Re: Primary versus Secondary

Adrian Bruce

On Sat, 24 Sep 2022, 16:56 Derek Heritage, <heritage-family@...> wrote:
How do folk decide between Primary and Secondary?
For example I would class most census's as Secondary as they are the work of an enumerator, ....

My personal view is that if we are too pedantic about the definition of Primary, we'd end up with virtually no Primary sources at all. Which might be accurate but unhelpful.

The information in a Primary source needs to be recorded by someone with detailed, personal experience of the event in question. I also consider that the record needs to be made soon after the event. (Some Americans don't apply this stricture).

The copy of the original that you see needs to be produced by a means that comes as close as possible to guaranteeing no fault in the copying (so handwritten copies normally turn the output into a secondary source but copies made by the Registrar are certified correct, so qualify as Primary for me)

That being so, I consider images of all censuses to be Primary sources. Yes, there is a danger of a transcription error when the enumerator copies the original householder's schedule, but it seems pointless to condemn the full series of censuses 1841 to 1901 as Secondary. Particularly when we want to distinguish the amateur transcripts from the images. 

Which really brings me to the point that classifying stuff as Primary or Secondary is slightly misleading - the important task is to judge the possibility for errors which occur *even in* Primary sources. For instance, if a birth is registered just on the time limit - is the date accurate or has it been misreported to keep the registration within the time limit? These sort of considerations are the crucial thing, not a somewhat arbitrary division between Primary and Secondary.

As an example, the assembled sources make it clear that the primary source for my granddad's birth (the certified copy of his BC) is wrong while the secondary sources (his baptism several years after his birth and my Mum's explanation decades after her Dad's death) are right. 

So Primary/Secondary is a starting point but not the full story, hence not worth spending too much time over.


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