Step 4. Evaluate the information that you have obtained
Truth or fiction
How accurate is the information you have obtained? The answer leads to another question: How reliable is the source?
- A primary source is a record with information from someone who was actually present at the time of the event; for example, the mother usually gives the information on a birth record. A death record is generally considered a primary source although the name, age, and other details are best known by the deceased. Birth records thus tend to be more reliable than death records.
- A secondary source is a record made after the event or by someone who was not present.
Primary sources are usually, but not always, more reliable than secondary sources. Similarly, original documents are more likely to be accurate than transcriptions, and records of literate ancestors tend to be more reliable than ones signed with an X. Remember that any piece of data in any record could be wrong. It depends whether the parties involved actually knew the truth and wanted to tell it! Here are questions you should ask yourself about any document.
Document: Birth certificate for John H. Jones.
Where did it come from? Official record from the NS Archives.
How reliable is it? Official record, information from his from his mother - very reliable.
What does it tell me? When he was born, where he was born, names of parents including maiden name of his mother and occupation of his father.
Where does it lead? To earlier census, occupational records, marriage records (now that date of birth is known), mother’s family (now that surname is known).
Now pick a document currently in your possession and ask yourself the above questions. If you have any doubts about the reliability of the source, try to verify the information by interviewing a relative, obtaining an additional document, or consulting a different type of record. When you are satisfied that the information is correct, add it to your charts. Then start the process all over again by deciding what piece if information you would like to obtain next.
The Alberta Family Histories Society Library has willing volunteers who will help you in your research. Good luck!