Marty & Karla Grant

Secondary Source Documentation

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Any document written by a third party or shortly after the decease of the person in question, should be considered Secondary Evidence. Secondary Evidence is often reliable, but shouldn't always be assumed correct. This includes such records as Obituaries, Death Certificates (often reporting the wrong parents of the deceased, or the wrong birth date or place), Newspaper articles or biographies (whether written within the lifetime, or after the death of the person in question).

Articles / Biographies - Some folks will have an article or biography written about them during their lifetime for various reasons. While you can generally expect them to be accurate (assuming the subject was interviewed), there could be all kinds of inaccuracies included. If the author did not interview the subject but wrote from his own knowledge, or from interviews with others (but not the subject) there is all kinds of room for errors both great and small. We can see in the newspapers and books of today that mistakes are often made. The same was true "way back when."

Census Records - Census records can also be considered primary evidence, however it should be noted that it is never clear who gave the census taker his information. Did he interview mom or dad? Then the data ought to be fairly accurate. What if he interviewed a younger family member who wasn't so knowledgeable? What if he talked to senile Aunt Betty? What if no one was home but the hired hand? What if no one was home and they spoke to a neighbor? Do your neighbors know your exact age and birth place? Those are just a few of the reasons why census records could be considered secondary evidence instead of primary.

Obituaries - Obituaries are normally written by a close family member of the deceased, and are often written in a hurry, so therefore any number of mistakes may be present. A child's name or grandchild's name may be inadvertently, or purposely, omitted. The person's birth date and parents names may be off (if provided at all). There is also the fact that although a family member writes it, a newspaper person re-writes it for publication, thus often allowing more errors to creep in.