An Introduction to Derivative Sources

After canvassing all relatives for family records and memories, conduct a literature search for all available published sources. This literature search should be conducted before beginning research on a new family, in a new area, or in a new time period. Conduct periodic searches to discover newly published material as your research continues.

Read all available local histories. They are good sources for:
Locate and examine published genealogies
Search for transcriptions and abstracts of original documents
Do not forget to study articles in the periodic literature
Read reference material on local records and repositories

Much of the above material can be found at your local library. Become familiar with the contents and organization of that library. An Internet search will locate even more material from the comfort of your own home. Investigate the search procedures and tips in the section titled "Tackling the Internet." Records held by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City contain both primary and secondary information. Because this class will direct you to this repository frequently, a separate chapter, including an online exercise, has been devoted to it: "Introduction to Your Family History Center."

Derivative sources, such as abstracts and transcripts, and secondary sources, all those documents created 'after the fact,' have a very important place in genealogical research. However, they only constitute the best evidence available when the original source or document no longer exists, as in the case of cemetery transcriptions done before tombstones became illegible. All information found in derivative and secondary source must be verified, if possible, in the original documents. Even the best transcripts contain errors, and no abstract can contain the information inherent in the format of an original document.

When the preliminary literary search is complete, revisit the Family History Library Online Catalog. Under the Place Search, enter the subject’s residence, identify relevant microfilms of original documents, order copies from the nearest Family History Center, and begin your original research. If you are not familiar with some of the resources of the Family History centers, try out the Family History Center Scavenger Hunt.

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