(Cross-posted from Ancestry.com: Van Sicklen Message Board)
Nearly 30 years ago I hired an "academic research service" to provide mewith some basic information about genealogy. They sent me a four page write-up on the topic, the portion on the [sub] topic of Primary and Secondary sources I will copy here. I have always used it as a guideline and think it might be useful to you as well. Some of it is rather elemental, but I am going to give the full outline. At the end, I will toss in a couple of my own thoughts, which may also be useful.
The (anonymous) researcher who produced this paper cites the following references:
1. Pine, L.G. American Origins. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Co., Inc., 1960.
2. Williams, E.W. Know Your Ancestors: A Guide to Genealogical Research. Rutland, VT.: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1961.
3. Doane, G.H. Searching for Your Ancestors. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1960.
To quote directly from the paper:
RESEARCH PROCEDURES: "There are two methods of compiling ancestral history; one is by ascendants and the other is by descendants. The end results are quite different. A family history is a compilation of the ascendants of one individual. A family genealogy is a compilation of descendants of an immigrant ancestor or ancestors. . . . To do a family history, one starts with oneself and works back (by ascent). . . .The family genealogy starts with the immigrant ancestor, or ancestors. . . .and traces down (by descent) . . . to the present generation." (Ref. 2, p.138)
The following summary outlines the proper method of procedure: I. Sources 1. Primary (a) Original records 2. Secondary (a) Printed records 1. Books 2. Periodicals 3. Manuscripts II. Where to search 1. Home (Primary and Secondary) (a) Family and Bible records (b) Interviews with relatives 2. Library (Secondary) (a) Family genealogies (b) Town histories (c) County histories (d) Published census records (e) Published vital records (f) Published probate records (abstracts) (g) Published state archives (h) Published state papers (i) Published ships' passenger lists (j) Published church records (k) Altases--maps--gazeteers (l) Directories (m) Muster rolls and military records (n) Surname books (o) Indexes and guides (p) Biographies (q) Newspapers
3. Archives (Primary) (a) Town or township records (b) City or municipal records (c) County records 1. Vital records 2. Land records 3. Probate records 4. Tax records (d) Territorial and state records (e) Federal records 1. Census population schedules 2. Mortality schedules 3. Military service records 4. Pension applications 5. Bounty land warrants 6. Homestead applications 7. Ships' passenger lists III. Research Mechanics 1. Methods (a) Ascent--end result--family history (b) Descent--end result--genealogy 2. Factors (a) Time (b) Place (c) Deductions from known facts (d) Define problems--study angles of approach 3. Structure (a) Exact identity of each individual 1. Who? 2. When? 3. Where? 4. Occupation (a) Directories (b) Biographies (c) Professional and trade histories (d) Government appointments (e) Government commissions 5. Military service 6. School records" (Ref. 2, pp. 140-141)