Question #3, from the Ancestry Research Poll, How many primary sources do you have for people in your tree?
Having sources for every person in your tree is important because it helps prove that a person belongs in your tree, based on proven relationships. The next step is to help prove that the information you have for the person is correct for important life events: such as birth, marriage, and death.
What is a Primary Source?
It is a document that provides information about the ancestor that was written at or near the time of an event, such as a birth or death certificate. A birth certificate would have primary information about the birth. A last will and testament, is written by the person and records information that is taking place at that time. Family letters are another great source of primary information when information is being recorded about current events.
What are Mixed Sources?
They are documents that have both primary and secondary information such as a social security application that was filled out by the ancestor. Death certificates record primary information about death, but the birth information would be considered secondary information, because that event took place a long time ago (unless this is a still born or baby).
Can you prove your person belongs in your tree without Primary Sources?
Yes, you can do this with a variety of documents that lists multiple people within a family such as a census record, a birth or obituary announcement, military records, etc. All these documents can contain information about a person and someone close in relationship to them.
Can you prove the events and dates of a person are correct without Primary Sources?
This depends entirely on where the information came from and who recorded the details. A person can use a death certificate to record birth information and most likely it will be correct. The same goes for an obituary.
First Hand vs. Second Hand Knowledge
Who provided the information, someone who was at the event is considered to have firsthand knowledge. If someone who was told about the event, at a later time, is considered second hand knowledge. Distinguishing the difference is important, because someone who records the information at a later time can make errors or embellish the facts. This can also happen with a person who has firsthand knowledge.
Documents need to be Analyzed
That is why it is important to find as many documents as possible to confirm information or help solve contradicting details. While conducting family tree research, knowing what information is primary, who recorded the details, and when were they recorded are all important. Taking details and adding them to your family tree from documents that are original, versus taking data from an indexed entry should be rated for their accuracy and the details that they provide, as well as the relationships that they can confirm.