Select Page

Looking at all the images

The Legal Genealogist has heard it more than once.

“Why do you bother,” the question goes, “adding information in a citation that says whether the image was on one website or another website? After all, the image being displayed is all the same.”

No.

No, it’s not.

Whether it’s an image of an original document or even a digitization of a published book, the quality can vary — considerably — and looking at different copies, we can reach very different conclusions.

Case in point.

Reader Jean wrote in about a ship passenger list that included an entry for an ancestor who arrived at the Port of New York in October 1891 on the ship the Dania. She was confused by information in two of the columns. It didn’t match up between Column 6 for for “Country to which they are Citizens” — where the entry appeared to say Russia — and Column 8 for “Hailing Place or Place of Starting” — where the entry appeared to say Steinort, which is in Germany.

The data in those columns seemed to match — country and starting place the same — for other passengers so why might it be different for her ancestral family?

The answer: it’s not.

Because the entry in Column 6 doesn’t read Russia at all.

Oh, it looks like Russia in the image of the passenger list that Jean was looking at:

Snipped image at Ancestry.com

Snipped image at Ancestry.com1

But it isn’t Russia. Take a look at this image of the list instead:

Snipped image at FamilySearch.org

Snipped image at FamilySearch.org2

Yup. It’s Prussia, not Russia.

This is hardly the only case where you’ll see this kind of difference between images. I’ve come across this in my own research, where one image is simply better, clearer, more legible than another.

The 1850 census of Winston County, Mississippi, shows my great granduncle John Elijah Robertson as an infant — but was he three months old? Five months old? Six? Eight? Any of those is possible looking at this image:

Snipped image at Ancestry.com

Snipped image at Ancestry.com3

But it’s obvious that he was five months old when you look at this photograph I took of a photocopy someone was kind enough to make and put in a vertical file at the Attala County, Mississippi, Public Library:

Photograph of photocopied census

Photograph of photocopied census4

And perhaps the best example of all? You tell me what the first names of the members of this Baker family are from the 1850 U.S. census of Monroe County, Indiana:

Snipped image at Ancestry.com

Snipped image at Ancestry.com5

Right.

Me, neither.

Talk about a mess. And it’s not much different, or much better, at FamilySearch:

Snipped image at FamilySearch.org

Snipped image at FamilySearch.org6

But look at how it appeared back in the days when we could still go page by page at Genealogy.com:

Snipped image at Genealogy.com

Snipped image at Genealogy.com7

Still not perfect, perhaps, but a whole lot better — allowing us to confirm that daughters Rebecca and Barsheba were living with parents Josiah and Nancy in 1850.

The moral of this story is, there really is a reason to say not just what image we were looking at but also where we were looking at it.

And, of course, the even more important moral… look at every copy of the image that we can get our eyes on.


SOURCES

  1. Passenger List, S.S. Dania, 14 October 1891, lines 90-96, Carl “Sandhop” family; digital image, “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 Dec 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M237, roll 578.
  2. Ibid., Carl Sandhof family; digital image, “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1891,” FamilySearch.org (https://familysearch.org/ : accessed 2 Dec 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M237, roll 578.
  3. 1850 U.S. census, Winston County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 373 (stamped), dwelling 809, family 816, (John) Elijah “Robinson”; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 Dec 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 382.
  4. Ibid., photocopy in Robertson Vertical File, Attala County, Mississippi, Public Library, Kosciusko, MS; photographed by JG Russell, 16 June 2015.
  5. 1850 U.S. census, Monroe County, Indiana, population schedule, p. 240 (stamped), dwelling/family 83, Josiah Baker household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 Dec 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 161.
  6. Ibid.; digital image, FamilySearch.org (https://familysearch.org/ : accessed 14 Aug 2012).
  7. Ibid.; digital image, Genealogy.com (http://www.genealogy/com/ : accessed 26 Sep 2009).
Print Friendly