Looking at the BCG's "Skillbuilding: Guidelines for Evaluating Genealogical Resources", I note that derivative sources may include "transcripts, abstracts, and notes produced from viewing the original or a derivative" (my emphasis).

That being so, should I view the IGI and other indexes from bodies like FamilySearch and Ancestry as being notes produced from viewing the original? And since the original is primary evidence for the events it records, then this suggests indexes are derivative sources of primary information.

My problem is that this goes so much against the grain of regarding indexes as being secondary, that I find it difficult to believe I've come to the right conclusion. Would it not be better to say that the construction of the index has broken the chain and created a new source, which is an original of secondary evidence?

1 Answer 1


Any single entry in the IGI is Undetermined Information from a Derivative Source, following this reasoning (based on the Updated Evidence Analysis Process Map):

  • The source ("Container") is Derivative -- it's an alternative presentation of the original that isn't a faithful image. To be Original, it must not be based on prior records.
  • The information ("Contents") is Undetermined, until I understand the original source from which the index/transcript entry of interest is derived. As some elements of the IGI were based on PRs or BTs produced by an eye-witness -- the incumbent of the parish who was present at the event, even if he didn't record it for some time afterwards -- those elements contain Primary Information (and perhaps Secondary Information as well, such as the age at death, or the names of parents in a marriage record). However, some elements were based on family history submissions by other genealogists, usually without any supporting source information, so those elements have to be classified as Undetermined or (at best) Secondary, as the information was not produced by an eyewitness to the event being reported.

The evidence can't be classified without knowing what assertion (research question) it relates to.

If the question is "What was the date of X's baptism" and the entry under consideration is a baptism entry for X in a PR, the evidence is Direct. If the question is "What year was Y born" and the entry under consideration is a burial record for Y with age recorded in a PR, the evidence is still Direct, because it addresses the question directly, even if through a calculation. (However, the information in this case is probably Secondary, given the chances that the person providing the age was present at the birth -- an exception will be the burial of an infant).

If the question is "Who is the mother of Z" and the entry under consideration is an early baptism record for Z that only records the father's name, then it's Indirect evidence because the name of the father has to be combined with other records (perhaps a marriage record) to arrive at a possible name for the mother.

And if the question is "Were Family F non-conformists?" and there are no baptism or burial records for them in the Church of England Parish where they could have been expected to worship, that's Negative Evidence supporting them being non-conformists.

All of this is still not sufficient to tell you how reliable a piece of evidence is, but the necessary process of classifying the evidence, information and source makes you think about how reliable it might be and where the possible sources of error lie.

The book Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones, although based on American examples, is an excellent study guide to this subject.

  • @AdrianB38 Otherwise known as "The IGI is iffy"! However, now that FamilySearch have separated out the two different sorts of records when you search, it's easier to classify individual records and decide how much to rely on them.
    – user104
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 16:44
  • A Derivative Source of Undetermined Information. I like it. In essence, if we know the index to be of a parish register, then it would be a Derivative Source of Primary Information (assuming we're talking about baptismal entries and dates of baptism, say - we can sit here and work out exceptions). However, your point about uncertainty about the contents of the IGI proper does mean I don't have to declare the IGI Primary in that case. Phew... Neat argument, worthy of "Sherlock".
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 16:49
  • As you will appreciate, the discussion is moot, since I use Family Historian, which, being strictly GEDCOM based, doesn't lend itself to anything other than the primary / secondary assessment, but I did wonder what a "proper" answer would be.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 16:52
  • @AdrianB38 Understood -- and I stayed out of "that discussion" on the mailing list for exactly that reason. It's one use however for the note associated with the citation that links a 'fact' to a source.
    – user104
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 16:54
  • I haven't used the primary / secondary assessments in Family Historian; if you've seen my post on the mailing list, you can guess why. I suppose I should pay more attention and put my own comments in Source Notes.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 18:21

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