A source, sometimes referred to as a document or a record, is the "container" so to speak of genealogical information. Historians refer to sources as being primary or secondary. Genealogists see the fallacy of describing a source this way because it is the information that is primarry or secondary. The legal profession describes sources as being original or derivative, a much more practical approach. Genealogists prefer this finer distinction. Lets look more closely.
What is an original source? Original sources are created at or near the time of the event they primarily refer to. The informants, if not the creators, are in a position to know the principle facts first hand.
So, what's a derivative source? Anything that is not an original source is a derivative source: photocopies, digitized copies, microfilmed copies, transcripts, abstracts, notes, compilations, indexes, folklore, family traditions, etc. As you can see the range is tremendous. Of course one might have more confidence in image copy derivatives like the microfilm, or digital image of a record, than with a transcript, or index or my story about what I saw on the original document.
Many genealogy students need lots of re-inforcement activities to clarify what is original and what is derivative. Learning exercises that have them discriminate between the two types are important. One could use real documents, but practice could also be done using just descriptions like this problem.
"Study the list below and identify which of these is an original and which a derivative source. Be prepared to discuss your answers.
- Transcript of entries from the Prebble family Bible
- Gravestone of Willard Jeffrey died 1796
- Birth registration of Eliza Kent in 1871
- Will found written in the courthouse register of wills
- International Genealogical Index
- 1906 Census of the City of Regina
- Marriage Certificate hanging on Grandma McLean's wall.
- Newpaper obituary for John Matthews date 17 August 1913
- Photocopy of page from the Madison County Farmer's Directory of 1922
- Digitized copy of the 1860 Census of Lenawee Co. for the Hambrook household"
This is a practical learning exercise. I think we could return to this list again after we taught about the nature of Information.
Could you suggest another approach to practicing the concept? Try this. Look in your purse or wallet and extract one or two documents that have your name and birthdate on them. Are they Original Sources or Derivative Sources? Could you do that in your first lesson for beginners?
What do you think?