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Primary vs. Secondary Sources

There is much debate on what constitutes a primary or secondary genealogical source. Some researchers and major genealogy sites consider any document created about the time of the ancestor to be a primary source. For example a census record, death or birth certificate, a court document or a tombstone. Others contend a primary source is only something the ancestor created themselves, such as a will or letter. I tend to fall into the latter category. If the document was created by the ancestor it is a primary resource, if done by others about the ancestor it is a secondary source. In a nut shell for me anything other than a will or letter most likely will be a secondary source. I know this is a much higher standard to follow but I have seen too many tombstones carved incorrectly and when it was my responsibility to fill out my father’s death certificate, my mind went blank. This is why I choose to relegate most data to the secondary source status. When viewing my data, please keep this in mind.


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