Sources of information

First page of letter re Ann JACKSON

Since beginning the course we have been told about the importance of collecting primary source data. Our second video this week was by Stefan Petrow about primary and secondary sources. Here are my notes.

Approach your sources with a set of questions in mind – on the trail of a problem

Seven steps to good research

  1. Ask right questions
  2. Find relevant documents
  3. Search in documents
  4. Taking notes by summarizing or quoting
  5. Writing arguments or stories from info
  6. Position yourself in relation to what others have written
  7. Draft, edit and revise to produce polished piece of historical prose

Fun lies in finding interesting information, continually finding more questions and documents

Don’t ignore evidence that is not what you expect to find

Primary Sources

First hand accounts of an event and created during time event took place or created retrospectively by a participant in the event

Best form of evidence is original document or record – next can be scanned or microfilmed or photocopy of original

Seven categories of primary sources

  1. Family
  2. Public
  3. Institutional
  4. Newspaper and post office directories
  5. Non written sources
  6. Physical evidence
  7. Oral history

Newspapers often secondary source as journalist not always at the event

Basic questions to ask re primary sources

  1. Where and when was record made – published or personal
  2. Who made it
  3. For what purpose – official or personal
  4. Did info come from someone with personal knowledge of facts
  5. What conventions exist that shape info – church vs tax lists vs census
  6. Reason for informant to provide inaccurate info – bias
  7. Corroborating testimony

As family historians weigh evidence – don’t blindly accept information – evaluate and record sources – trace back to primary record

John Tosh’s book about history – research carefully and systematically, gather lots of information from lots of sources

Secondary sources

Written after the event – sometimes based on primary sources

Provide background information relating to life or period of time in your families life.

Questions re secondary sources

  1. Who is author – claim to expertise – do they have bias
  2. Book or article for general audience or scholarly work – sources clearly set out
  3. Claim of author, interpretation or range of evidence

Footnotes are most important to cite your sources for future generations and researchers

The primary source used for the image above was found at the National Archives of Ireland in June 2014. I used the “Outrage papers of Donegal for 1847” looking for any reference to my JACKSON family.

For my readers: What has been the most unusual primary source you have found with information relating to your family history research?

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