Genealogical Verification
Richard A. Steele, former Clan Scott Society Genealogist

Far too often, confusion arises regarding genealogical verification and proof.  Some beginning genealogists or family researcher makes this error believing information in print or comes by word of mouth is fact.  We should understand two forms of information sources exist: primary and secondary sources.  Each having different meanings but both can contain can errors of fact or the truth.

Primary source means the information making up the source is from persons who are directly connected with the event and may be present at the event.  In essence a first-hand witness to the event.

Secondary sources are generally presented by individuals not present at the event or second hand.  Generally secondary sources are derived from primary sources.  Examples of secondary sources could be articles, books, newspapers and oral history/tradition, i.e., "My grandfather always said..."

On the other hand, primary sources include:
1. Registers of birth, marriages, deaths, baptism, confessions of faith.
2. Eye witness accounts published at the time of the event.
3. Papers such as diaries, correspondence, personal scrapbooks
4. Papers of an organization such as minutes, reports, and business records.
5. Census records: 1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, etc.
6. Assessment and tax records.

Let us face reality.  Mistakes and inaccuracies do occur.  Our daily news media and newspapers are excellent examples of this.  Census takers may not have interviewed the family directly.  Official records may not have been recorded in a timely manner or distractions may have caused clerical errors.

To overcome this problem, try not to accept a fact from just one source of information.  All information, regardless of its source - primary or secondary, needs to be well and truly confirmed and authenticated.  The more primary verification you can find, the more valid the information.

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Last Updated 11March2006 dms        (c)2000-2006 Clan Scott Society, Inc.