Authored Works

25 March 2014

We all know the old mantra from the original evidence-analysis tree: sources can be classed as originals or derivatives, information is either primary or secondary, and evidence is either direct or indirect.

Where in this framework do authored works fit in—say, a regimental work by a U.S. Army historian? Authors, by definition, create new and original works. Authors who write history base their "new and original works" on records, do they not?

If we accept this premise, does it mean that an "authored work," because it is a "new and original work" can be classed as an original source that carries evidentiary weight equal to original records?

Submitted byJillaineon Tue, 03/25/2014 - 10:31

Apologies if this is a dupe.

QIn Legal Judy's terminology, "it depends."

If the original authored work is compiled from original records, then that part of the authored work is derivative and the information we'd cite from it would be secondary. If the authored work included original analysis or commentary that we referenced, *that* would be primary information-- the author's own thinking.

Submitted byEEon Tue, 03/25/2014 - 13:39

Jillaine, you're making a nice distinction. Now we'll make one ourselves and see where you take it.

  • If the "work" is" "compiled from original records," then it would not be an authored work. It would be a compiled work that presents records in a derivative form. On the evidence-analysis tree, that would be classed as "derivative records." (QuickLesson 17)
  • An authored work, in the field of history, is one in which the creators consult many different records and monographs, synthesize them to form conclusions about a subject, and then pen a narrative that expresses the author's interpretation of that subject. (EE 12.5–12.8)

Does this alter the view you express above?

Submitted bymosemannon Tue, 03/25/2014 - 15:48

While an authored work is an original work, we should remember that the benefit of using an original as opposed to a derivative is that it is not subject to transcription errors.  We still must consider whether the evidence itself is primary, secondary or unknown.


You are exactly right that we need to consider not just the nature of the source, but also the nature of the information—and that an original record is more likely to be correct than a derivative made from that original.

Beyond this, EE also follows the school of thought that treats information and evidence separately. As explained in QuickLesson 17, information is classed as primary (meaning the informant had firsthand knowledge), secondary (secondhand knowledge) or unknown. Evidence, on the other hand, differs from information.  Information (primary, secondary, or unknown) is what a source actually says, while evidence (which is direct, indirect, or negative) is our interpretation of what that information means.


Submitted byJadeon Tue, 03/25/2014 - 16:12

Jillaine said, "If the authored work included original analysis or commentary that we referenced, *that* would be primary information-- the author's own thinking."

If the author provided a table as to how long a genetic strain of mice lived when fed only on cereal boxes and how long when fed only on Wonderbread, I think that would be primary information.

When the author wrote his conclusions, drawing on ancillary tests and citing parallel and methodological works by other researchers, that would be equivalent to my proof argument as to whether John2B was son of John1B or of HenryB.

An authored genealogical or historical work can be a mix of data from other authored works, original manuscripts such as letters or journals, secondary information from recorded copies of deeds and wills, and myriad types of records.

Once the reader follows up each cited source to ascertain whether it states what it is said to say by the author, it is apparent that the authored work may indeed have the same weight as an original record.  Original records can contain information that is right or wrong, an honest but partly erroneous immediate eye-witness account or a fib meant to conceal an uncomfortable truth.

Similar to any record, an authored work needs detailed evaluation, including as to its context.  It is not intrinsically accurate or inaccurate regarding any author statement (whether original or not) or conclusion.


Thanks for presenting this Gordian knot!


Submitted byyhoitinkon Tue, 03/25/2014 - 16:19

I think this discussion is the reason that authored works now fall into their own category now in the new 3x3 evidence analysis model. Authored works deserve a special treatment by genealogists: we need to disect what exactly we are looking at. Are we looking at an index or transcript, possibly with the author's own interpretation or annotations? Or are we looking at someone's interpretations and conclusions based on a whole body of evidence? In that case, we need to understand the logic in the author's reasoning and then decide if we feel comfortable in substituting the author's judgement for our own by building on their conclusions, or if we feel the need to redo (part of) the research. 

By putting authored works into their own category, we warn genealogists that they should analyze what it is they are using.

Submitted byEzri Redikeron Wed, 03/26/2014 - 02:00

Without establishing the credibility of the author, the viability of the source can't be ascertained. A regimental U.S. Army historian that's writing first-hand accounts of say- (changes in training doctrine from 1970 to the present day) would be a credible & viable derivative source of information. The same authored work with the proper strategic research plan, methodology, notes, & clear pattern of analysis is an original authored work.

The question for me is what defines an author? An original authored work can assume many forms (short of a plagiarism). A website, blog, news-article, essay, personal communication, books, magazines, journals, documents, & many others are the original work of an author.

Submitted byEEon Wed, 03/26/2014 - 08:04

Good points, Ezri. The credibility of an author is a critical consideration. EE 12.5-8 defines several of the distinctively different roles filled by those whose names may be on the byline of a publication. 12.5 offers this:

12.5 Author, Defined
"In a literary sense, authors of nonfiction are those who accumulate a body of knowledge through research and/or practical experience, then
• analyze that knowledge;
• weigh the usefulness of each part;
• determine how to link the most relevant information; and
• use their conclusions to create new and original narratives.

In the library world, catalogers do tend to use the term "author" generically to identify any and all whose name is on the by-line or the title page. However, researchers and publishers make distinctions. The "credibility" you invoke is the reason why the distinctions are important: credibility cannot be determined without thoughtfully considering what it is the by-lined person has contributed to the work and what their qualifications are for the work they've done.


Submitted byp_pierceon Wed, 03/26/2014 - 10:36

is a good way to determine the value of the authored work. Using the bibliography and footnotes of an author's work to ferret out sources is a good way for me to find original records to further my research. References by two Civil War authors in my state have led me to a collection of personal papers held by my state historical society that contain a memoir written by a great great grandfather who was in a specialized unit experienced in the art of counter-guerrilla warfare. Another investigation of footnotes in an authored work is leading me to evidence to tear down a brick wall. I now know where to look for the papers of a lady who authored a very brief and tantalizing family history.