How to Add a Source - part 1: Provenance

Wednesday 3 April 2019 by Fouke Boss

Every time you add a new source to your research project, Centurial requires you to enter details about the source itself. Why is that, and how does it work?

The Source dialog

Every time you add a new source, Centurial starts off by showing you the Source dialog:

Now this Source dialog has 3 main goals, the first of which we will be discussing in this post. This first goal is all about you, the researcher, becoming fully aware of what version or representation of the source you are actually using and studying.

Source representations

Over the years, sources are reproduced for various reasons:

  • Some archives want to make their records available through their website, so they scan every record, creating digital images of the records for the visitors of their website to analyze.
  • There are many websites available that catalogue and photograph the graves at cemeteries, so that genealogical researchers like ourselves can look up certain graves over the internet.
  • Some organizations, like the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, have scanned many vital and church records from all over the world, creating thousands of microfilms.
  • Research websites not only create digital images of records but also extract all information in these records into database entries that are easily searchable.
  • Many books are later reprinted, translated or abstracted.
  • Certificates are created based on original records.
  • Etc.
Now every time a source is reproduced, a new version or representation of that source is created. For example, when a person is buried, usually a gravestone or some other marker is placed on the grave; this is the first or original representation. Later, a photographer may visit the cemetery to photograph each and every grave marker, creating a second representation of the same source. Again later, a website like findagrave.com decides to make these photographs publicly available, creating an online digital image of the same photograph: this is the third representations of the same source. If the website also transcribes the information of the grave marker, a fourth representation is created.

Provenance

Now when a family researcher is in the process of evaluating evidence on a certain research question, she or he will want to determine the quality of a source. An important indicator for the quality of the source is the provenance of the source. The provenance is the trail of representations, from the one you are studying all the way back to the original representation of the source.

The more generations a representation of a source is removed from the original source, the more information might be changed or lost, decreasing the quality of the source:

  • With every new represention, small or large errors may be introduced. A photograph may not show the entire gravestone. A transcriber may not be able to read the text of a record correctly, or may introduce a typo. A microfilm might be of bad quality, perhaps hiding some important detail or making it unreadable.
  • Also, being able to have a look at the original source allows you to have a look at the context of the source. Are family members buried in the same cemetery? How are the vital record entries arranged in the record book?
So it is imperative for a researcher to find the most original representation of the source available.

Entering the provenance into Centurial

In the Source dialog, the provenance of the source is the first thing to be determined by the user, so it is shown in the top part of the dialog:

Here, Centurial encourages you to state exactly what representation of the source you, the researcher, have been studying and analyzing. Now suppose you have visited a cemetery yourself, and you have located a grave marker of interest to your research. Then you have personally studied the cemetery, so that becomes your source. So you can go ahead and select the 'Cemetery' source type from the left side of the Source dialog:

You have now succesfully set the provenance to 'Cemetery'.

Now while visiting the cemetery, you probably took a picture of the grave marker of interest, and you will probably add this picture to the source in Centurial once the source is created. Please note that although you added this picture to the source, you did not study the picture, instead you studied the cemetery. So this picture of the grave marker is not part of the provenance.

But it becomes a different story if a family member or fellow researcher shows you a photograph of a grave marker. Then, you, the researcher, have not personally studied the cemetery, but a photograph of that cemetery. To set this provenance in Centurial, you first select the source type 'Photograph':

Then, either by clicking the 'Next' button at the bottom of the dialog or by clicking on the '[select Type]' link, you can select the source type of the second generation, like so:

But you of course might also visit one of the many websites that index and photograph grave markers on website. In that case you have been studying an online digital image of a photograph of a cemetery:

Note that you can use the context menu (available by clicking on the ) to insert, move or remove layers.

Source classification

This last representation is 2 generations removed from the original grave marker, but that most certainly does not make the source unusable, and it is perfectly ok to go ahead and extract the information from the digital image into Centurial. Just be aware that there might be more information available if you visit the cemetery yourself.

In Centurial this quality of the source is expressed as the source classification, which is derived automatically. In the cemetery example, if you visited the cemetery yourself, the source will be classified as original. If you studied a photograph of the cemetery, or the online digital image of the photograph of the cemetery, the source is classified* as duplicate original, which indicates that the source is not as good as the original, but certainly not by much as images usually allow the researcher to have a clear look at the original source itself. Summarized:

Generations Provenance Classification
1 Cemetery original
2 Photograph of a Cemetery duplicate original
3 Digital Image of a Photograph of a Cemetery duplicate original

* I just identified a bug in v1.9 of Centurial that marks digital images and photographs as original as well, this will be fixed in v1.10.

More examples

With the concepts of provenance and source classification now defined, let's look at some more examples.

Original Records and Censuses

Original records, created by government, churches, cemeteries or other agencies, can usually be studied directly at a public archive. More and more archives also publish these records online. Sometimes, only an extract is published online in the form of a database entry. As these extracts can contain omissions or typos, they are possibly of a lesser quality than the original source so they classified as derivative.

Generations Provenance Classification
1 Vital Record original
2 Digital Image of a Church Record duplicate original
3 Digital Image of a Microfilm of a Census duplicate original
2 Database Entry of a Local Government Record derivative

Again, including a digital image or screenshot from an online digital image in Centurial does not change the provenance: for your research you studied the digital image itself.

Authored works

Another class of sources are authored sources. Authored sources are usually published works, created by one ore more authors. These authors have most likely studied a lot of sources themselves, capturing their conclusions in a book, journal article, research report or newspaper article. Most of the time, authored sources contain a bibliography or some other overview of the sources used for their research. But in the end the authors are the source, not the sources they used, as they present you with their interpretation of these sources.

Generations Provenance Classification
1 Book authored
1 Research Report authored
2 Reprint of a Book authored
2 HTML Edition of a Journal Article authored
2 Translation of a Newspaper Article authored

Family artifacts

Family artifacts are documents, letters, marriage booklets, school certificates, scrapbooks, photo albums, etc. that are handed over within families from generation to generation. Most are classified as authored, except for certificates or extracts of official records.

Generations Provenance Classification
1 Funeral Announcement authored
1 Letter authored
1 Marriage Booklet duplicate original
1 Scrapbook authored

World Wide Web

Websites that contain pages, blogs, wiki entries or social media posts are classified as authored. If a website contains digital images of an original source, it is classified as duplicate original. Online database entries containing extracts from original records are classified as derivative.

Generations Provenance Classification
1 Web Page authored
1 Wiki Entry authored
2 Digital Image of a Census duplicate original
1 Database Entry for a Cemetery Record derivative

Personal Knowledge and Interviews

Personal knowledge is usually a great starting point for family research. However, be aware that memories can change, twist and disappear; therefore they are classified as authored. For your own personal knowledge, use the Personal Knowledge source type. For personal knowledge of someone else, use the Interview source type.

Generations Provenance Classification
1 Personal Knowledge authored
1 Interview authored

GEDCOM

One final source type we would like to discuss here is a GEDCOM file. GEDCOM is a format for exchanging genealogical data between software applications. When you receive a GEDCOM file containing information relevant to your research, Centurial allows you to import this GEDCOM file automatically. It will use the source type GEDCOM, and it will be classified as authored. This is because a GEDCOM is not unlike a research report: it contains the conclusions and interpretations of the author(s) of the GEDCOM.

Generations Provenance Classification
1 GEDCOM authored

One obvious exception is when you import your existing research into Centurial using a GEDCOM file. This is called import as a project, and Centurial will try to extract all the different sources from the GEDCOM.

Relocating sources

In the second part of this blog, we will be looking at the second main goal of the Source dialog: allowing you or other researchers to retrace your sources.