Many records used in genealogical research were created as a part of a larger process or flow or information and records. When analyzing a document or working to understand it, determine what that process was. It’s also helpful to understand what function the document or record served in that process.
Birth certificates were to document a birth, but summaries of information from those records may have been used for a variety of governmental purposes. The specific details of what was on the record may have been used by the individual to document their age, their parentage, etc.
Death certificates are used to document a death, but different pieces of information from that record are used by different individuals for a variety of reasons: compilation of cause of death statistics, proof of death for insurance and other purposes, burial permits, etc.
Probate, court, and pension files usually contain a series of documents that generally stretch from the beginning of the case to the end. Each document serves a purpose. Organizing them chronologically can help in determining what that purpose was, but that’s usually just a starting point in that analysis.
Asking yourself these questions will help you in analyzing any record:
- why was this document created?
- who used the information on this document?
- how does this document fit in a larger series of documents?