Marty & Karla Grant

Tertiary Source Documentation

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To me, Tertiary Evidence basically covers one category: Family Histories.

Anything published about a Family can not be considered Primary or Secondary Evidence (except in regards to anything written by the author about people he or she actually knew personally). Family histories are compiled based (hopefully) on Primary and Secondary evidence. However, much of the data listed is often based on family traditions or data shared by other researchers (with no sources listed) or other older Family histories of the same family. This often leads to the same incorrect data being passed around again and again. Family Histories are a good starting place, but they can't be considered evidence unless fully documented.

This applies to my web pages as well. Don't assume that everything listed is correct. I have several examples of data that is well documented in Primary Records, but was once published incorrectly in some family history, and everyone keeps trying to correct me by referring me to the published family history. I have to keep telling everyone that a published family history is not a source document. Always refer to the original records, especially in cases of conflicting data.

In some cases (sad but true), there is no Primary or Secondary evidence to be found, so Tertiary evidence is all that there is. In these cases, every bit of data should be considered, and nothing discarded, but yet it should be clearly noted that the data is suspected of being wrong.

You've probably looked at one of the big "Heritage" books that are available for many counties. These are full of submitted genealogies and biographies and other historical articles. These are perfect examples of Tertiary Evidence. While immensely valuable, these articles are fraught with inaccuracies in varying degrees.

Biographies (and even autobiographies) are also Tertiary Evidence. One would expect an autobiography to be quite accurate, but consider that most folks don't like to show themselves in any negative way, so that would automatically mean they probably leave out some important events or distort events to make them look better. It is human nature to do so.

The Internet is full of tertiary evidence. There are numerous personal websites with descendant charts or other genealogical reports listed which seldom include any documentation. There is the IGI with thousands of submitted genealogies, and no documentation attached. There are the Gedcom sharing sites with thousands of sets of data files, most with no documentation included. There are World Family Tree (and similar) CD's you can buy or access online. These are all prime examples of Tertiary Evidence.

Tertiary evidence should always be considered a starting point only, and not the end of the journey.