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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 2/12/2003

Making Copies

Genealogists make thousands of photocopies each day. One of the most popular spots at any large genealogical library is the photocopy area. However, making copies effectively is more than just seeing how many sheets of paper can be used in an afternoon. Organizing and documenting sources as copies are made will save significant amounts of time later. Even those who use scanners to "copy" material from books and other library materials need to include adequate documentation as they scan material into their computer.

The importance of documenting while researching was driven home to me at a recent seminar. An attendee approached me and indicated that upon returning home this attendee had realized a "great find" in the research notebook. The problem was that this attendee had stopped at several courthouses while on their trip and made notes that did not include what court case the information had been taken from. I'd like "Ancestry Daily News" readers to benefit from this experience.

Documentation While Photocopying
Photocopy the title page of a book to make a quick citation. Make certain to include the following information on the copy of the title page, if it is not on the actual title page itself:

--- Book title (the title page should have it, but one never knows)
--- Author
--- Date and place of publication
--- Publisher
--- Where you located book (not absolutely necessary, but helpful).
--- Call number (again not absolutely necessary).

Use the back of the photocopy to take brief research notes in pencil. Add bibliographic information on the title page if necessary. Also, use this sheet to record negative research results so you don't make the mistake of researching the same thing later on.

Watch the Copies
The cliché is true: haste makes waste. Before making copies, check the machine's page orientation and paper size so the original material can be aligned appropriately. Also look at your photocopies as they come out of the machine to make certain there are no problems (like white streaks due to low toner). If the machine has reduction capabilities, consider copying each page at 95% of the original size. Of course, the print will be a little smaller. Reducing the paper size will reduce the chance that you cut off items in the extreme margin of the page.

Citation for Unpublished Local Records
By their very nature, unpublished records typically have no title page. In some cases the title of the document will be written on the outside of the document itself, potentially along with a filing date and a reference indicating where the document was recorded. For documentation purposes, it is easiest to simply photocopy this information from the outside of the document itself (similar to the title page for a book). If the document has no title, that can be indicated. In some cases it may be obvious from the text of the record what it is.

Sample Titles
--- Will of John Rucker
--- Divorce Petition of Barbara and Conrad Haase
--- Final Estate Report for the estate of Bernard Dirks

In early records, this citation may be as simple as the title of the record book and the page number (look on the spine and front cover of the book for the title of the record book). For some materials, the record may actually be a packet of loose papers or a series of pages.
In the second example above, this record is:
Haase versus Haase, Divorce case filed November 1872, Circuit
Court Case file box 231.

In the third example it may be:
Estate of Bernard Dirks, Probate Case File 801.

Also, include the office or court that created the records and the current location of the records as a part of your "on the fly" citation.

Remember: Your citation should get you back to that same document if that need should ever arise. Creating "on the fly" citations with the intent of "getting back to the document" will serve the researcher well. These citations made in the field need not be made in precise bibliographic form, but they should contain the same amount of detail.

Source Linking
Keeping track of sources is important and it is essential that if a number of separate sources are being used that the sources be tracked as the copies are being made--not after you have left the research facility. A stack of loose papers can easily be dropped, resulting in an unorganized mess, hours of wasted time, and the occasional use of colorful language. Pages from different books might not look as "different" as you think once they have been intermingled.

Linking Each Page to Source
I directly link each photocopy to the specific source from which it was obtained very shortly after the copies are made. A "code" is assigned to each source. In unpublished records, I generally considered a source to be a specific document with a record or a case file. For example a source could be a will from a packet of estate papers, an accounting of the payments from an executor, or a bill of complaint in a court case file.

On the back of the first page copied from this record, I pencil in a rough citation for the document. Then, the code for the record is listed along with the page number 1. On the back of each of the remaining page from this record, I record this same code and the page's respective number. Then, I can easily sort the pages if they are later mixed up.

An Example
As an example, I copied several pages from a court case file in the 1870s. Three records were copied: the petition of the complainant, the master's report, and the judge's decision. Each of these documents was quite lengthy and full of legal verbiage.

On the back of the Petition of the Complainant from this case, I wrote the following:
Petition of Complaint, file date, Johann Habben vs. Antje J
Fecht etal., case file number, Hancock County Circuit Court

I also wrote PC H v. F, page 1 on the back of the first page. Codes PC HvF 2, PC HvF 3, etc. were written on the back of subsequent pages. A similar reference structure was used for the master's report and the judge's decision. Since the same person apparently wrote two of these documents, this worked particularly well.

Can't Read It
When making copies, avoid the temptation to write directly on the front of the copy itself, especially the part of the copy that includes the original document. If you later make a copy of that copy will you (or someone else?) be able to tell what was on the original document and what someone added later? Comments in the margin are easier to distinguish from the original, but can still be confusing. Instead, make comments regarding illegible items on the back of the document or on an attached piece of paper.

Plan Ahead
Pre-planning and organizing your research goals before you leave home will also help you document as the research is actually done and give you more time to do research at the remote facility.

I print out book citations from the library's online card catalog while preparing for my trip. I only put one book on each sheet of paper. Then, I make research plans for each book on its sheet. While at the library, I can use these sheets to keep track of what I do and spend even less time writing and copying book titles while at the library (since I have the library's citation for the book, I don't even need to copy the title page).

Using a Digital Camera or Scanner?
If the facility allows the use of these items, consider adapting these suggestions to the creation of your digital images. The use of folders and file names can work wonders to organize your material as you scan them. Dumping everything into one big folder is not the best approach.

Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2003, Inc.

Used by the author on his website with permission.

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