Categories of Genealogical Information

There are three main cat­e­gories of genealog­i­cal infor­ma­tion: pri­ma­ry, sec­ondary, and inde­ter­minable.

  • Pri­ma­ry infor­ma­tion is infor­ma­tion report­ed by an eye­wit­ness to the event, either at the time of the event or many years lat­er. There­fore, is a death record record­ed four days lat­er by two men who lived on the same street as the deceased pri­ma­ry infor­ma­tion? I would say for the death date, yes. If they did­n’t direct­ly see the per­son slip from life’s grasp, then they like­ly saw the priest arrive to give the final sacra­ments, heard the weep­ing, or saw the civ­il offi­cial come to ver­i­fy the death. That is pri­ma­ry infor­ma­tion of the deceased’s death date.
  • Sec­ondary infor­ma­tion is hearsay. There­fore, an Ital­ian-Amer­i­can descen­dant who says the Mafia killed their great-grand­fa­ther in Paler­mo in 1904 is like­ly stat­ing infor­ma­tion they heard passed down through their fam­i­ly. Unless they have the death record pro­vid­ing evi­dence of the ancestor’s vio­lent death in this city or some Ital­ian court records doc­u­ment­ing the mur­der, then it is like­ly hearsay.
  • Inde­ter­minable infor­ma­tion comes when we can­not deter­mine who might have been the infor­mant, there­fore mak­ing it impos­si­ble to say with any accu­ra­cy what type of infor­ma­tion it might be. In the death record exam­ple above, would a neigh­bor have pri­ma­ry infor­ma­tion of the deceased’s par­en­t’s names? Maybe or maybe not, mak­ing this infor­ma­tion inde­ter­minable or at the best, sec­ondary, if it can be deter­mined that they were told the infor­ma­tion by some­one else.

As in U.S. doc­u­ments, dif­fer­ent pieces of infor­ma­tion with­in a record can be dif­fer­ent types of infor­ma­tion. Cul­tur­al con­text and the prac­tices behind the records need to be con­sid­ered.