What is the difference between primary and secondary sources?

Research is vital to getting quality results. When practicing genealogy, it’s important that researchers take their time looking into various sources to find what they are looking for.

In the realm of research, there are two types of sources: Primary and secondary. To learn more about the differences of each as well as other questions hovering over these two terms, read on below.

Primary Source

A primary source is an actual account of an event. These are also known as the original first-hand documents, archives and other forms of research that go back to the actual occurrence of the event.

Primary sources have been present ever since the moment something occurred or happened. The following are examples:

  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Actual footage
  • Manuscripts
  • Photographs
  • Maps
  • Interviews
  • Birth/death records
  • Will probates

Secondary Source

If primary source come in first, secondary sources come after it. These are the second-hand documents that tackle primary sources.  They can criticize, interpret and assess whatever data present in the first-hand accounts.

Some of its examples are:

  • Criticisms
  • Textbooks
  • Biographies
  • Movies of historical events
  • Family stories
  • Journals/ magazines

Why does it matter?

As a genealogist, the truth is all that matters. You need to take into account both primary and secondary sources because this tells you what is true or not.

While primary sources are the most reliable and credible, it doesn’t mean you should rule out second-hand accounts. There are risks with secondary sources but that’s why you have primary ones to re-assess and validate.

Think of it as the game of passing messages. One loses because throughout the entire process of passing the message, not everyone hears the initial message right. In the end, it’s reinterpreted already but the essence could still be there.

So when doing your genealogy, make sure you consider both primary and secondary sources with thorough research.

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