Primary What? or How to Research Right

Primary Source

Primary Source, is the information or material closest to a person, period, or idea being researched. ie. The recording of the newscaster at the Hindenburg disaster, or the daily journal of a soldier.

This means that a primary source was written by someone who was there first hand as a witness, or the first person to document about it.  Like a police report on a crime committed in 1875, it is chronologically the first document written about the event or a document contemporaneous to the event.  If there were public statements released by alleged murderers, the police report is still a primary source to the event. However, a book about the murders written 40 years later is considered a secondary source because it simply re-analyzes the primary sources.

Secondary Source

Versus a secondary source, which cites primary sources and often builds upon, or extends the interpretation of primary sources. ie. a book or thesis about the Hindenburg disaster or a biography of a soldier in WW2.

Wikipedia is a collection of secondary sources and may cite primary sources. Wiki in and of itself, is never considered a primary source. Wiki often gives clues to where primary sources should be found. ie. “Black Bert killed a slave in Calhoun county in 1832 and was tried.” Therefore, you would look up prosecution records.

In practice, assume you are researching a civil war era Texas calvary unit. There are plenty of secondary sources like books. There are a few primary sources, like published diaries of the men, and some published military orders in the congressional War of the Rebellion series. We will have to consider bias in those primary sources, but we’ll address that later.