Primary versus Secondary


Derek Heritage
 

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, but the 1911  England one as primary as it a copy of the original filled in by the householder.
Copies of Marriage, Baptism and Burial registers as Primary and  England Select marriages as Secondary.
Derek


colevalleygirl@colevalleygirl.co.uk
 

If the person who provided the information had direct knowledge of that information, then it's 'primary'.  So, as you say the 1911 census is primary, but the rest are debatable. However, the assessment applies to individual pieces of information, not the whole source. So the address in a census is almost certainly 'primary'.

Likewise, for a burial register, if it gives a death date or age, I'd argue that is secondary for the birth -- the person providing the information was probably not there at the birth, after all. For the death date and burial date and place, it's primary.


Mike Tate
 

I usually apply the ‘contemporaneous’ rule.

If the information was recorded about the same time it arose then it is Primary.

Otherwise, it is Secondary or even Questionable or Unreliable.

 

So I class most Census information as Primary.

However, the older the person, the Age and Birth Place details become less contemporaneous.

So a derived Birth Event that cites the Census may not be Primary.

This is typically illustrated by the Age and Birth Place becoming more varied for the same person in successive Census years.

 

As Helen says, similar arguments apply to Age and Birth Date or Place in Death and Burial records.

 


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.

 


Victor Markham
 

As far as I am concerned all census are primary sources simply because there is no other source.

What appears on census are not always accurate. It all comes down to what the enumerator is told or what the writer writes

Victor

On 24/09/2022 16:56, Derek Heritage 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, but the 1911  England one as primary as it a copy of the original filled in by the householder.
Copies of Marriage, Baptism and Burial registers as Primary and  England Select marriages as Secondary.
Derek


Paul Gaskell
 

 

Of course, it is really important to distinguish between the census enumerators’ books themselves or images thereof, and transcriptions and indexes of the records.

 

If we are broadly agreeing that “the census” is a primary source, then a transcription thereof is a secondary source, and an index prepared from the transcription is a tertiary source.

 

Paul

 

 

From: family-historian@groups.io <family-historian@groups.io> On Behalf Of Victor Markham via groups.io
Sent: 24 September 2022 18:40
To: family-historian@groups.io
Subject: Re: [family-historian] Primary versus Secondary

 

As far as I am concerned all census are primary sources simply because there is no other source.

What appears on census are not always accurate. It all comes down to what the enumerator is told or what the writer writes

Victor

On 24/09/2022 16:56, Derek Heritage 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, but the 1911  England one as primary as it a copy of the original filled in by the householder.
Copies of Marriage, Baptism and Burial registers as Primary and  England Select marriages as Secondary.
Derek


colevalleygirl@colevalleygirl.co.uk
 
Edited

Perhaps wortht pointing out that FH supports more granular assessments for those who but are familiar with ESMs work. (You might find her source templates over the top but her analysis of how to sssess sources is independent of the templstes.

Https://fhug.org.uk/kb/?p=11606]Citation Assessments


Adrian Bruce
 

On Sat, 24 Sept 2022 at 19:33, Paul Gaskell via groups.io <paulgask=googlemail.com@groups.io> wrote:

 ...

If we are broadly agreeing that “the census” is a primary source, then a transcription thereof is a secondary source, and an index prepared from the transcription is a tertiary source.

...

Agreed - although genealogists don't normally seem to use the term "tertiary" (logical though it is in this case).

Curiously, I think from my memory of reading Wikipedia, that academic historians do use "tertiary". And just to confuse matters, my non-academic memory also tells me that their concept of "primary" is somewhat different from ours as they allow transcriptions of (say) Latin sources into English  to count as primary sources, whereas I would count them as secondary given that errors could occur in that translation.

In the end, the crucial bit is that you think if there might be errors, regardless, as I say, of the label.

Adrian


BillH
 

My understanding is that things in the source are primary if they were written down at the time of the event.  For example, name and address in a census.  If the event occurred earlier like a birth date or birth place in a census, then they would be secondary. 

Another example would be a book written by someone who was there at events being described in the book.  This would be a primary source.  A book written years later about an event would be secondary.

A transcript could also be primary if it was done at the time of the event.

Bill

On Sat, Sep 24, 2022, at 12:25 PM, Adrian Bruce wrote:

On Sat, 24 Sept 2022 at 19:33, Paul Gaskell via groups.io <paulgask=googlemail.com@groups.io> wrote:

 ...

If we are broadly agreeing that “the census” is a primary source, then a transcription thereof is a secondary source, and an index prepared from the transcription is a tertiary source.

...

Agreed - although genealogists don't normally seem to use the term "tertiary" (logical though it is in this case).

Curiously, I think from my memory of reading Wikipedia, that academic historians do use "tertiary". And just to confuse matters, my non-academic memory also tells me that their concept of "primary" is somewhat different from ours as they allow transcriptions of (say) Latin sources into English  to count as primary sources, whereas I would count them as secondary given that errors could occur in that translation.

In the end, the crucial bit is that you think if there might be errors, regardless, as I say, of the label.

Adrian



Debbie Kennett
 

Wikipedia provides a good explanation of primary, secondary and tertiary sources:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:No_original_research#Primary,_secondary_and_tertiary_sources

 

I would regard birth, marriage and death certificates, parish registers and censuses as primary sources. Compiled family trees and biographies are secondary sources because they collate and interpret the records. For example, if there is a conflict in different sources about a person’s age or place of birth then a family historian will analyse and interpret the records to determine which record provides the information which is most likely to be accurate and publish that information in their family tree.

 

I know that Family Historian does allow us to record an assessment of citation but it’s something I’ve never done and I can’t really see the value in doing so. If the evidence from different sources is in conflict I will add a note to that effect against the relevant event.

 

Debbie Kennett


Bob Hunter
 

  1. No, Transcripts, whenever they are made, cannot be primary. They are inevitably subject to “Transcription Error”. (Witness, for example, the number of errors in Bishops Transcripts.)
  2. Similarly many parish registers are secondary, having been “written up” at a later date from informal notes taken at the time of the event.
  3. And at least in the UK, until we get to the 1911 census and Householder’s Schedules, Census returns cannot be considered primary.

 

BobH

 

From: family-historian@groups.io <family-historian@groups.io> On Behalf Of BillH
Sent: 24 September 2022 20:38
To: family-historian@groups.io
Subject: Re: [family-historian] Primary versus Secondary

 

My understanding is that things in the source are primary if they were written down at the time of the event.  For example, name and address in a census.  If the event occurred earlier like a birth date or birth place in a census, then they would be secondary. 

Another example would be a book written by someone who was there at events being described in the book.  This would be a primary source.  A book written years later about an event would be secondary.

A transcript could also be primary if it was done at the time of the event.

Bill

On Sat, Sep 24, 2022, at 12:25 PM, Adrian Bruce wrote:

On Sat, 24 Sept 2022 at 19:33, Paul Gaskell via groups.io <paulgask=googlemail.com@groups.io> wrote:

 ...

If we are broadly agreeing that “the census” is a primary source, then a transcription thereof is a secondary source, and an index prepared from the transcription is a tertiary source.

...

Agreed - although genealogists don't normally seem to use the term "tertiary" (logical though it is in this case).

 

Curiously, I think from my memory of reading Wikipedia, that academic historians do use "tertiary". And just to confuse matters, my non-academic memory also tells me that their concept of "primary" is somewhat different from ours as they allow transcriptions of (say) Latin sources into English  to count as primary sources, whereas I would count them as secondary given that errors could occur in that translation.

 

In the end, the crucial bit is that you think if there might be errors, regardless, as I say, of the label.

 

Adrian

 

 


BillH
 

That contradicts what I have read in several places.  If it is made at the time of the event then it is primary.  If so the transcription would be "derivative" rather than "original", but would still be primary.

Also, all censuses are considered primary for those events recorded in the census that are current such as name, address, age, etc.

We will just have to agree to disagree. 

Bill

On Sat, Sep 24, 2022, at 02:01 PM, Bob Hunter wrote:

  1. No, Transcripts, whenever they are made, cannot be primary. They are inevitably subject to “Transcription Error”. (Witness, for example, the number of errors in Bishops Transcripts.)
  2. Similarly many parish registers are secondary, having been “written up” at a later date from informal notes taken at the time of the event.
  3. And at least in the UK, until we get to the 1911 census and Householder’s Schedules, Census returns cannot be considered primary.

 

BobH

 

From: family-historian@groups.io <family-historian@groups.io> On Behalf Of BillH
Sent: 24 September 2022 20:38
To: family-historian@groups.io
Subject: Re: [family-historian] Primary versus Secondary

 

My understanding is that things in the source are primary if they were written down at the time of the event.  For example, name and address in a census.  If the event occurred earlier like a birth date or birth place in a census, then they would be secondary. 

Another example would be a book written by someone who was there at events being described in the book.  This would be a primary source.  A book written years later about an event would be secondary.

A transcript could also be primary if it was done at the time of the event.

Bill

On Sat, Sep 24, 2022, at 12:25 PM, Adrian Bruce wrote:

On Sat, 24 Sept 2022 at 19:33, Paul Gaskell via groups.io <paulgask=googlemail.com@groups.io> wrote:

 ...

If we are broadly agreeing that “the census” is a primary source, then a transcription thereof is a secondary source, and an index prepared from the transcription is a tertiary source.

...

Agreed - although genealogists don't normally seem to use the term "tertiary" (logical though it is in this case).

 

Curiously, I think from my memory of reading Wikipedia, that academic historians do use "tertiary". And just to confuse matters, my non-academic memory also tells me that their concept of "primary" is somewhat different from ours as they allow transcriptions of (say) Latin sources into English  to count as primary sources, whereas I would count them as secondary given that errors could occur in that translation.

 

In the end, the crucial bit is that you think if there might be errors, regardless, as I say, of the label.

 

Adrian

 

 



Bob Hunter
 

😊

 

From: family-historian@groups.io <family-historian@groups.io> On Behalf Of BillH
Sent: 24 September 2022 22:10
To: family-historian@groups.io
Subject: Re: [family-historian] Primary versus Secondary

 

That contradicts what I have read in several places.  If it is made at the time of the event then it is primary.  If so the transcription would be "derivative" rather than "original", but would still be primary.

Also, all censuses are considered primary for those events recorded in the census that are current such as name, address, age, etc.

We will just have to agree to disagree. 

Bill

On Sat, Sep 24, 2022, at 02:01 PM, Bob Hunter wrote:

  1. No, Transcripts, whenever they are made, cannot be primary. They are inevitably subject to “Transcription Error”. (Witness, for example, the number of errors in Bishops Transcripts.)
  2. Similarly many parish registers are secondary, having been “written up” at a later date from informal notes taken at the time of the event.
  3. And at least in the UK, until we get to the 1911 census and Householder’s Schedules, Census returns cannot be considered primary.

 

BobH

 

From: family-historian@groups.io <family-historian@groups.io> On Behalf Of BillH
Sent: 24 September 2022 20:38
To: family-historian@groups.io
Subject: Re: [family-historian] Primary versus Secondary

 

My understanding is that things in the source are primary if they were written down at the time of the event.  For example, name and address in a census.  If the event occurred earlier like a birth date or birth place in a census, then they would be secondary. 

Another example would be a book written by someone who was there at events being described in the book.  This would be a primary source.  A book written years later about an event would be secondary.

A transcript could also be primary if it was done at the time of the event.

Bill

On Sat, Sep 24, 2022, at 12:25 PM, Adrian Bruce wrote:

On Sat, 24 Sept 2022 at 19:33, Paul Gaskell via groups.io <paulgask=googlemail.com@groups.io> wrote:

 ...

If we are broadly agreeing that “the census” is a primary source, then a transcription thereof is a secondary source, and an index prepared from the transcription is a tertiary source.

...

Agreed - although genealogists don't normally seem to use the term "tertiary" (logical though it is in this case).

 

Curiously, I think from my memory of reading Wikipedia, that academic historians do use "tertiary". And just to confuse matters, my non-academic memory also tells me that their concept of "primary" is somewhat different from ours as they allow transcriptions of (say) Latin sources into English  to count as primary sources, whereas I would count them as secondary given that errors could occur in that translation.

 

In the end, the crucial bit is that you think if there might be errors, regardless, as I say, of the label.

 

Adrian

 

 

 


Paul Gaskell
 

 

Most of the census transcriptions that are widely used by family historians were compiled roughly a century after the census was taken.

 

There might be odd exceptions (although 100 year closure suggests this is not possible), but the LDs, Ancestry and FMP transcriptions, as well as those compiled by FHSs, fall squarely into this category.

 

Paul

 

 

From: family-historian@groups.io <family-historian@groups.io> On Behalf Of BillH
Sent: 24 September 2022 22:10
To: family-historian@groups.io
Subject: Re: [family-historian] Primary versus Secondary

 

That contradicts what I have read in several places.  If it is made at the time of the event then it is primary.  If so the transcription would be "derivative" rather than "original", but would still be primary.

Also, all censuses are considered primary for those events recorded in the census that are current such as name, address, age, etc.

We will just have to agree to disagree. 

Bill

On Sat, Sep 24, 2022, at 02:01 PM, Bob Hunter wrote:

  1. No, Transcripts, whenever they are made, cannot be primary. They are inevitably subject to “Transcription Error”. (Witness, for example, the number of errors in Bishops Transcripts.)
  2. Similarly many parish registers are secondary, having been “written up” at a later date from informal notes taken at the time of the event.
  3. And at least in the UK, until we get to the 1911 census and Householder’s Schedules, Census returns cannot be considered primary.

 

BobH

 

From: family-historian@groups.io <family-historian@groups.io> On Behalf Of BillH
Sent: 24 September 2022 20:38
To: family-historian@groups.io
Subject: Re: [family-historian] Primary versus Secondary

 

My understanding is that things in the source are primary if they were written down at the time of the event.  For example, name and address in a census.  If the event occurred earlier like a birth date or birth place in a census, then they would be secondary. 

Another example would be a book written by someone who was there at events being described in the book.  This would be a primary source.  A book written years later about an event would be secondary.

A transcript could also be primary if it was done at the time of the event.

Bill

On Sat, Sep 24, 2022, at 12:25 PM, Adrian Bruce wrote:

On Sat, 24 Sept 2022 at 19:33, Paul Gaskell via groups.io <paulgask=googlemail.com@groups.io> wrote:

 ...

If we are broadly agreeing that “the census” is a primary source, then a transcription thereof is a secondary source, and an index prepared from the transcription is a tertiary source.

...

Agreed - although genealogists don't normally seem to use the term "tertiary" (logical though it is in this case).

 

Curiously, I think from my memory of reading Wikipedia, that academic historians do use "tertiary". And just to confuse matters, my non-academic memory also tells me that their concept of "primary" is somewhat different from ours as they allow transcriptions of (say) Latin sources into English  to count as primary sources, whereas I would count them as secondary given that errors could occur in that translation.

 

In the end, the crucial bit is that you think if there might be errors, regardless, as I say, of the label.

 

Adrian

 

 

 


Edward Sneithe
 

Elizabeth Shown Mills defines it as:

1. The evaluation of material as primary or secondary applies to each individual piece of
information. Neither term can accurately describe a source or all content in a source.

Also the person providing the information must have first hand knowledge. A census entry can be anywhere between fanciful guess to very accurate. I once had a census taker ask his questions from outside through a bathroom window. He had no idea who he was talking to.

I would say all US census information is secondary unless as Mike says it is info provided by the census taker like date, address, etc.

A death certificate, I only use the name date and place as accurate and primary since a physician probably provided that and all the rest could have been provided by a second hand person.

In the end  I think you should make up your own rule as to how you will treat various pieces of information and then stick to it to be consistent


On Saturday, September 24, 2022 at 05:14:45 PM EDT, Paul Gaskell via groups.io <paulgask@...> wrote:


 

Most of the census transcriptions that are widely used by family historians were compiled roughly a century after the census was taken.

 

There might be odd exceptions (although 100 year closure suggests this is not possible), but the LDs, Ancestry and FMP transcriptions, as well as those compiled by FHSs, fall squarely into this category.

 

Paul

 

 

From: family-historian@groups.io <family-historian@groups.io> On Behalf Of BillH
Sent: 24 September 2022 22:10
To: family-historian@groups.io
Subject: Re: [family-historian] Primary versus Secondary

 

That contradicts what I have read in several places.  If it is made at the time of the event then it is primary.  If so the transcription would be "derivative" rather than "original", but would still be primary.

Also, all censuses are considered primary for those events recorded in the census that are current such as name, address, age, etc.

We will just have to agree to disagree. 

Bill

On Sat, Sep 24, 2022, at 02:01 PM, Bob Hunter wrote:

  1. No, Transcripts, whenever they are made, cannot be primary. They are inevitably subject to “Transcription Error”. (Witness, for example, the number of errors in Bishops Transcripts.)
  2. Similarly many parish registers are secondary, having been “written up” at a later date from informal notes taken at the time of the event.
  3. And at least in the UK, until we get to the 1911 census and Householder’s Schedules, Census returns cannot be considered primary.

 

BobH

 

From: family-historian@groups.io <family-historian@groups.io> On Behalf Of BillH
Sent: 24 September 2022 20:38
To: family-historian@groups.io
Subject: Re: [family-historian] Primary versus Secondary

 

My understanding is that things in the source are primary if they were written down at the time of the event.  For example, name and address in a census.  If the event occurred earlier like a birth date or birth place in a census, then they would be secondary. 

Another example would be a book written by someone who was there at events being described in the book.  This would be a primary source.  A book written years later about an event would be secondary.

A transcript could also be primary if it was done at the time of the event.

Bill

On Sat, Sep 24, 2022, at 12:25 PM, Adrian Bruce wrote:

On Sat, 24 Sept 2022 at 19:33, Paul Gaskell via groups.io <paulgask=googlemail.com@groups.io> wrote:

 ...

If we are broadly agreeing that “the census” is a primary source, then a transcription thereof is a secondary source, and an index prepared from the transcription is a tertiary source.

...

Agreed - although genealogists don't normally seem to use the term "tertiary" (logical though it is in this case).

 

Curiously, I think from my memory of reading Wikipedia, that academic historians do use "tertiary". And just to confuse matters, my non-academic memory also tells me that their concept of "primary" is somewhat different from ours as they allow transcriptions of (say) Latin sources into English  to count as primary sources, whereas I would count them as secondary given that errors could occur in that translation.

 

In the end, the crucial bit is that you think if there might be errors, regardless, as I say, of the label.

 

Adrian

 

 

 


Derek Heritage
 

My original question was prompted following my migration from Legacy to FH.
Legacy had a choice of 4 see image. Most often I was able to choose number 3 . I used  No  4  mainly when it was a Fact/event involving me, or a member of the family where I had personal knowledge.
I wondered how FH had treated this on import and discovered "Almost certain conclusion" it had decided was Primary.


Derek


Debbie Kennett
 

A primary source is an original contemporaneous record. In some cases we are only able to access transcriptions of the original record whereas in other cases we can see the original document for ourselves. Books are secondary sources because they interpret the original records. However, letters, personal diaries and autobiographies are primary sources.

 

All primary sources provide evidence but that evidence needs careful interpretation because those primary sources still contain many errors. The problem is compounded when working with transcriptions rather than checking the original record. Relationships, ages and birth places can be wrong in censuses. The father’s name on a marriage certificate is often a made-up name if the son or daughter was illegitimate. Birth certificates can be falsified or the names on the certificate may be those of the social parents rather than the biological parents. In some cases the parents might not even know that the child they were raising was not their biological child. DNA testing has revealed a number of switched at birth cases where the parents have brought the wrong baby home from the hospital.

 

Debbie Kennett


colevalleygirl@colevalleygirl.co.uk
 

The chief value of these classification schemes is to make us *think* about how much we can rely on the information in the source, and whether it could be wrong.

Personally, I never pay any attention to other people's classification because (as this discussion has shown) there are many ways of classifying a source (or better, a piece of information in a source) and, as I have no means of knowing what criteria somebody else is using, I prefer to do my own assessment.


Victor Markham
 

Personally I don't bother about classification what one gets is the only information that is available. What appears depends on what the people told the writers. They are not always truthful. An example is my father's sister (I thought she was his sister) she married a Smith in 1923. I have a copy of her marriage certificate. She listed her father the same as my dad's father. Problem here she was born in 1906 and my dad's father died in 1893. The registrar simply accepted the details.
Another instance when my father married his first wife his father's name on the marriage certificate was Thomas the same as his wife's father!

Whatever we find is what is available there is no other information so classifications don't really exist. I just add the details as there is no alternative.

Victor

On 25 Sept 2022, at 13:24, "colevalleygirl@..." <colevalleygirl@...> wrote:

The chief value of these classification schemes is to make us *think* about how much we can rely on the information in the source, and whether it could be wrong.

Personally, I never pay any attention to other people's classification because (as this discussion has shown) there are many ways of classifying a source (or better, a piece of information in a source) and, as I have no means of knowing what criteria somebody else is using, I prefer to do my own assessment.


Adrian Bruce
 

On Sun, 25 Sept 2022 at 09:38, Derek Heritage <heritage-family@...> wrote:
... Legacy had a choice of 4 ...
I wondered how FH had treated this on import and discovered [3] "Almost certain conclusion" it had decided was Primary.
 
How interesting.  The corresponding item in the GEDCOM spec'n is the QUAY tag, which refers to the CERTAINTY_ASSESSMENT. In GEDCOM that has just the values 0 to 3, not Legacy's 0 thru 4. The GEDCOM values are:
0 = Unreliable evidence or estimated data
1 = Questionable reliability of evidence (interviews, census, oral genealogies, or potential for bias
for example, an autobiography)
2 = Secondary evidence, data officially recorded sometime after event
3 = Direct and primary evidence used, or by dominance of the evidence

As I've said elsewhere in the past, that range makes no sense. If it's not Primary then it's Secondary - there is no alternative in genealogy (academic history is another matter - that has Tertiary). And reliability is a different matter that needs to go into another item, because, as people have said here, Primary information can be unreliable.

Presumably 3 from Legacy (Almost Certain) got mapped to 3 from GEDCOM (Primary).

In fact v.7 of FH introduced 4 optional flags for the assessment of a source in relation to the data being supported - A Warning flag about Reliability; A Direct / Indirect Evidence flag; a Secondary / Primary Flag; and a Derivative (copy, generally) / Original flag. There's no way to create those flags automatically - they are there if you want to think about them.

And again, the important thing is to **think** - primary / secondary are just guidewords to help us **think**.

Adrian