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Sources play a key role in genealogy.


A source is a text (sometimes oral presentation, audio recording, video recording) from which (genealogical) information is derived.

Scientifically, one will make 3 distinctions:

  1. Primary source : text which is a firsthand written evidence of history, made at the time of the event by someone who has seen it happen. Eg: diaries, certificates, newspapers, ...
  2. Secondary source : Written accounts of history based upon the evidence from primary sources and other secondary sources, offering commentary and analysis. Eg: history books, genealogical publications,...
  3. Tertiary source : selection and compilation of primary and secondary sources. Eg: library catalogue, bibliographies, ...

Most important genealogical sources

Official documents

  • Birth certificates
  • Still births
  • Marriage certificates
  • Divorces
  • Death certificates
  • Official name changes
  • Naturalization records

Religious documents

Legal documents

  • Court cases
  • Notary documents
  • Probate records


  • Passenger lists
  • Record of landing


  • Census records
  • Property documents
  • Phone books
  • City directories

Final resting places

  • Cemetery list of interments
  • War graves


Personal Documents

  • Diaries
  • Correspondence
  • Household bills

Other Possible Sources

  • Bibles
  • Stories
  • Publications
  • Photos
  • Employment information
  • Medical records
  • DNA
  • Voter registration records
  • Genealogical society records