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The Importance of Secondary Records

For purposes of research and documentation, Secondary Records is the term used to describe documents that refer to or reference Primary Records. Primary records are most often original legal documents or first-hand information of any particular event. They may also be eyewitness accounts, laboratory results, original works of art and literature and records of statistics. Secondary Records in contrast, are documents written about Primary Records. They are second-hand information if you will, not actual documents or eye witness accounts.

A simple way to understand what Secondary Records is this: If anyone has access to or is exposed to a Primary source of any kind, and then disseminates or passes on that information or account to any number of recipients, he then becomes a secondary source; a Secondary Record.

Secondary Records may include comments, analysis, reviews and debates about Primary Records. Newspaper articles, magazine articles, book and movie reviews may also be considered Secondary Records.

Primary records are most often considered the most reliable or accurate documents supporting a particular event. In courts of law particularly, much higher preference is given to Primary Records than Secondary ones.

Secondary Records however can still be a valuable source of information especially if these documents originate from a source widely considered an authority on the matter or if a respected, regulatory body certifies them. These organisations are expected to have high standards and rigid criteria to ensure the accuracy and veracity of these documents. Secondary Records that pass through these regulatory bodies will add a lot of supporting weight to Primary Records.

In any case, historical organisations and certification bodies will often subject both types of records to the highest degree of scrutiny to determine their legitimacy.

Secondary Records in addition to reporting or documenting past events also serve an additional purpose; they often provide critical analysis, interpretation and re-evaluation of these events or records.

As much as Primary Records are preferred over Secondary Records however, records from many years ago are almost impossible to obtain and even if they were obtainable, they may be in the advanced stages of deterioration. Documents printed on paper for example are particularly prone to a chemical process that renders them brittle and unusable because of the acid content in the paper. These acids have oxidised over the years leaving the paper to literally crumble to dust. Paintings from hundreds of years ago are also in jeopardy of chemical degradation, in this instance due to the paint content.

Other forms of Primary Records are equally subject to unavailability due to age: houses deteriorate and fall into ruin, tombstone inscriptions may erode away and of course people do die.

For these and many other reasons, Secondary Records are also valuable documents and their contribution to the verification and documentation processes cannot be denied.

Secondary Records are also relevant in that they are usually written in the common vernacular of the day and as such can provide valuable insight into that time period; elements which may not readily be apparent in primary Records.

Original Authors: Doods Pangburn
Edit Update Authors: M.A.Harris
Updated On: 20/06/2008

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