Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
An original source is the record an event created at or near the time the event occurred such as birth, marriage, and death records. An original source typically refers to the best and most reliable record for the time period. Records created and maintained by civil authorities such as county, state and federal governments, are thought to be the most accurate and non-biased original records; however, in the absence of civil records, other records types may be the best and most reliable. Information that has been compiled from original source documents such as indexes, although useful, are considered derivative sources, subject to error and less reliable than the original source itself. Where possible, it is always best to examine the original source or an exact duplicate of the original such as a photo copy, microfilmed copy or digital image.
A primary goal in genealogy is to primary information from original source documents. Vital records are among the most common original source documents. In the days before civil registration was mandated, other records such as Family Bibles and church records were the most reliable sources for vital records-type information. Many other types of original source records exist such as census records; land records; wills and probate records. Any given source may provide secondary information, and while this additional information may be highly beneficial, the record is considered an original source only for the event to which it directly relates. Where possible, it is always advisable to verify the accuracy of secondary information. It should be noted, that even original source documents can be in error; thus, it is important to verify any conflict of information across multiple sources.