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AfriGeneas Genealogy and History Forum

Nothing abstract about genealogy lingo

Mary Penner: There's nothing abstract about the importance of genealogy lingo
Lineage Lessons

By Mary Penner (Contact)
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Overheard at the genealogy library water cooler:

First genealogist: "I'm working on the primary source abstracts; then I'll compile and index them. What about you?"

Second genealogist: "I'm transcribing the extracted derivatives."

First genealogist: "Don't forget citations."

Second genealogist: "Naturally."

Say what?

This is genealogical gobbledygook - the mumbo jumbo language of the genealogy world.

Despite their gobbledygookish nature, these terms do have meaning, and those meanings can have an impact on the validity of your research.

So, here's a genealogy language primer.

Primary source: A primary source, or original source, refers to data created by a party with firsthand knowledge of the event or information being recorded. A marriage license filled out by the person who performed the ceremony is a primary source. A digital image or microfilm copy of that license is still considered a primary source.

Derivative source: A derivative source, the fancy name for secondary source, is basically everything that's not a primary source. Aunt Susie handwrites her will and squirrels it away in the cedar chest. When she dies, Cousin Irma takes it to the probate clerk who copies the handwritten will into the will record book. The will is the primary source; the copy in the will book is the derivative source.

Transcription: Aunt Susie's will in the will book is a transcription. Transcriptions are re-written or re-typed exact copies of the primary or derivative document.

Extraction: An extraction is a partial transcription of a larger document. For example, a genealogist wants to transcribe the will record book that contains Aunt Susie's will and publish it. But, there are too many wills and too many years. So, she decides to extract and transcribe the years 1890-1900.

Abstract: Our eager genealogist realizes that extracting and transcribing all of those wills is too much work. So, she decides to abstract the wills instead. An abstract is a summary of the pertinent facts in the document. She might list the name of the deceased, the date of death and the names of the heirs.

ndex: An index is a list of names, places, or events contained within a particular work. We can flip to the back of a book and find the index. In genealogy, many of the references we use are basically super-sized indexes. For example, our genealogist is having a difficult time abstracting that will book because the clerk's handwriting was atrocious. So, she now decides to just create an index of the will book. Her index will list the names of the deceased and the page in the will book where the data can be found.

Compile: This means to take data, usually from various sources, and put it together into one book. Publishing your family history as a book makes it a compiled document.

Citation: Whenever you produce any kind of document related to genealogy research, you need to include citations. Citations show where you got your material. Depending on the document, citations can be footnotes, endnotes, or even parenthetical notes. Our genealogist's will index will only have one citation because everything came from the same document. But, your compiled family history will have dozens if not hundreds of citations because you collected data from all over.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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