Genealogy Tips & Tricks: Carefully consider the source

Carefully consider the sourceBy Barry J. Ewell

Sources are anything or any¬body that provides data. Sources vary in terms of reliability. Original sources are most reliable, but derivative sources can also contain helpful and accurate information. An original source is one that is still in its initial form, such as a birth, marriage, or death certificate. A derivative source is one that has been modified from an earlier form, such as someone transcribed the information from the origi¬nal record.

More reliable sources are generally given more weight; thus, original sources usually carry more weight than derivative sources. But be careful and make sure to double-check the information provided from any source, since even reliable sources can provide erroneous information.

Always ask, “Who provided the information?” Information is the data provided by sources. The reliability of information depends on the credibility of the person who provided it. Primary information—which comes from someone with firsthand knowledge—is generally more reliable than secondary information—which comes from someone who learned it from somewhere or someone else. Primary information usually carries more weight than secondary information. An informant’s credibility depends on the way in which the information was obtained; how soon after the event the details were recorded; and circumstances such as age, illness, or bias.

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