Stevenson, Noel C. 1989. Genealogical evidence: a guide to the standard of proof relating to pedigrees, ancestry, heirship and family history. Laguna Hills, Calif: Aegean Park Press. http://books.google.com/books?id=GJ0bAQAAMAAJ.
(8) Public Records. A record or statement of a public office if:
(A) it sets out:
(i) the office’s activities;
(ii) a matter observed while under a legal duty to report, but not including, in a criminal case, a matter observed by law-enforcement personnel; or
(iii) in a civil case or against the government in a
criminal case, factual findings from a legally authorized investigation; and
(B) the opponent does not show that the source of information or other circumstances indicate a lack of trustworthiness.
By the way, there are several exceptions in Rule 803 for documents relating to family history. OK, now in order to come to some conclusion in a reasonable period of time, I have to say that a U.S. Census record does not fall within any of the exceptions to the Hearsay Rule as to the accuracy of the information recorded about the people listed. Without some additional documentation or a family history document, the census record, by itself, is not self-proving and would not be admissible.
Now, what about the genealogical direct and indirect evidence rule, primary vs. secondary, and what about original vs. a copy? How reliable is a U.S. Federal Census record? Unfortunately, the patina of legality does not add anything to the accuracy of the document. The fact that is was compiled by someone who worked for the U.S. government does not add anything at all to accuracy either. The real evaluation of this record is that it is inherently unreliable.
So what does looking at a document using all of the legalese do for a researcher? Not much, if anything. In fact, it is extremely unusual if we can identify the "informant" for the information in a census record, i.e. the person who gave the information to the enumerator.
Do I use the information in a U.S. Census document without going through all this quasi-legal stuff about it reliability? Of course, I do. However, I do not rely entirely on any one record. So how does historical or genealogical research relate to what goes on in court? Not at all. You are the judge and jury. You decide what is and what is not reliable. You determine was is and what is not evidence and unless you happen to be an attorney, you probably have not concepts of hearsay, hearsay exceptions, or all the other legal issues involved in proving a legal case. It is also unlikely that you think much about primary vs. secondary or all the other distinctions made in the genealogical literature.
So how do we know we are "right?" The key here is all genealogical (historical) conclusions are tentative and subject to finding additional information. What did we think about who we were related to before DNA tests became readily available? DNA testing is a good example of a development that overturn even the most certain opinions and conclusions.
Why do I keep explaining my opinion on this subject? Because I keep seeing people trying to categorize historical records using a quasi-legal methodology that is really meaningless. I can stare at that census record image above for days and analyze it to death but the information still remains recorded as it was recorded and the next document that comes along my completely contradict the information and challenge my conclusions.
Now, you say, what about comparing two documents? Hmm. Now we are back to the beginning of the whole issue. If the two documents agree then they reinforce our opinion. If they disagree, we are back to the beginning. Do we work on the premise of the majority rule? Not if all the documents come from the same source. For example, I often see several marriage records about the same married couple. But, ultimately all of the records unless made for different reasons all report the same event. OK, I know all about banns, marriage bonds, etc. and those are different records which may or may not agree. But just because a record was copied does not add to its accuracy.
I could go on indefinitely but the conclusion is this: using legalese and making distinctions about the origin of documents does not add to their accuracy. A court proceeding is not the same as historical or genealogical research.