Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
An informant is a person who supplies information for some "official" purpose. Typically, the informant is someone close enough to a situation to have first-hand knowledge. For example, the mother of a child is quite often the informant on a birth certificate, and a relative or close friend is quite commonly the informant on a death certificate. In very early birth and death records, especially those reporting to church registrars, the event may have been reported by a more distant family member or even a neighbor. The relationship of an informant to the event is often noted in the document. An informant differs from a witness. An informant supplies information but certainly may not have witnessed the event; whereas, a witness is actually present at the event such as the witness to a marriage.
A close examination the informant noted for a particular event can provide vital clues in genealogy research. Knowing the informant may give you another family name to extend your genealogy; it may supply new knowledge of a relationship; and it may help you assess the accuracy of the information. It is important to remember that any information supplied by an informant can be in error, for one reason or another, and verification of data is the rule of thumb. Verification is also important for census records, as the informant is not known, and information was often supplied by whomever happened to be available; thus, one member of the family—or in some cases a neighbor or even the census taker--may be answering for an entire family.