Original, Derivative, Primary and Secondary

In current genealogy parlance sources (record books, vital records, marriage records, etc.) are said to be original or derivative. Original records are ones that are in their “first form.” Derivative records are ones that are created from original records–transcriptions, abstracts, summaries, compilations, and the like. Technically, according to some, scans and photographic reproductions are derivative copies as well but they certainly are more reliable than hand written copies.

Information is considered to be primary or secondary. Generally speaking, a piece of information reported or stated by someone who had first hand knowledge of the event is considered primary. The statement needs also to have been made when the person’s memory was fresh and reliable. Other statements are usually said to be secondary.

This classification system is not meant, by itself, to determine how reliable a piece of information or a source is. It’s just meant to discuss the form of the record and the source of information.

You can find out more about evidence analysis and interpretation in Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Third Edition by Elizabeth Shown Mills