Citing U.S. census records

Could you please verify for me the difference between QuickCheck Model Digital Images Federal Census (U.S.) on page 237 and QuickCheck Model Microfilm: Population Schedules 1880-1940 on page 248 of the 3rd. edition of Evidence Explained. It seems that on page 237 Ancestry copied the image from microfilm held by NARA, hence the "citing NARA ... , roll 187." and the reference to Ancestry's website. The only difference I see between this citation and the one on page 248 is that the word citing is not used and there is no reference to a website. I take that to mean that the actual microfilm at the NARA was examined as there is no reference to a website. Even so, wouldn't it be better to show the website for NARA where someone could find the document. Also, on a related note, how does a person locate the microfilm publication number and roll number for an image.  

Submitted byEEon Sat, 09/26/2020 - 20:55

Ron Stephen,

In the example on p. 248, you would be using the actual film. You aren't dependent upon any third party's citation to identify the film. Its identification is right there at the start of the film, as with the title page to a book you might be using.

In the example on p. 237, you are using digital images offered by Ancestry. Ancestry tells you that it took this census data from "NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 187." From the image Ancestry gives you, you cannot identify that film publication or roll number on your own. You are looking at isolated images that have been taken from a larger body, then sliced and sometimes rearranged by Ancestry to divide it into counties, subdivisions, and other parts. You are dependent upon Ancestry's citation for the identification of where those images come from. Therefore, after citing Ancestry, when you report the film and roll number you say that Ancestry is "citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 187." 

You definitely would not want to just "borrow" the citation from Ancestry, or any other source, because Ancestry and other sources sometime err.  If you silently "borrow" the citation, then you would be blamed when an error occurs. In fact, if you did so, anyone familiar with the source would know that you "borrowed" the citation and they'd blame you for that.

That one word "citing" has multiple purposes, all of them important.

Submitted byRon Stephenon Sun, 09/27/2020 - 14:35

Thank you so much for the quick response. In most cases I can substantiate all the other information for the citation straight from the image. But if I don't want to rely on Ancestry and want to verify the microfilm production number and the roll number, I have to find the original film. Is that correct. Or should I just use the production number and roll provided by Ancestry?

Thank you,


Submitted byEEon Sun, 09/27/2020 - 17:40

Ron, this post in our QuickTips Blog "Image Copies: Originals or Derivatives" should answer your question as to whether you need to check the original record or an earlier created film. The main point from our earlier discussion is this: When we cannot identify the original from eyeballing the image, and we copy Ancestry's citation (or that of any other company whose images we are using), we should not just copy the citation; we should also indicate that we are citing what that company identifies as its source.

The caution here is not because the image from a respectable company may not be legitimate. The caution is that the citation given to us may be wrong. With every image-provider, regular users catch a number of instances in which the company or organization cites one thing but actually used another. As with every other publisher and publication, source identifications are created by human beings and human err.