Finding the Source of the Source on Ancestry

I am trying to create a source citation for a St. Louis, Missouri Declaration of Intent for a "Leizer Poupko" from 1932, found on Ancestry.It is grouped with his Petition for Naturalization, filed in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1937. If you have access to Ancestry, it is the first result when search  with his name. Typically, when I cite, I like to describe the underlying source, usually some NARA publication and microfilm roll. In this case, I am stumped as to the actual source Ancestry used. They cite some recordset that spans 1845 - 1911. But this is a 1932 record. They cite the NARA in Waltham, but reviewing their holdings, it does not seem they have it. Can anyone point me to a clearer source of the source?

Ancestry states:

Source Citation

National Archives at Boston; Waltham, Massachusetts; ARC Title: Petitions and Records of Naturalization , 8/1845 - 12/1911; NAI Number: 3000057; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: RG 21

Source Information Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

Original data:

Naturalization Records. National Archives at Boston, Waltham, Massachusetts.

Submitted byc0r8g30on Thu, 04/04/2019 - 13:18

From my desktop I can cut-n-paste. The link is


Submitted byEEon Thu, 04/04/2019 - 15:55

c0r8g30, thanks for the link. Ancestry does cite the underlying source. However, it is a source that was not published on microfilm. In such a case where you are not able to personally use the underlying source (the original documents in the repository) so that you can vouch for the accuracy of your source's citation, you'll want to use Ancestry's wording with quotation marks to show that you are quoting Ancestry exactly.

In this case, you'll need a 3 layer citation:

  • Layer 1: cite the original, as much as you can eyeball yourself.
  • Layer 2: cite the provider (following the standard pattern for citing a database at a website), along with the Ancestry image number.
  • Layer 3: cite the source-of-the-source, quoting Ancestry. In this, as is often the case, Ancestry cites it source in non-standard format. This layer would be ...

... citing "National Archives at Boston; Waltham, Massachusetts; ARC Title: Petitions and Records of Naturalization 8/1845 - 12/1911; NAI Number: 3000057; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: RG 21."

You'll notice that Ancestry puts titles of unpublished manuscripts in italics, implying that they are published, as well as identifying numbers in italics--practices that go against the grain of not just EE, but also CMOS, APA, and the other conventional style manuals, as well as NARA itself. Ancestry also put the name of the archive first rather than the standard U.S. sequence of progressing from the individual record up to the largest element (the archive and city) but then Ancestry backtracks to an intermediate element, then down to the smallest element, then jumps up to the next-to largest elements (the record group number: name).  These erratic deviances are another reason why you'd place quotation marks around the whole.


Submitted byc0r8g30on Fri, 04/05/2019 - 10:12

Can the source for ancestry be accurate? The record is from 1932. They list the:

range of dates for their source as 1845 - 1911

That is is from Waltham

However, 1932 is not between 1845 and 1911.

And going to the NARA website to for this NAI number ( and clicking on the link to "Record Group 21: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 - 2009" ( shows there are 14,871 items in that series, with 709 at Waltham (Boston). Scanning through that list I find an entry for National Archives Identifier: 595176 ( . This points to microfilm #M1368. But, Google-ing for that NARA publication (M1368), takes me to a FHC webpage that describes the conents of the Microfilm as not spanning to the year 1932 (,_Naturalization_Records_(FamilySearch_Historical_Records).

So, do I just cite what I see Ancestry citing? One of the points I have learned is to try and understand the sources. Here, I can not seem to really locate the actual source of the source. Do I add some further notation to the source, stating this?


Submitted byEEon Fri, 04/05/2019 - 21:49

c0r8g30, you've just made the case (again), why careful researchers do not just copy-paste (or even accept) the citation given to them by a provider. And why, when we do copy a provider's citation, we put their data in quotes. You might be surprised at how many similar cases I found in the preparation of EE's first edition. In those cases, I worked through the issues, notified this-or-that provider, and all were quite eager to make the correction ASAP so that EE would not use them as an example of what to do when a provider misidentifies a source.

In your case, you could either take the issue to the provider or contact an archivist at Waltham to ask for assistance in identifying that material. It seems likely that Ancestry's date-range "1845–1911" applied to an earlier incarnation of its database, after which a new block of years were added and someone then forgot to update the record description.

Regarding your last question/sentence: yes. Definitely add a note to your citation to explain the issues with the record's identification. Also note what action you plan to take, in case life sidetracks you before the issue is resolved.

Submitted byc0r8g30on Wed, 04/10/2019 - 08:55

I called the Waltham NARA yesterday and spoke to them. The archivist, Joe K (who gave permission to use his name), told me the source is not microfilmed. He provided the details of the source. So, if I were to re-write the whole source, all layers, I would do this:

Leizer (aka Eliezer) Poupko, petition for naturalization #179048 (1937) at USDC Massachuesets in Boston; digital image, "Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950," database and images, image 1586 of 2574, Ancestry ( : accessed  2 April 2019); citing an inaccurate NARA source. In a phone call to NARA Waltham (Joe K : spoke 9 Apr 2019), the correct source was given as: Petitions and Records of Naturalization, 12/1790 - 2/1991, USDC Boston, NID 595176, box 177, petition 179048. Ancestry also inaccurately records the birthdate of Lezier Poupko as 23 Jan 1932. In fact, that is the date of his declaration of intention. He was born in 1886.

Can you share any feedback please?


Submitted byc0r8g30on Wed, 04/10/2019 - 08:57

Oh, and I might update it to add a link to the actual NARA recordset:

NID 595176 ( : accessed  9 April 2019), 

Submitted byHistory-Hunteron Fri, 04/12/2019 - 17:45

Dear Editor;

Like c0r8g30; I am also finding the source-of-source references on Ancestry-related sites (e.g. HeritageQuest Online) to be frustrating mass of disjointed information, sometimes inaccurate and often unverifiable by the average person. Throughout EE, you've made it obvious that a good citation should have a nice clean hierarchal structure. To add what's offered as a source-of-source, even as a quotation, does not often seem to add value. Are there cases in which we should do without?

Submitted byEEon Sun, 04/14/2019 - 13:40

History-Hunter, despite all the frustration that careful researchers feel when trying to use Ancestry's "source descriptions," I would not recommend ignoring them. They're a necessary starting point. I  appreciate the fact that Ancestry does provide that starting point, despite the problems. Always, it's up to us, as researchers, to make sure we understand what we are using. Some website providers make us think more carefully about our sources, but that can be good.