Original Sources, Derivative Sources, Exact Images, and Original Records

A few days ago, I wrote about using A Preponderance of Evidence to come to a conclusion in genealogical studies, and in that article I provided the definition of Original Source as published in The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual:

original source:  the person or record whose information did not come from data already spoken or written.  The original is the most authoritative source.  Often, however, it no longer survives or its preservation dictates that it be examined only as an image copy (microfilm, digitized image, and so on).”

The Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCC Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2000), 8-9.

According to The BCC Genealogical Standards Manual, the definition of Derivative Source is:

derivative source:  a person or record that supplies information that is repeated, reproduced, transcribed, abstracted, or summarized from something already spoken or written.  Because every repetition or recopying of data is an opportunity for error, the closer the derivative is to the original the more reliable the data are likely to be.”

The Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCC Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2000), 9.

In 1999, a workshop on Evidence Analysis was held at the NGS Conference in the States where Helen F. M. Leary, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, the President of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, elaborated on these definitions.  She defined Original Source as:

“ORIGINAL SOURCE:  one that contributes written, oral, or visual information not derived from a prior written record or oral communication.  “Original” in this sense refers to the form in which the information is found or was created – not to its quality, reliability, or other characteristics.”

Helen F. M. Leary, “Part 1: Definitions” Evidence Analysis, A Workshop, 1999 NGS Conference in the States, National Genealogical Society (Arlington, Virginia: NGS, 1999).

She also defined Derivative Source as:

“DERIVATIVE SOURCE:  one that contributes information copied, transcribed, abstracted, summarized, or repeated from information in a previously existing source.  Derivatives may be created (a) contemporaneously with the source (e.g., index entries made when the deed were transcribed into the official record book) or years or centuries later (e.g., a person’s “record set: in a genealogical data base); (b) by officials in the course of performing their duties or by private parties pursuing their own interests (e.g., describing the results of a genealogical investigation); and (c) in handwritten, typed, electronically recorded, computer-generated, or exact-image form.”

Helen F. M. Leary, “Part 1: Definitions” Evidence Analysis, A Workshop, 1999 NGS Conference in the States, National Genealogical Society (Arlington, Virginia: NGS, 1999).

One other useful definition that Ms. Leary provided was for Exact Image:

“EXACT IMAGE:  the form of any record that captures its appearance and all the information it carries – as by microfilm, photograph, photocopy, or computer-scanned image.  An exact image is a DERIVATIVE SOURCE whose value depends on its technological quality (e.g., a clear, complete, unaltered reproduction of the ORIGINAL RECORD, in photocopy or microform, carries the same information).  With the same appearance, the image can stand in place of the original.”

Helen F. M. Leary, “Part 1: Definitions” Evidence Analysis, A Workshop, 1999 NGS Conference in the States, National Genealogical Society (Arlington, Virginia: NGS, 1999).

From these definitions, Original Sources are rare, indeed.  In fact, I don’t think I have any source documents that can be considered Original Sources if Exact Images are Derivative Sources.

George Morgan and Drew Smith discussed Original Sources and Derivative Sources on the June 1, 2006 edition of the Genealogy Guys Podcast.  In that podcast, the Genealogy Guys indicated that a reproduction of an Original Source could also be considered an Original Source.

Today, in an online chat with Brenda Dougal Merriman, CG, CGL of the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, I asked the Brenda whether exact images were Original Sources or Derivative Sources.  Brenda answered that exact images could be considered Original Sources, especially these days when so many Original Sources are available as digitized images.

At this point, one more definition may be useful – Original Record:

“ORIGINAL RECORD:  the first paper writing created in response to a specific event or situation.  An ORIGINAL SOURCE can be an ORIGINAL RECORD if written or electronically recorded.  An original record is unique – the can be only one “first” – and therefore irreplaceable.  The original record should not be confused with a DUPLICATE ORIGINAL or an OFFICIAL COPY.  Although “original” is sometimes used to refer to any record of which a copy has been made or from which information has been taken, a more-appropriate term in those case in simply SOURCE”

Helen F. M. Leary, “Part 1: Definitions” Evidence Analysis, A Workshop, 1999 NGS Conference in the States, National Genealogical Society (Arlington, Virginia: NGS, 1999).

There are some conflicting views here.  Is an Exact Image an Original Source or a Derivative Source?

Tomorrow:  New Definitions of Original Source and Derivative Source (A Proposal)

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