Please clarify first-hand and second-hand knowledge/information

+9 votes
In my mind first-hand knowledge would be something that I personally know of.  For example information that pertains to myself, my siblings, parents, other family members that I know/knew.  To me, second-hand knowledge would be information I got personally from, for example, my grandmother about her parents who I never knew.  Is that correct?

Secondly, if I have an original birth/marriage/death certificate of a long dead relation, I expect the source would be the document, and would not be first or second-hand information.  Or would it?

One final question.  How can a living person state their source as "first-hand knowledge" for someone who lived and died 150 or more years ago?

Thank you for your help... still (always) learning.
asked in Genealogy Help by Robin Shaules G2G6 Pilot (126k points)
retagged by Robin Lee

5 Answers

+12 votes
Best answer
Hi Robin,

First up, primary versus secondary sources.  This can get a little tricky.  Here's a good explanation from the LDS folks:

First-hand knowledge is what you witness yourself.  You saw it.  Second-hand knowledge is what you've been told.  And, you're quite right regarding you can't have first-hand knowledge of something that happened 150 years ago unless you have a TARDIS :)

However, don't be too harsh if you spot these errors (IMHO).  Unravelling what is what took me ages while I was studying history at uni.

An original of a birth certificate is a primary document.  Family knowledge of that birth is second-hand knowledge.

I'm in the 'the more the merrier' sources camp.  I will (often) have multiple sources for the same piece of information as I believe this 1. leaves a breadcrumb trail about how you researched that piece of information and 2. the more evidence collected, the stronger the claim.

Hope this helps!

answered by Anonymous Pobke G2G5 (5.9k points)
selected by Kimberly McComb
Tamara, thanks.  I checked out the link, and appreciate your information and input.  I guess I'm with you in "the more the merrier" group as I also do that. Also, had to look up TARDIS! Had no idea; guess I live in the past too much!
I like to live in the past too and, to be honest, I'm not a Dr Who fan but I thought the analogy was apt.

I guess if we both got ourselves a TARDIS we could live in the past permanently... although I'd like to come back for, um, antibiotics, suffrage, my coffee machine... ... ... :)

Happy sourcing.
+10 votes
Answer to your final question: They can’t. I have also seen such statements on people who lived much more that 150 years ago. Such a “source” is without meaning.
answered by George Fulton G2G6 Pilot (155k points)
Thank you, George. It did seem odd, but wanted to make sure.
At one time when you created a profile and provided no sources, that was automatically put there.
Oh; I see. I know things adapt and change. Thanks for the input.
+8 votes

Hello Robin.

You are correct :

First-hand information: Yourself

Second-hand information: Information provided by others.

Document: Is a source

Plese see the following help page on sources:

Regarding your final question, please see:

answered by Rubén Hernández G2G6 Pilot (425k points)
Thank you for the links. I'll know what to do in the future. When I initially started on WikiTree I was very uncomfortable doing anything on "someone else's" profile. I've since learned what collaborative means.
You´re welcome Robin.

Happy WikiTreeing !
+6 votes

A primary document is a document that was created for that event such as a birth certificate, death certificate, marriage record, census record, WW II draft card.. There are many other documents that are primary church documents,  letters, journals, are all first hand information.  Primary sourcecan also me direct knowledge of a situation.  

Secondary sources are documents that discuss the original document that
is spoken about.    It may refer to the original document but it is only a information from the original source.

answered by Judy Hixson G2G1 (1.7k points)
Thanks, Judy. All these answers are very helpful.
+7 votes
Used-to-be that Wiktree automatically put that in if you did not enter a source.

Please feel free to remove it.
answered by Janet Gunn G2G6 Mach 5 (59.9k points)
Thank you, Janet.

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