I have had some wonderful Bible discoveries in the past year. I want to share them with you along with some thoughts on evaluating them. I’m sure many of you already know the definitions and importance of determining whether your latest genealogical discovery is:
*an Original or Derivative Source
*Primary or Secondary Information
*Direct or Indirect Evidence
If you want to get really good at this genealogy thing, learn these concepts and work through some examples. The indefatigable Elizabeth Shown Mills has written extensively on this. I also suggest the book “Genealogical Proof Standard” by Christine Rose. I’m going to only talk about the first two in the interest of keeping this post long and not really long.;)
An Original Source is the very first–the original–record of an event (such as a birth certificate). A Derivative Source has to copy its information from an original source (an example is a book of transcribed vital records or those online transcribed databases we are all so fond of). An important point to remember is that derivatives always introduce the opportunity for errors. Typically, an original source is regarded as more reliable than a derivative source.
The terms Primary vs. Secondary Information refer to the quality of the information. Primary information was made by someone in a position to know firsthand usually at or near the time of the event OR made in writing by an officer charged by law, canon or bylaws with creating an accurate record (like a court clerk who records marriages). Anything else is secondary information (for example, all census records are secondary). Typically, primary information is regarded as more reliable than secondary information.
So one of the goals in genealogy is to find as many Original Sources and as much Primary Information as possible.
It can get really tricky, though. A death certificate is an original source, but it can have both primary (the death dates) and secondary information (the birth dates) on it. An original source, generally deemed more reliable, could in fact have incorrect information on it.
When evaluating evidence, you want to ask yourself WHO wrote this, WHEN and WHY.
So this year my newfound cousin Lester Holt shared copies of a Holt Family Bible, which appears to have belonged to his grandfather. If you’ve never taken pictures of a Bible that is falling apart, it works really well. But, be sure to take a picture of the publishing page so you can know what year the Bible was published. If the Bible was published in 1948 and it contains entries dating in the 1920’s, those obviously could not have been recorded at or near the time they happened, which affects how you evaluate the data.
Here’s a page of deaths from the Holt Bible:
I am fairly sure who wrote this-either the mother Ila or the father Samuel. I know why–to record the important dates in their family. But, the copyright/publishing page was disintegrated or missing, so I have no idea what year this Bible was published. This means I don’t know when the dates were written in. I don’t know if the dates included were copied in as they occurred or in bulk entries after the fact– that can be an important distinction.
This Bible is clearly an original source. But for something to be considered primary information it ideally should be written down as the events are occurring or a short time afterwards. It does look like the entries could have been made at different times, right? But I concluded it is not as big an issue here because these are most likely two parents noting births and deaths of their children, which they are likely to have known firsthand. They even listed the deaths of their mothers.
Now notice a page from the births:
Hmm. Those first six look like they were entered all at once don’t they?
They probably were. But, again, because the information in this Bible does not conflict with any other data I have on these individuals, and because of the likelihood that a parent recorded it, I am concluding these dates are correct. But this gives you a sense of all the things you have to think about.
Now I want to show a cover from a Prather Family Bible that was shared with me last year by my cousin Laverne Prather. This belonged to her mother Sarah:
Luckily, I was able to copy the copyright page:
Sarah diligently copied almost everything for all of her kids, and all of the events happened after 1903. This gives me an added level of assurance. This page of dates appeared opposite a page of names:
Both of these Bibles cropped up when I wasn’t even looking and had no idea that they even existed, so even 12 years later the spirits are still sending me pleasant surprises. These Bibles were both filled with information I didn’t have. If you come across a family Bible, digitize it so that the data can survive the actual book which is bound to be fragile. As you can see here, the pictures turn out pretty well. Just don’t forget to copy the copyright page!