Friday, June 15, 2012

Follow-Up Friday - Original vs. Derivative Source

For Follow-Up Friday, I want to revisit the comments made on my post Original or Derivative Source? Bible Records from Wednesday.  In that post, I provided the definition of the terms from Evidence! Explained, and stated my reasons for thinking that handwritten Bible entries on the family pages of a published Bible was an Original Source.

Not everyone agreed.  For instance:

*  Denise Spurlock commented:  "Randy, I agree with you that the entries in a family Bible are an original source. If you were looking at a transcription of the entries, that would be derivative. The evidence provided by those entries is direct evidence of the date of the event (whether birth, marriage or death). What needs to be considered carefully is (to quote EE) "the informant's degree of participation or knowledge." Although someone certainly was present at their own birth, their knowledge of the event is secondary."

*  Elizabeth O'Neal said:  "I was also in Warren's class that day. I believe his point was that even though the person in question was present at her own birth, she did not have the mental capacity to know and understand it at the time it was happening. Thus the entry was made "after the fact," and thus, derivative.  Also, he commented that the copyright date on the Bible was well after the date of all but one of the children's births, hence making those derivative. Not sure I agree with that.

"Personally, I think it's half and half: original information about the children's births, since the mother would certainly have been present at those (although not in the best frame of mind, from what I know of MY experience!), and derivative about one's own birth, and in this case, the birth location of the spouse. But I'm not sure I would want to argue any of this with Warren! ;-)"

*  Elf Flame stated:  "I think the point of what he's saying, if I understand, is that things written in the bible may well be wrong. We know that a lot of people didn't really know their birth year when you go back far enough. They may have written down in the bible the date they'd always assumed was theirs, but that doesn't mean they're always right, though derivative work isn't always wrong, so that follows, too. As for others' birth dates, that's derivative too, simply because you can't be guaranteed that the person had the book with them at the birth (if they were even there at all), and they may remember a day or even a year wrong, so relying on what's in a bible is shaky at best, and misleading at worst."

*  The Family Curator noted:  " I was also in Warren's session and have been thinking about the Bible example. I understood that the birth records could not be "original" because the Bible itself was not in existence at the time of the supposed birth; I believe it was printed some years later.   I suppose that a birth entry made by a father or mother in a Bible clearly published before the birth date would qualify as an original source. Is that correct?"

*  Eileen said:  "If her parents recorded her birth in a bible they owned at the time of her birth (which they may have) that would have been an original source. Then if they parents got a new bible and copied the information to the new bible that would be a derivative source. In her case, her birth date is hearsay, so to speak, since she really was not aware of it at the time.  To me the purpose of original versus derivative is the validity of the data. Even her parents could have made an error when copying information over to a new bible."

*  Bart Brenner noted:  "Interesting discussion! It seems to me, considering the arguments on both sides, that this becomes a judgment call for each of us. This is my "Pirates of the Caribbean" approach... The categories are guidelines, not rigid laws. Their function is to help us as we seek to resolve conflicts and develop sound, reasonable, and coherent conclusions."

*  Dave noted:  "This is why genealogists don't typically use the term original and derivative "source". We usually discuss "information". The handwritten bible is an original source. No question. If i go out and buy a bible and start putting in my family tree, the bible will still be an original source. If someone copies the information, it becomes derivative.

"Note, there is no discussion of the veracity of the information. Doesnt matter. Original refers to the source itself, the tangible thing. To qualify the data we talk about primary and secondary information. Bibles are usually secondary, but some information may be primary. If the author recorded the bitths of their children as they were born, its primary."

*  Anonymous said:  "I think it is a derivative source as it was entered into the bible by someone who would only know the information by some other source. A person has no way to know their own birth date and place unless it was told to them. In court, I think this is called hearsay evidence. I have a family bible and while the bible belonged to my great-grandparents, the entries were made years later by my grandfather and he incorrectly entered the maiden name of his grandmother in a marriage entry he wrote in. Had the entry been made by the married couple it would have been entered correctly."

*  Kay Rudolph commented:  " An earlier comment noted: "If I go out and buy a bible and start putting in my family tree, the bible will still be an original source. If someone copies the information, it becomes derivative." In this case, someone went out and bought a bible and copied hearsay information into it. If I copy a list of names and birth dates onto a blank sheet of paper, no one would question for a minute whether the list was original or derivative. What's the difference between copying a list onto a blank sheet of loose paper and copying it onto a blank sheet of paper in the flyleaf of a bible? But really, whether we call the bible entry an original source with secondary information or a derivative source with secondary information, is less important than our recognition that this is secondary information and can't be relied upon to the degree that a source based on primary information can be."

*  Geolover noted:  "I completely agree with Eileen and Anonymous (12:00 AM PDT). What was written in the Bible, in your example, was not from first-hand experience as newborns do not take notes on the event (yet, anyway!). It was information related to the writer from another source, which could have been verbal or written.

"Kay is also right ("this is secondary information and can't be relied upon to the degree that a source based on primary information can be"). Very large numbers of people did not know their own birth-date, and large numbers of parents did not know such a date, much less have a written record of it. I know of a relative who simply did not believe his official birth record because his name was not on the hospital certificate (many children were not named the same day as born)! "

My thoughts:

Is there a consensus here relative to Original or Derivative Source?  Let's go back to the definition of "Original Source" from Evidence! Explained:  

"Original sources—material in its first oral or recorded form. Examples: the testimony of someone relating events that he or she personally experienced or witnessed; or an original document created by a party with firsthand knowledge of the information recorded."  

I think that it's a simple test!  Is it material in its first oral or recorded form?  The instant question becomes:  "Was the Bible entry for Minnie's birth the first oral or recorded material of the event?"  We don't know, do we?  Was there an earlier Bible record, or a handwritten list of births, provided by the parents, or by Minnie herself, or by another family member?  

My own conclusion is this:  If the Bible had been purchased before the first entry on the family pages, then the handwritten family pages should be considered an Original Source.  Since it was published and purchased long after the first entry on the family pages, it should be considered a Derivative Source.  

When Warren found Minnie's Bible, it was the key to finding more records.  Subsequently, church records were found  for Minnie's date of birth, and those records should be considered "Original Source" and "Primary Information."  Even so, they may contain erroneous information.  The quality of the information does not affect the classification of the Source type.

Some of the commenters said that because the information was "secondary" (because it was written well after the event by a person not sentient at her own birth), that it could not be an "Original Source."  A Source is a tangible thing - and should be classified as Original or Derivative irrespective of the content of the information.  But what about the handwritten family pages of a published Bible when the researcher does not know if there is an earlier source?  

I agree with several commenters that the most important factor is that we consider the information on a Bible record such as this as "Secondary Information" if it is written after the events recorded, no matter what Source type it is.  A source can provide both "Primary Information" and "Secondary Information," and any information provided may be erroneous.  The only way to determine what is a true assertion is to follow the Genealogical Proof Standard trail - do a reasonably exhaustive search, create source citations, analyze all of the evidence at hand, resolve conflicting evidence, and draw a reasoned written conclusion.  That's what Warren Bittner did in his Case Study.

I go back to my own example where Family Bible pages contain the birth date of the writer (Devier Smith in 1842) and his wife (Abbie Vaux in 1844) and their children (including two that were recorded in no published record yet found).  Even though Devier wrote it in 1889, I have always considered it to be an Original Source because I believe that this was the first oral or written form of the information that survived.  It is my own "golden record."  Then I think "but how did he know?  Did he have another piece of paper - a former Bible, a list he kept in a now-lost journal?"  

Of course, I think that Devier's own birth date on the family page of the Bible was recorded erroneously - I think he was born in 1839!  But that's the result of doing a reasonably exhaustive search to find records, analyzing all of the records, and coming to a reasoned conclusion.  

My thanks to the commenters who shed more light on the question at hand and helped me learn more about the issue.  

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver

1 comment:

Michael Hait said...

I wish I had discovered the original post earlier, but I was deep in IGHR when it was posted.

In reading the many comments, there seems to be a major disconnect in how the terms "original"-"derivative" and "primary"-"secondary" are used in modern genealogy.

Several commenters, and it would appear Mr. Bittner himself, discussed the origins of the information in the Bible record. Whether or not the person who wrote the Bible record knew their own birth date has no bearing on the determination of whether the record was an original or derivative source--as you stated.

I think a full explanation would be too long here, so I will move it over to my own blog. Sorry. :)