number, page and entry #.

See the search page at      <a href=""></a>

My objective is that anyone following me be able to find the record I am referring to. The online search ONLY allows searching by names and place and date NOT by record book #, page or entry #. So yes, someone could find the record with the information in my citation. as long as the indexes are unchanged.

But the problem is that I see transcription errors in their index. And I send them corrections from time to time. I don't hear back to know if they agreed with me or not and made changes or not but I expect that some of my corrections would change the indexing - usually in the names of the people which is the primary search key given their search engine. And I don't know how to deal with that.

Maybe the record is now indexed under "Ferd Smith and Maria Jones on 8 May 1877 in Kings Co".

I have suggested to them several times that it ought to be possible to search by record type, record book # and page #. They almost always get that completely correct in their transcriptions, so that would be the most reliable way to find the record again. But that doesn't seem to be something they're interested in developing at the moment.

Any suggestions on how best to handle this?

Submitted byGlenBon Wed, 08/17/2022 - 18:48

"John Alfred Irvine birth Granville, Annapolis County in 1868, Birth Registration: Year: 1868 book: 1801 page: 56 number: 5"

This is typical of the citations I am using and, when combined with the record source provides a footnote in my genealogy that reads:

" Birth registration available on now, John Alfred Irvine birth Granville, Annapolis County in 1868, Birth Registration: Year: 1868 book: 1801 page: 56 number: 5."

And if you go to this URL you can see exactly what I see that creates this reference:


But, having provided you with that example, it really does not illustrate the problem.

If I were to read the handwriting in the image at the given URL and discover an error in the transcription then I have a problem. Let us say, as an example, that they mis-read the handwriting and the man's surname is actually Irving not Irvine. I would send a correction in to the NS Archives and (I assume) they would correct their database indexing in the next 6 months or so (though I am not notified if such a change is made or not).

For someone to find this record with the CURRENT index they would search for Alfred Irvine and look through the list and select a birth in 1868 and that would present the image seen above. But if they change the index then the desired record would not be found by searching for Alfred Irvine anymore.

THAT is my problem:

1 - the Index may change over time and some corrections are quite drastic (not just Irvine to Irving)

2 - users cannot search by "Year: 1868 book: 1801 page: 56 number: 5.", they search only by surname (minimum required), optionally first name, optionally location, optionally year or year range.

With a bunch of work and guesses they MIGHT find the record even though it has been reindexed. So how can I cite the source such that someone else can locate the correct record at some point in the future?

Submitted byEEon Fri, 08/19/2022 - 09:28

Hello, GlenB

The reason you are wrestling with this as a citation problem is that you are trying to cite the record as a book you have not used, in an archive you did not visit.  The most basic principle of citation is this: We cite what we use.

You are using a database at a website. That website delivers you an image that you cannot access in any other form or process. Therefore, you cite the website, you cite what the website has delivered, and then you report whatever the website says is its source.

I understand your frustration with errors in the database and website structures that don't let us access records the way that would help us most. But those are different issues that I’ll discuss later in this response. Handling those issues are easier to deal with once we appropriately identify the source we are using.

Identifying Your Source: The Standard Pattern

From the construct of your citation, I’m uncertain as to what citation manual you are following. It does not follow a structure in any of the major guides I’m familiar with.

Evidence Explained at 9.47 provides a model for citing Canadian birth, marriage, and death records that we access online.  Applying that pattern to your problem would give us this:

“Nova Scotia Births, Marriages, and Deaths,” database with images, Nova Scotia Archives ( : accessed 19 August 2022), John Alfred Irvine, b 20 September "18__," Granville, Annapolis County, birth register image; citing "Year 1868, book 1801, page 56, number 5."

To explain the pattern, which applies to all databases we use online:

  • Websites, as a standalone publication, are cited the same way we cite a book.
  • Databases (or articles) at websites are cited the same way we cite a chapter in a book.
  • If we are citing a source that cites something else, then we add a statement saying what our source is citing.

The basic format is this:

Author of Chapter or Database If Shown, “Title of Chapter or Database,” descriptor, Title of Book or Website In Italics (Publication place = URL : date), specific item of interest; citing ……

Handling Errors & Alterations

You ask:

How can I cite the source such that someone else can locate the correct record at some point in the future?

Your goal is worthy. The reality is unsatisfying. Errors exist in every database—indeed almost every source, even the originals. As researchers, we cannot control errors that we do not personally make. All we can do is

  • cite, exactly, what we are provided at the time we use the source;
  • use the standard structure for that type of source, to ensure that we capture all necessary details and present them in an easily understood format;
  • then, in our research notes, explain the error we see.

For example, using your details for a transcription error, we might handle it this way:

“Nova Scotia Births, Marriages, and Deaths,” database with images, Nova Scotia Archives ( : accessed 19 August 2022), John Alfred “Irvine” [should be “Irving”], b. 1868, Granville, Annapolis County, birth register image; citing "Year 1868, book 1801, page 56, number 5."

As you have done, we can also contact the record provider or archive and point out the error, but we have no  control over whether or not the provider or the archive acts upon our suggestion.

The nature of alterations in the record delivery process is impossible for us to second-guess. As you note, websites do change their architecture—much more frequently than researchers wish. Realistically, that’s also a problem that has always existed. Even archives have changed their systems; records we once cited to a certain box and file might now be retrievable only by document number that did not exist at the time we used it. Or the collection has been renamed. Or the records have been moved entirely from the archive in which we used it and are now held at a different locale.

All we can do is to thoroughly and succinctly cite what we have used, following standard conventions so that others can easily understand our citation. That gives a solid grounding for others to use. We also cite, as you'll note in the citation I've provided, the date on which we accessed material at that website. In the case of structural changes by the site or the demise of the site, that date (for many websites, but not necessarily this one) will help us locate the material through the Wayback Machine.

Evidence Explained discusses a number of situations in which errors exist, website architectures have changed, or archives have been reorganized—demonstrating ways to handle the problems, depending upon the situation. 

Submitted byGlenBon Sat, 08/20/2022 - 15:59

Thank you for your detailed response. I recommended this chain of messages, your response in particular and the EE site in general when a similar question came up in a Genealogy forum.

The biggest problem I will have in implementing your suggestions is the fact that my 2 main genealogy databases contain #1 - 60k+ people, 102k+ events, 1k+ sources, and 169k+ citations, and #2 - 20k+ people, 77k+ events, 50k+ sources and 56k+ citations. Yeah, those look a little odd, I know. But the point is that it is a LOT to correct. Some of it I can correct in the Source record but much will require touching each citation. About 1/2 the Sources are online databases, many are books and some are letters sent to me from others.

I am certain I have done this all in a very "improper" way, but I started doing it about 25 years ago, with the computer tools available to me then, and as the tools have improved I have maintained consistency and kept doing things in the same way. More recent versions of the software now allow for sharing citations - multiple events for multiple people can all point to the same citation record. I think there are tools to help identify such situations and combine them and I'll look in to that before I consider taking on the huge job.

As for the changing indexes, I can no longer apply a "date when viewed" with any accuracy, other than "before August 2022"! But I do like your idea of adding [should be “Irving”] or the equivalent to the citations. I think I can do that with much less effort because I still have the emails I sent to the Archives suggesting changes. There are 18 emails with about 20 changes in each so that's only 360 citations, though most of them will have been used multiple times (multiple people, multiple events) and I'll need to find and correct them all.

Not a simple job. Would have been much easier to have done it correctly from the start ... but I was young and foolish and both my knowledge and the tools available to me were limited.

Submitted byGlenBon Sat, 08/20/2022 - 17:14

As an example - here is the Wiki page for the RootsMagic V8 software that talks about Sources and Citations. V8 is quite new and a significant rewrite of V7. Information in the Wiki is still in early days.

The running program includes links to internal tools such as Merge Sources, Merge all duplicate Sources and Merge all duplicate Citations ... but there is (as yet) no official documentation of these tools. I guess I'm going to have to play with a copy of my database and figure it out!