Reducing Risk by Using Original Sources

In a mere three pages in the September 2016 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, author Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL, illustrates the risks genealogists run when they do not pursue original sources.[1]

Sources fall into one of three categories:

  • An original source is described by Elizabeth Shown Mills as “material in its first oral or recorded form.”[2]
  • A derivative source is one that is created from another source. The earlier source may have been an original work, or it, too, could have been a derivative—transcribed, abstracted, indexed, or summarized from an original source.
  • An authored work is one that is created based on information that was obtained from multiple sources. The “author” analyzes, draws conclusions, and puts details together to create something new. Authored works include articles, books, trees, and charts.

Errors can occur as derivative sources are produced. Creators of authored works may slip up as they assemble evidence and draw conclusions. Original sources are considered more reliable. Unless genealogists seek out and examine original sources, they may never be aware of errors or omissions hiding in the derivatives and authored works. Powell’s example drives home this point.

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