Wednesday, June 22, 2011

21st century genealogists: consider the evolution of citation and analysis

Years ago the best thinking among genealogists included the necessity of creating a "preponderance of evidence" (a legal term). We looked to Donald Line Jacobus whose work far eclipsed the late 19th century seemingly self-serving and largely undocumented printed family histories. His example provided new standards for research. We consulted Cite Your Sources: A Manual for Documenting Family Histories and Genealogical Records by Richard S. Lackey hoping to get it right. During this time we experienced the emergence of the home computer with primitive genealogy management programs, but soon we were off and running.

Through all this, software kind of "ruled" as we became dependent on just "filling in the blanks" on a computer screen. If there wasn't a field for the information, some of us put the info in notes. Many did not. And those original programs had no source citation fields.

Then there was the development of the "Genealogical Proof Standard" described at the BCG website page and detailed in the BCG Genealogical Standards Manual. The esteemed Helen F. M. Leary explains "Science and the law are in agreement: there is only one way to prove kinships beyond reasonable doubt — DNA testing. As a genealogical standard, that is hardly practical. For at least the past 25 years, genealogists have tried to use another standard for judging the persuasiveness of evidence: the preponderance of the evidence — popularly called the POE. In practice, the results have been troublesome. During the summer of 1997, trustees of the Board for Certification voted to discontinue use of the term. They based that decision upon several factors [...]" See "Evidence Revisited: DNA, POE, and GPS," published originally in OnBoard 4 (January 1998.)

For many years now, US researchers have been following the development of "evidence" style citation and analysis as expressed by Elizabeth Shown Mills in Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian and in Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace now in its second edition. (I particularly like the first two chapters for the "reasoning" and I use the subsequent chapters as a "look-up" reference book for how to cite a source.)

We've been pleased as our genealogy management programs adopted forms for citing our sources that more closely align with Elizabeth Shown Mills' citation examples. Many of us have taken classes from Mrs. Mills' to work through citation challenges at APG Professional Management conferences and the like.

The result? We've become obsessed with the difference between an original and a derivative source. We are careful to determine whether information in that source is primary (first hand) or secondary (second hand), or any combination thereof. We've learned to resolve conflicting information and write about it in notes for an ancestor.

In other words, we're getting better at leaving a BIG AUDIT TRAIL for those that follow.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, how I wish I had a short or long audit trail! Although I have only been at this for 5 years, the changes even in this time are amazing and so helpful (wikis, webinars, source citation "wizards" in the database programs, blogs, social media, and WDYTYA).

    That said, most of my aha moments still come from society meetings, one-on-one help at libraries and archives, visits to towns, communities, and their cemeteries, and the wealth of information at the various repositories.

    What a great time to be a genealogist. I'm looking forward to a better GEDCOM, figuring out how to participate in Second Life, and perhaps even that geneabloggers' database mentioned yesterday (sorry I didn't get the blogger's name). Lots to do!