APG-L ArchivesArchiver > APG > 2009-02 > 1234976707
Subject: Re: [APG] Confusion with the Various Definitions of Original Source
Date: Wed, 18 Feb 2009 11:05:07 -0600
>My inclination is that this progression of definitions is a refinement of
understanding over the years and that the current accepted definition of
original source focuses only on physical form. And as the other three
guides are revised, they will share the definition currently found only in
Mark, as usual, you are interpreting the situation correctly. When Evidence!
came out in 97, those who were wrestling with the genealogical definition
and characterization of evidence were still very much wrestling with it.
That section of Evidence! was rewritten (and recirculated) just as it went
to press, to ensure that it reflected where the discussion was at that point
Within the year, discussions progressed to the point that the GPS was
defined (specifically in Helen Learys GPS article in the January 1998 issue
of BCGs _OnBoard_). In 99, the Research Process Map was drawn to
graphically display the concepts. (The impetus for the graphic, at that
point, was an evidence-analysis workshop that Helen, Chris Rose, and I did
at NGS-Richmond.) Since then, refining of wording has continued to occur, in
the process of trying to clarify nuancesa group effort resulting in all the
vetted publications that you mentioned: first, the 1999 special Evidence
issue of NGSQ, then in the 2000 _Standards Manual_, in the 2001
_Professional Genealogy_, and then the 2007 _Evidence Explained_, as well as
numerous issues of NGSQ across those years.
One also has to consider that differences in precise wording occur because
they have different writers. The ProGen chapter on evidence, for example,
was written by Donn Devine. For the _Standards Manual_ Helen Leary was the
overall editor, but all fifteen BCG trustees edited the various drafts.
All the publications on evidence that we are discussing were extensively
vetted by all the major individuals who have been writing and lecturing on
the subject of evidence over the past 15 years, but "vetting," of course,
does not mean that every writer must change his/her words to use only one
standard phrase. Writers do tend to express things using different words.
(That is, in fact, their task---a generally good fact, because some people
understand things better the way one writer explains it and some people
understand concepts better the way another writer explains it.) This is true
whether the field is genealogy or law. We find many legal papers and
monographs, addressing specific topics, that vary in the wording they use to
define key concepts.
The issue here, of course, is the underlying _concept._ In this regard,
genealogy would operate no differently than other fields of scholarship. One
uses older works (specifically vetted works) to understand the concept that
prevailed at that specific point in time, but one recognizes that a major
purpose of scholarship *is* to improve the manner in which information,
evidence, and circumstances are understood. Questions such as those you are
raising help to advance that cause.
You also wrote:
>So it appears that now a single-question test would be sufficient to
classify a source as original: From what was this source derived? If the
answer doesnt reveal another source, then it is an original.
That can be a good basic test that would keep things nice and simple for the
beginners you mention. On the other hand, nothing is ever really simple.
There are beginners (and many who have been "doing genealogy" for many
years") who would not dig very deeply to find the answer to that question
and would, therefore, assume something to be the original when it wasn't.
The tombstone issue you raise is a very good case at point. The fact that
information on a tombstone comes from some other source, is a point dealt
with by several of the passages you quote from different publications. For
Donn Devine, ProGen, p. 333 (whose precise wording reflects his legal
... original sources ... are made at or near the time of the event, and
their informants are in a position to know the facts firsthand.
Or EE (whose wording aligns with that used by Chris, Helen, and I in the '99
workshop, developed with the assistance of Donn, Tom Jones, and others):
page 24: Original sources - material in its first oral or recorded form
page 826: original source: a source that is still in its first recorded
or uttered form.
Given that the specific set of words used for the deceased on a tombstone
erected by the grieving family is typically "in its first recorded form,"
there's no conflict in definition, even though the information may have gone
orally, or in written form, from the family to the grave carver before those
words were first put on the stone.
However, the "trap" that lurks for less-persistent researchers, where the
"originality" of tombstones is concerned, deals not with the information on
the stone, but with the *physical form.* The tendency is to assume that any
and all stones are the ones erected by grieving family members at the time
of the death or in a reasonable period thereafter. A careful researcher
would analyze the material and style of the stone to ensure that it was
indeed contemporaneous to the death. If the death occurred in 1805 and the
medium is marble or an iron cross, it would likely fit the concept of being
the "original" stone. If the death occurred in 1804 and it is a concrete
marker, then it most definitely would not be an "original" stone.
Does this help?
Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG
APG member, Tennessee
_Evidence: Citing History Sources from Artifacts
to Cyberspace (desktop reference edition)_
_Evidence Explained: Citation & Analysis for
Family Historians (briefcase edition)_
_Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers,
Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians_
_QuickSheet: Citing Ancestry.com Databases
& Images, Evidence! Style_
_QuickSheet: Citing Online Historical Resources