primary information

Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.

The word "primary" suggests the first and most important in rank or value and stands in contrast to "secondary" which is incidental and of a lower class or rank. The terms "primary source" in reference to a document is no longer used within the genealogy community; rather, the term "primary information" is used in reference to firsthand information, witnessing an event. Both original source and derivative source documents contain primary information, but may also contain secondary information -- information that may be known but not witnessed. Any secondary information contained in a document, whether original or derivative has a greater margin of error and should be verified.

A birth record, for example contains primary information on the date and place of birth, the name of the child, and the name of the mother, as witnessed by the doctor or whomever was present at the time. Any information given that is not witness by those present is considered secondary information. A good example is a death record, which provides primary information on the name of the deceased, the date and place of death, the cause of death, as witnessed by the attending physician. The information about the deceased provided by an informant, however, is considered secondary information, unless personally witnessed. The ability to recognize the two types of information is important in analyzing genealogical information.

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