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Prove your Family Legends

Primary vs. Secondary sources
by Rita LACE

The title of tonight’s class is Primary vs. Secondary sources.
This is probably one of the most important lessons of all for new people as it can save you major heartache and headache down the line.

First, in way of definition - A Primary Source is one that is proof positive that the person mentioned is the person you claim them to be. A Secondary Source is one that is not actually proven, but gives you a good clue as to the whereabouts of any one person. 

A third category is called "Most Probable" and this one is when you haven't a clue, but think you are on to something. There are dozens of resources out there for you to explore. They include census records - Federal and State - church records (baptismal and confirmation and marriage) - governmental (these are the census records, tax records, land records, naturalization records), Family Bibles (including Bibles, photographs, diaries, etc) and -

MARK THIS DOWN - Any information that is about an event that happened in their lifetime is absolute Primary Proof.
- For instance - your mother can swear that you were born at such and such a date and place, and that is considered proof. You can testify to the birth and other dates that happened in your lifetime (for instance the birth of your kids.) And genealogists will accept these statements as proofs. However, your mother CAN NOT testify to the birth of her mother and father, and you cannot testify to the birth of your parents. This moves your testimony into Secondary Proof categories.

*There are several things to understand about Primary Sources*
- A Census record, if you are looking at the original census document, it will be (except for the last few) HANDWRITTEN and photocopied or microfilmed, is Primary Source. What does it prove to you?

- Not the information that is recorded - as much as the *PLACE* this event happened. It is absolute proof that John Jones was living in New York in 1850. However, the dates of his children were given by anyone in the household. How many of you can, off the top of your head, tell what year for sure your siblings were born? Census takers, took the information from whomever they could find--sometimes a child. Especially guys when they were a family of the sizes of some of the earlier families, Like 13, 14, 15 children in a family. . .
But - the date, and the place are absolutely accurate and is considered Primary Source records. The same is true of birth and death certificates. They are proof that the person named was born or died. They are generally proof that the date is accurate.

Everything else on the thing [ document ] is up for debate. You have to understand that the people giving the information were generally not the persons involved. But were people undergoing some kind of stress and emotional trauma. So if your Dad's middle name doesn't match from birth to death certificate, don't panic. It generally just means that they didn't remember correctly when the Undertaker asked them. Now, it is important that you understand why I said that census records were absolute proof IF THEY ARE HANDWRITTEN. Most of you already know why. Someone has transcribed it from the original. Typewriters, let alone computers are not invented in the time period most of us are interested in. Church records, baptisms, etc., are all HAND WRITTEN into the books of the church. So if yours is not, keep a healthy dose of skepticism on hand.
transcriptions of documents someone has put online fall into this category of possible incorrect (bad) transcriptions or fanciful family-legend, so next you must find a copy of an actual historical document to prove the "possible" Fairy-Tale---]. *[pmn-editor addition]

The best and the most accurate records are the governmental ones. They are land records, naturalization records (always ask for the application for naturalization records as well also called 'first papers')
* Social Security records, tax records, and military records.

Secondary sources include death certificates, cemetery information, obituaries and anything at all that you find online. Absolutely anything if it's online, someone typed it and it's subject to mistakes. I am not saying that the resources on the computer are bad. They are not. But if you choose to believe everything you find on a CD from Family Tree Maker  [or online trees at pay-to-view sites or even free ones at familysearch trees]* - I got this bridge I wanna sell.  - These things have all been donated by People, and People make mistakes. Lots and lots of mistakes!

Anything you find online has been typed by a person as well [except for actual IMAGES of Government or Church records, which are Primary Source ]  are wonderful hints, they are great direction finders. But, everything you get must be proved from a primary source - IF YOU CHOOSE TO DO AN ACCURATE RECORDING OF YOUR FAMILY.

Now, don't get depressed here folks. It isn't that hard, and it isn't necessary to go out and buy all of these things. Most all records are available to you in other ways. The [Mormon] LDS Family History Centers are perhaps the most valuable. The courthouses, the government offices, and the National Archives [are] dedicated to saving the original records. And anyone who has ever married, paid taxes, had a child, been baptized or confirmed has left you a paper trail.

This half [is] going to focus on some of the exceptions to these rules I have told you about. Now the library I started talking about is one of the best resources in the world today. And that is the great genealogical library of Salt Lake City that has been gathered together by the peoples of the Church of the Later Day Saints, It began as a ritual of the church, but they have grown to such a point, that now, anyone and everyone can find something of their family in their resources. Obviously, we can't all go to Salt Lake to study these. So they have put in place a way for other researchers to access their records through their library system called Family History Centers [and Online too where you can now view images of Primary Source documents]. This is the same as the big library, only housed in the small churches all over the world [and now via the Internet too]. Especially true in America and Canada. You can go and order in any census. Any vital record, Any record they have on microfilm [now online] and it [used to be that it] will come to your local library, where you have a number of days to look at the material.

What they don't do?
They don't guarantee your research. They don't do it for you. If you copy it wrong, they will not fix it for you. If something is donated from a family, such as a family tree. They include it verbatim as part of their Ancestral Files or their IGI. So if you make mistakes, that's the way it shows up in those features. Now, in the last several months they have put these two features on line They are at And it is well worth your trouble to go and type in your surname and see if anyone else has discovered anything that might send you in the right direction to look. The caveat here is that you must understand - that the work you find there is only as good as the researcher that submitted it. You will find the same true of the Broderbund series. They have put out on CD many of their offerings. and no attempt is made to claim them as accurate. The other surname sites can help you find other people, researching your name that can help you out with your own family if you contact them. But searching for your surname through Gendex com or (FTM) familytreemakercom [FamilySearch Trees, WorldConnect trees, Ancestry com, Myheritage com, Geni-trees, Tribal-fusion, etc.] or other surname sites that have donated material is okay As long as you understand that it will still need to be proven, only then, is it perfectly okay and safe to use it.

My suggestion however, is to [ A L W A Y S ]* prove the work. To know that you are, in fact, and not in someone’s idea of fact, related to George Washington. I am not saying the work is wrong. I am saying - - it is not "proven" until you have seen the proof and know when and where to find it.  No need to get a copy of each will, or certificate. But look for them, know where they are and what they say. Record that information in your source bibliography and you won't go wrong and find yourself back tracking because of the two John Jones that lived in the same town at the same time. Things can throw you off so easily. A person in early New England that was called John Jones, Jr. It did not mean that this was the son of a person also named John Jones. It meant that he was the younger of two people with the same name in any given town. He could have been John, Seniors son, but he also could be the nephew of John Senior. In classes that are upcoming we will talk a lot more of ways and means to find these proofs I talk about. But tonight, I want to impress you with - don't be too gullible. Keep your eyes open if the work you are looking at has lots of obvious errors. Like 2 year old mothers or grandmothers younger than their parents.This is NOT a book to take as fact. It is so hard with the people starting out, to tell them that they must watch their information. Make it accurate. Chose three kinds of proof and try to find that for each generation. When they are faced with a 10-generation line that is so very handy out there to look at. 

Even books (family histories) were written by people, and people make errors. Much easier on the nerves to find them before you have to erase a complete line because you have the wrong father.

Now another word about two types of proofs. One is the Family Document.
If you have a family bible or diary, etc. look at the date the Bible was printed. If it is many years after the records contained in it, it is not primary proof. Someone has added them later if all the writing is in the same ink and the same hand. A single person sat down and recorded the facts at one sitting. It is not primary proof. If, however, you find the Bible old enough, the writing varied (as it would be over time) and other factors all prove out, then you are a very, very lucky researcher right off the bat. If you have been given or purchased a Family History - it is probably the study of a single name. You will often be told that you cannot use the material for fear of copyright infringement. How you can, and should, use this information is a double check of your own work.

Now, one last quick thing I want to address: Some of you may be searching for the "best" software to store your files in. I found a web site that I want to pass on to you tonight. It is an excellent resource as to nearly all-genealogical programs on the market today (there are good points and their bad). I urge any of you to look this over, and especially if you are not working with a data program up to this point . . . [the link that was given is now a dead-link, therefore to help you stay organized and to maintain your research and your own Family-Tree TRY the easiest to use genealogy program in existence = PAF-4 or PAF-5 :] Rita LACE Archive:
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additions and corrections by editor paula.m.nigro are generally noted by an asterisk (*) and sometimes brackets ([ ] )

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