Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It's Gone! Now What?

Someone asked a good question following my citations webinar last week (still listenable here if you're an Illinois State Genealogical Society member): how do you deal with a situation where the image you have cited is no longer on line?

For me, and I'm sure many others, it's not an academic question. Thanks to a typically non-transparent Chicago contract negotiation, FamilySearch no longer provides images for many Cook County, Illinois, records, including this one which figures in my talk coming up in May at the National Genealogical Society conference in Las Vegas:

City of Chicago, Department of Health, Record of Death no. 2510, George Edw. Chilcote 1914; digital image, “Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1922,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 September 2011), citing Family History Library microfilm 1,239,982.
Technically the citation is still accurate, as the image was there on the date of access. But it's no longer available. The index remains, but relying exclusively on indexes is no fun and bad genealogy.

I still have almost three months to make up my mind, but three -- make that four -- courses of action seem appropriate:

(1) At a minimum, add a note saying that the image is no longer available on the site, and possibly not on the internet at all.

(2) Refer to an alternative. In this case, the obvious alternative is the Cook County Clerk's site. This site does have an index and a reasonable open-records policy, but charges $15 per copy and has a notoriously incomplete index. Mr. Chilcote's 1914 death is not indexed there, so at best ordering it will be an adventure.

(3) In my case, since I downloaded the image when the opportunity was there, I can cite it as an item in my own possession, much as I would a family quilt.

(4) If you didn't download the image when the opportunity was there, you could order the microfilm and view and cite that, or view it somewhere that has the microfilm on indefinite loan, or hire someone to do so for you.

Other thoughts welcome . . .

Harold Henderson, "It's Gone! Now What?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Michele Simmons Lewis said...

My choice would be to add a note to your original citation that states the image is no longer available online but a copy is in your possession.

Anne Gillespie Mitchell said...

I agree with Michelle. Add a comment to the citation.

And I always tell people DOWNLOAD the image when you find it. You never know what will change.

Jana Last said...

I just wanted to let you know that this post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a great weekend!