New York State Historic Marker Grant Program
Why Primary Sources?
- Primary sources are evidence from the past. They are as close as possible to the actual events and give a more accurate picture. Primary sources are often the most direct, the most certain and the least filtered sources of data.
- Every time someone retells a story, details get dropped and there are changes of tone and emphasis; sometimes errors get introduced. Also, secondary sources may introduce creator bias based on the purpose and point of view of the creator.
- We have made a commitment to grant applicants and the public at large that if a historic marker is funded by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, then they can be absolutely assured that the facts presented are indisputable today and into the future. That’s a promise we can only keep by having primary source documentation on file to support the text on the marker.
What Are Primary Sources?
Primary source documentation is any documentation that occurred at the time of the event, and in which the information documented was based on first person knowledge.
Primary sources include:
- Birth Certificates
- Marriage Certificates
- Death Certificates
- Business records and incorporations
- Newspaper articles
- Census records
- Tax records
- Statutes of the State of New York – these books were published yearly and contain all of the legal transactions of the state
- Cemetery headstones/markers placed at the time of the burial
NOTE: Images provided with applications may be scans, photocopies or photographs; email attachments are accepted. Please underline, highlight or otherwise indicate relevant text.
What’s the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Sources?
Primary sources provide firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning the subject being researched. They are usually created at the time the events occurred. Examples include diaries, photographs, census records, deeds, legal filings, and newspaper reports published at the time of the event. Here’s a helpful link for determining if a source is primary: http://primarysources.yale.edu/
Secondary sources analyze, report, summarize or interpret data. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Examples include reference books (such as encyclopedias and local history publications), textbooks, magazine articles, and newspaper articles analyzing past events. National Register of Historic Places nominations are considered secondary sources as the historical information they contain is not routinely verified by the historic preservation office.
Examples of Primary Sources
- Maps – include date and source of map; use multiple images, if needed.
- U.S. Federal, New York State and local government census records – must include copy of original document (with some exceptions, transcriptions alone are not considered primary source documents*) for federal and state censuses, include column information at top of page; for local government census records, include title, date and location of source.
- Newspaper articles and obituaries – created at the time event(s) occurred; include masthead with name and date of newspaper.
- Atlases, gazetteers, directories and other publications – copy of page(s) relevant to marker text, including title page, publisher and publication date of source; please note that local history publications are rarely accepted as primary sources documentation.
- Deeds, wills, probate files, inventories, court records and other government records – copy of the original document; with some exceptions, transcriptions alone or abstracts of deeds are not accepted*
- Letters, other correspondence – please provide copies of the entire letter or correspondence; with some exceptions, transcriptions alone are not accepted*
- Journals, ledgers, church records and business records (bound volumes) – copy of page(s) containing relevant information, including title page, cover or spine with author/owner’s name and date, if not appearing on page with information.
*Some authorized transcriptions, such as Founders Online (founders.archives.gov), that have been collected, transcribed, annotated and reviewed by scholars are accepted.
Primary Sourcing Tips Want to print out this information? Download Our Accepted Primary Sources PDF