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Subject: Re: [APG] Confusion with the Various Definitions of Original Source
Date: Thu, 19 Feb 2009 02:01:54 EST

Mark wrote:

>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
Evidence Explained.

and Elizabeth wrote:

>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
in time.

>Within the year, discussions progressed to the point that the GPS was
defined (specifically in Helen Leary's GPS article in the January 1998 issue
of BCG's _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 nuances, a 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.


>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.

Mark 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 doesn't reveal another source, then it is an original.

which Elizabeth confirmed is essentially the current usage:

>Or EE (whose wording aligns with that used by Chris, Helen, and me 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."


Mark, thanks for your perceptive analysis of the differences surrounding the
use of the term "original source" in various publications as we have advanced
our understanding of the conceptual framework within which we practice
genealogy. Elizabeth has reviewed in some detail the development of each of the
successive formulations, with the condiitions and cautions applicable to their use.

The progression you identified is to a definition based on form, from one
that included content--in this case, first-hand knowledge. The problem initially
arose from the fact that we are dealing with two types of original sources.
The one we prefer is the record, where the information is fixed. The other, the
unfixed oral utterance, from human memory, is recognized, but for practical
purposes is not used until it has been captured in fixed form and can be cited
as a record. By their nature, most textual records are iniitially based on
transitory knowledge and memories, either of the human recorder, or of a human
informant, and the information may be either primary or secondary. (Data and
image records of phenomena captured through recording devices or instruments are
in a different category from textual records.)

Excepting records produced by recording devices, an original textual record
source--the first fixing of the information it contains--is in fact always
derived from another source, the person who created the record, or the human
informant who provided the information being recorded.

It would be highly desirable if we could all agree on terminology that would
clarify that distinction, but in my experience that is neither likely to
happen, nor necessary, because the distinction is almost always apparent from the
context in which the record was created.

To the question, "Can an original source contain only secondary information?"
the answer is "yes," in the sense dependent only on form. An example would be
the tape recordings or written transcriptions made by folklore researchers.

The question that remains is whether it helps understanding to characterize a
source as original when the information from it is secondary--not first hand
and contemporary. Take, for example, that early interview most of us have had
with a then-oldest living relative. Fifty years ago I inteviewed 91-year-old
"Aunt Kate" (actually my grandfather's first cousin and last survivor of her
generation), and the information she gave me was the key to unravelling the
family history, but to characterize her as an original source for her early family
recollections or long-past events in my opinion presents the information in a
misleading light. Even more so would be a characterization of my interview
notes--the first fixed recording of the information she remembered--as an
original source, but literally it is, if only form is considered and not the nature
of the content.

Because of the inherent differences between transitory human memories and
fixed records, we may never agree on a usage of "original source" that reflects
the fact that one or more human sources always precede an original textual
source. What is important is that we keep the distinction clear as we analyze
record evidence that intially came from transitory memories, and that as we
explain our conclusions, we explicitly describe the weight given to each item of
evidence under the circumstances, especially those items that cannot be
confirmed from an independent source.

Let's face it--our knowlege of our own family relationships isn't first hand
or contemporary, but unless we were lied to, or those around us were
themselves deceived, it is generally considered dependable, and can be testified to in
court. But wouldn't we prefer to have record evidence, made at the time?

Donn Devine, CG, CGL
Wilmington DE

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are
service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by
board certificants after periodic evaluation, and the board name is
registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.
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