Monday, 30 May 2016

ESM's QuickLessons A DearMYRTLE Genealogy Study Group Lesson 10

Hilary Gadsby

QuickLesson 10: Original Records, Image Copies, and Derivatives    
Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 10: Original Records, Image Copies, and Derivatives,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( : accessed 25 May 2016). 

This lesson discusses the sources we use, to find the information, to assist us in constructing the evidence we need, to prove our assertions.
We use various records and we need to be aware of how much weight we should give to each one that we find. 
Is a transcription worth as much as a photocopy?

For my first example I would like to show you some digital photographs that I took in 2005.

These were taken in Southampton Archives 14th October 2005. The first shows the index card which helped me find the original document. This card also mentions the page 76 which is the second image here. Unfortunately I had cut off the top of the page in this photograph. But I did take more photographs.

If you look at the top of the page it mentions both page 72 and page 79. I missed this whilst I was at the archives but because I had taken the photographs I was able to ask them for a digital copy of the other page. It did not add much to what I discovered but I now had the complete record.

Given the amount of information in this document I decided to make a transcription of the examination of Mary Eley which can be found on my family blog.

So to sum up for this one record I have used an index, original record, made a digital photograph and transcription of that original.
Which of these would you trust if you only had one of them to provide the information?

For my second record selection I would like to consider the marriage records in England and Wales after civil registration was introduced.

Unless we know exactly where our couple married we will rely on the indexes created by the General Register Office which can be searched online. 
FreeBMD is a free website which is transcribing these indexes using volunteers.

This image shows the results of a search for a marriage of George Clarke in the Hartley Wintney district in the September quarter 1874 the only other person on that page in Volume 2c was Elizabeth Perrey.

This website also has images of the index available so that any search results can be checked against the image used for the transcription you just click on the symbol as instructed to reveal the scan.
The indexes however are not complete and the images can be difficult to read. It can be a very much a guessing game with common names in densely populated areas. 

Once you have your index entry you then apply to the General Register Office for a certificate or more correctly a certified copy of an entry in the register that they hold.

The certificate issued by the General Register Office.

The register held by the General Register Office is a copy and not the original.

The person officiating at the marriage, if it took place in a church, would make 2 copies one for the church and another for the registrar.

This image downloaded from the Ancestry website is of the Register held at the Surrey History Centre which would have been the register the church held.

Whilst the information in the certificate and the scanned copy of the register appears to be identical, in this case, there is still the possibility that an error may occur whilst transcribing the record to be kept at the General Register Office.
Careful study of the handwriting reveals the clues.

Hand written copy of a Marriage Entry issued by a local Register Office.

I have a few handwritten certificates, issued by the local Register Office, who hold one copy of the original registers. However these may be prone to transcription errors unlike the marriage entries which were scanned or photocopied. 
A handwritten certificate issued at the time of the event, such as that shown below is not a transcription, and may be treated as an original record.

If those photographs were taken by someone else would I know if something had been altered? 
Can I rely on the digital copy of the page I missed that was sent to me?

How reliable are the indexes and transcriptions we use?

I often have to correct incorrectly transcribed records from the well known websites. I can only do this when a digital image is available. What if there is no digital image available?

Not one of these examples on this page is a "true original". I could have adjusted the photograph or scans.

Elizabeth Shown Mills has discussed that the records might be considered to fall into two categories.
  • formats that preserve the original content (and sometimes the form); and
  • formats that process both the form and the content.

Quality issues can come into play when we are unable to read a document.

The handwritten marriage certificate, shown above, has a name of a witness which is inconsistent with my research. I wished to confirm my suspicion that the name had been mistranscribed. I attempted to view a microfilmed copy of the register. However it was too faint and I was unable to read the entry.

Was this due to poor filming or is the original unreadable? 
Has the copy held by the registrar deteriorated or was it a poor copy?

When we evaluate our records we look at them in context: 
  • who 
  • when 
  • how 
  • why  
  • where 
are the important words we need to consider.

We do not cite the original record alone unless we used the actual record. 

We need to include the format and where we found it or who supplied it.
e.g when I cite a certificate I have for my English research I state whether it is the one issued at the time of the event or who issued it and when it was issued if I have obtained a copy. 
The type of copy should be noted as this can have a bearing on the accuracy.

If we are aware of what we have before us, citations can be built, in such a way, that they explain why we have used the information in the way that we have.  
Making analysis and writing our proof much easier.

No comments: