We write during a canicule, a heat wave during which the temperature never goes below 20 degrees Celsius, not even at night. Fortunately, we are blessed with a country home of stone in which the ground floor -- where we are at the moment -- never has a temperature higher than 25 degrees, even during a canicule such as this when just now, the temperature on the other side of the door in the blazing afternoon sun is 38. We shall do our best not to become addled.
The fourth chapter of Jones's "Mastering Genealogical Proof" is one we have been reading with some interest, for it covers the procedures for and elements of proper citations of sources, with reference to Elizabeth Shown Mills's "Evidence Explained", the definitive work on the subject for genealogists in North America. Dr. Jones writes that every citation must contain at last five elements of information (which we paraphrase freely here):
- Who was the source's author or creator or, to be anthropological, informant?
- What is the source, e.g. its title and, if necessary further identification?
- When was the source created?
- Where in the source is located the piece of information being used, e.g page number or entry number?
- Where is the source itself located?
To our mind, the two reasons for citation of information sources are:
- To prove that, unlike Leonardo Andrea, you did not simply make it up; or plagiarize it, and
- To enable those who read your work to find for themselves the source and information that you quote.
Thus, a good citation is a set of identifiers that serve as directions for someone who may not know the source at all to be able to find it and then to find the very piece of information in it that you used. If they cannot, your citation is not good enough.
As citing pertains to French records, we have for some time been mulling over the recommendations given in "Evidence Explained" and have a number of concerns. We have written to the author and asked if we might discuss them with her and she has kindly agreed, but is not available to do so for a couple of weeks. We would like to elucidate some of our points here:
- It seems to us that it would be better not to give English titles for French records, except perhaps in parentheses, if desired. If, for example, a source is given as "French census of 1911" instead of "Dénombrement de 1911 - Liste Nominative", you only make it more difficult for the person who wishes to find the source you have listed, especially if you are citing a French website.
- The same holds true for sections of records, column headings, etc. They should be given as they appear, in French. Translations should appear, if at all, in parentheses. Again, someone looking at a French census return, will not want to have to look up the possible words for household, but should be told that the column heading is "ménage" from the start. By giving what is on the record, possibilities for confusion are reduced.
- French records concerning the population, such as census returns or civil registrations are organized according to the following administrative hierarchy: Département, Arrondissement, Canton, Commune. This is slightly different for large cities such as Paris and Lyon, which have arrondissments which function as communes. We do not understand why "Evidence Explained" omits the canton in some cases.
- In citing jurisdiction, we think that all of the above should be given, with the addition of the unique INSEE code for the commune (as we have suggested before). This would allow for the shorter citation to give only the commune with the INSEE code and the Département.
- The recording of births or baptisms, marriages and deaths or burials in France can seem confusing but is not. Essentially:
- Baptisms, marriages and burials performed by a priest or pastor were recorded in parish registers which are called registres paroissiaux. Until 1792, these were required by law. After 1792, and the separation of church and state, though parish registrations continued to be and still are recorded, they are no longer required by law, nor are they considered to be a legal record about a person.
- Parish registrations were copied or often written anew by a clerk, or greffier; this copy was contemporary and was signed by the same people who signed the parish registration. This copy was held in local administrative offices.
- Both copies of parish registrations recorded before 1792 were placed under the authority of the state and ordered to be sent to the newly created Departmental Archives. [Correction : This is murky. Originally, according to Bernard*, p. 35, the church copy went to the Town Hall or Mairie, and the clerk's copy to the Departmental Archives; now, however, many of the Departmental Archives have both copies.] Churches, parish archives and diocesan archives do not hold any parish registrations prior to 1792 (well, some cheated, but most did not) but they do hold parish registrations after that date to the present. So far as we can determine, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) filmed French parish registrations, they filmed only one copy, the ecclesiastical copy and not the copy made by the clerk. However, Departmental Archives are now filming the clerk's copies and putting them on their websites. (The slight differences between the two make this useful to the genealogist.)
- From 1792, civil registrations, known as acts, were mandated to record births, marriages and deaths. They are called acte de naissance, acte de mariage and acte de décès. These are the rough equivalent of what are known as vital records in the United States. These were recorded in register books by the officier d'état civil. In a small commune, that function will be fulfilled by the mayor; in a large city, an officier d'état civil will be employed. Actes d'état civil are created in duplicate. One copy is sent, at regular intervals, often of ten years, to the Departmental Archives. One copy remains in the Town Hall, or Mairie.
- In citing parish and civil registrations, no standard English or French term should be used. We suggest that the French title of the particular register or film seen is what should be given. Sometimes, register books held all three types of registration intermingled, as they were written chronologically. Sometimes, births and marriages were in one register and deaths in another. Sometimes, each type had its own register. This is clearly identified in the title given on any digital version on a Departmental Archive website. To use a generic term will only create confusion, especially as the duplicate registers begin to appear among the lists.
- Following on from the above, the copy used, whether the clerk's the priest's or the mayor's, must be specified. As to which set is original, which a copy, which contains primary information and which secondary, we would suggest that, if the record contains the participants' signatures, there is a good chance that it contains primary information.
- We would warn against using a website page as the website identification. The ultimate home page should be, we suggest, the website cited. At times, this may be a Departmental Archives website but it may also be a general Departmental website, with the archives section having a sub-page, along with sports, libraries, taxes, and other local administrative activities.
We would very much like your opinions on these suggestions, Dear Readers and, as soon as we hear from Ms. Shown Mills, we will share her comments here.
We are aware that the many citation formats within genealogy software programmes do not really support full citation of French documentation, as per our suggestions. This means that many would have to be crafted in the category of "free form" or its equivalent, which is a bore, to be sure. However, if the goal is clarity, there may be no other choice.
©2013 Anne Morddel
* Bernard, Gildas. Guide des recherches sur l'histoire des familles. Paris : Archives nationales, 1981.