Researching Your Family history | Historical Records
To successfully investigate any historical event, it is important to understand the different types of historical sources and the how, why and when the source was created.
A primary source is any document or record created close to the time of the event. Primary source documents often provide a first-hand account of the people and events we are researching. Primary sources can take many forms, such as:
> Birth/Death/Marriage certificates
> Census Records
> Church or Parish Records
> Court Documents
> Newspaper Articles
> Written Documents
Like eyewitness accounts of modern events, each primary source will only give one perspective and may be incomplete or inaccurate. As you conduct research, consider the following:
> Who wrote the document and why?
> For what purpose was the document created?
> What was the intended audience for this document?
> Was it official or personal?
> Was it meant to be published or kept private?
> How does the writer know what they have reported?
> What other sources might provide additional information?
Derivative sources are records that have been ‘derived’, or reproduced, from the original primary source material such as modern transcriptions or reports copied or transcribed close to the time of the record being made, for instance:
> Bishop’s Returns
> Census Enumerations
> Official Returns to Government
Regardless of when the copy or transcription was made, it is important to be aware that they are not always reliable. Errors can occur in even the most careful transcriptions.
A secondary source is a record created later by someone who did not experience the time period or events that you are researching. Secondary sources are created from information found in primary sources, derivative sources and other secondary sources, or a combination of all of them. Often the authors of secondary sources provide their own analysis of the source material they have found.
Sometimes the only way family historians can access information necessary for their research is by derivative or secondary sources. It is best to use them with caution and to recognise that the quality of the transcriptions can vary from transcriber to transcriber. While they are still fundamental to the research process, try to find the most reliable version of the document or record that you can along with corroborative evidence.