Derivative or original source

From 1814 to 2003, Danish parish registers were kept in duplicate, but the actual procedure was not the same from time to time and place to place. Sometimes, the minister and the sacristan met regularly and then the sacristan copied the entries from the minister's book into the sacristan's book. Other times, both the minister and the sacristan kept their books simultaneously and compared them regularly and made corrections if needed. I would say that by the first procedure, the sacristan's book is a derivative record, but by the second procedure, the sacristan's book is an original record. Anyhow, the recording procedure in a parish at a specific time was not recorded, so I don't know whether they did it one way or the other. Do I then treat all the sacristan's books as derivatives?

If possible, I always consult digital images of both books, because differences occur. However, for a lot of parishes, the minister's books have not been digitized, but only the sacristan's books. For preservation reasons, the original records cannot be accessed, meaning in many cases I only have access to the (presumed) derivative record.

Best regards,

Lene D. Kottal

Submitted byEEon Thu, 03/05/2020 - 10:29

Lene, wouldn't it be nice if historic record keepers followed only one system across every time and place‽  

You ask: Do I then treat all the sacristan's books as derivatives?

EE's 1.25 "Duplicate Originals (Counterparts)" applies here. Educating ourselves about how the records were created and where various counterparts may be—as you've done—is an essential part of careful and thorough research. But then there's the reality that all counterparts may not have survived or may not be accessible.

Thank you for your thoughts on this, both of you. It was good to get some similar examples from other countries. Most of my clients are not Danish, so I benefit very much from having at least some knowledge about records from my clients' country. Understanding the differences enables me to better explain the Danish records to them.

I did look at the "Duplicate originals" section, but was still in doubt. Sometimes, the sacristan's entries have a lot more details than the minister's entries, but I think that I cannot conclude on the basis of such a fact that the sacristan kept his record as an original and not a copy. The additional details may have been entered when the minister told the sacristan what to write when doing a copy of the minister's entries. Maybe the minister added some details in his explanation to the sacristan. We don't know, but I can see it happening, especially if the sacristan asked something in the line of "Who did you say the bride was?" Instead of simply writing "Ane Pedersdatter, 26 y.o. of Saltum," the sacristan might have added her father's name, because the minister explained it that way, when they made the copy. I know that I am speculating now, but I definitely think that could have happened and thus affected the "copy."

Also, we do not know how the sacristan was told about an event, if he entered it immediately after it took place. Did the minister tell him? Did the father tell him? Did he hear it from someone else and asked the minister for the details? We don't know.

After reading a bit in EE again, I am satisfied with labeling it as a duplicate original. Of course, I will continue to seek out the minister's books whenever possible.

Best regards,

Lene D. Kottal

Submitted byscottwilds@aol.comon Thu, 03/05/2020 - 20:34

I think we have to distinquish carefully, and as EE says, we need to educate ourselves and understand what is going on. Bishop's Transcripts of English (or Welsh) parish records, I would argue, are derivative records, not duplicate originals. They are seldom in exactly the same format (they are not copies) of the parish registers from which they were drawn. They often contain less information than the parish register did. They may also be the best surviving source for a particular event, though errors could have crept in. Depending on the parish and time period, they may have been compiled every quarter, so the events (though drawn from a contemporary record) might not be fresh in the priest's mind, or he may have skipped a line or made another kind of copying error. In American church records, there are sometimes sexton's burial records that are separate from the burial records in the register. Those two sources may be independent sources in a way that the BT and PRs in England were not. Or not.

Submitted byEEon Mon, 03/09/2020 - 18:51

Thanks for the added insight, Scott. You and Lene well make the point that, with everything we use, we need to do two things:

  1. Learn what that type of records is and how the record set was created.
  2. Analyze the specific register or file being used in order to identify and evaluate it reliably.