Modern Software Experience

2010-09-07

genealogy theory

traditional vital records

Traditional genealogy has a vague notion of vital events and records; vital records are records created for major life events. What qualifies as a major life events remains undefined. Vital events are often introduced and defined by enumerating the vital record types, but there is limited agreement on what's vital and what's not. Different authors provide different definitions that are not in agreement with each other, and some even contradict themselves. As if that wasn't bad enough, most of these definitions are oddly inconsistent, for example including marriage yet omitting divorce. On top of that, usage of the term vital records is very sloppy, and it is frequently confused with BMD records and civil records. It is not even uncommon for an author to misdefine vital records as a synonym for BMD records, and then go on to use it as if it is a synonym for civil records.

Vital records are official records of vital events. There are only two vital events: birth and death.

scientific vital events

Scientific genealogy has crystal clear definitions of vital events and vital records. Vital records are official records of vital events. There are only two vital events: birth and death. Stillbirth is birth and death at once.

Birth and death are the only vital events. That does not mean that other life events aren't important. This usage of the adjective vital avoids all discussions about which life events are important enough to termed vital as well, and which ones are not. The beginning and the end of life are vital events, the rest is not.

Arguably, conception is a vital event too, but one for which no official records are kept. In some countries, data on miscarriages is collected by a medical organisation.

Marriage isn't a vital event. Marriage is a social and legal event.

marriage

Marriage isn't a vital event. Marriage is a social and legal event. Separation isn't a vital event, it is social and legal event. Divorce isn't a vital event, it is social and legal event. Etcetera.

All major life events that happen in between are social or legal events. In Western countries, marriage is a social and legal event that may be followed by a religious marriage ceremony, a social event with no legal standing, and is often followed by a reception, another social event.

secondary events

primary sources

To reiterate a point first made in Genealogical Principle: Facts; that records are for secondary events doesn't make them second-rate records. The records for these secondary events are primary sources and should be treated as such.

secondary events

In the past, churches often didn't record the primary events birth and death, but the secondary events baptism and burial instead. Strictly speaking, baptism and burial aren't vital events, but these secondary events generally occur within days of the primary event. That is why it is reasonable to derive vital statistics and build genealogies from these secondary vital records.

civil records

Vital records and civil records are not the same thing. In scientific genealogy, vital records is a genealogical concept. Civil records is a governmental concept. What civil records a government maintains is not dictated by genealogical consideration, but governmental and legal considerations. Some civil records are interesting to genealogy, others are not. Some are available for genealogical research, others are not.

vital vs. civil status

Genealogist are interested in civil events and civil records thereof that affect civil status, the official and legal relationships to others. That includes, but is not limited to, vital events and the records thereof.

All relationships have socially and emotionally significance, but formal relationships such as marriage are something else too; these are legal contracts you enter into. When you enter or exit such a contract, your civil status changes. When you marry or divorce, your civil status changes. When you adopt or are adopted, your civil status changes.

Changes in civil status do not affect your vital status, but a change in vital status does affect your civil status.

Vital status changes twice; on birth and death. Civil status may change more often.
Changes in civil status do not affect your vital status, but a change in vital status does affect your civil status.

civil vs. court records

Civil records should not be confused with civil court records. When a divorce is decided by a court, there is a court record of the civil court case.  That is not a civil record in the civil registration system, but provokes the creation of a divorce record in the civil registration.

When you research a genealogy, you are likely to come across civil records for divorce. That civil records merely tells where and when the divorce took place, and that is all you need to know for a genealogy. If you want to create a family history, you will additionally want to look at the court records, to discover the how and why.

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