Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chapter 5 and how genealogists think


Ol' Myrt's question is "Just how do genealogists think through a research problem?" Are we blindly accepting as 'true' the information gleaned from the first document to cross our desk about a person who has the same name as our 'proven' ancestor? What happens when a second document comes along with conflicting information? How are genealogists resolving the differences?

Over on the public Evidentia (software) community on Google+, our friend +Hilary Gadsby initiated a conversation I'd like to share with my DearREADERS. Remember Hilary, who lives in Wales, doesn't yet have her copy of Mastering Genealogical Proof (1), as the second printing is just now shipping. Hilary wishes to apply the principles in Tom Jones' book in her use of Evidentia software.

Hilary writes "Analysis and Correlation was discussed in DearMYRTLE's MGP Study group Chapter 5.

 In summing up, it appears that there are a number of things that need to be considered in the analysis. Creating a checklist of the main considerations would be helpful to many researchers particularly those new to analysing their evidence. Is there a way to provide such a list in Evidentia to help with the process?"

Evidentia's producer +Ed Thompson responds with "Talk more about what this would look like to you..." (Note from Myrt: I really like how responsive this software developer is to his users questions and queries.)

Cousin +Russ Worthington , an avid Family Tree Maker user, chimes in with "Actually, I use another program to get at your question. Certainly if Ed could do it, then everything could be done in one place. But, at the moment, I really like Evidentia for this up front piece. The answer to your question, I use another "unique" program, like Evidentia, called GenDetective. I have blogged about that program, as I have with Evidentia.

GenDetective is a 'report writer' based on the data you have collected. It takes a GEDCOM file and analyses the data. It can and does give you a list of 'considerations' for more research. Example: a Census Record says that a person came into the US is a specific year. GenDetective will remind you that you don't have a "claim" that you found that record. I really like that I now have two tools to help with mastering genealogical proof. I don't mind having to use these TWO unique programs to help me do what my genealogy database program won't."

+Hilary Gadsby  then says "I have a program called GenSmarts that helps with suggestions of where you could look further. It is a bit too US centric to have helped me as much as I had hoped. I can't remember how much it helps with analysis as I have not used it for some time. I will review the video again to make sure I have picked up the ideas properly. I may need someone who has a copy of MGP to add anything I miss. (I am waiting for my copy to arrive)."

 +Lisa Gorrell reminds us "Thomas Jones has a nice list of things to consider when analyzing a source on p 58-59." [Mastering Genealogical Proof]

+Hilary Gadsby responds "Thanks +Lisa Gorrell I thought this was in the book (Mastering Genealogical Proof) as +Pat Richley-Erickson has referred to the 5 Ws -- Who What,Where,When and Why in the MGP hangout.
  1. Why was the source created?
  2. What was the purpose of the source?
  3. Who created the source?
  4. When was the source created ?
  5. Where was the source created?
Have I missed anything?"

Ol' Myrt here replies "GenSmarts looks at empty fields in your genealogy management program's individual edit screen, and compares each field with known online image collections, indexes and library/archives catalogs. If a field is not empty, there are no additional research suggestions generated.

GenSmarts is great for providing context sensitive research suggestions, but it works on the principle that 1 document's single information item answers the research question. All that being said, just seeing multiple suggestions for research to complete a blank field provides newbie researchers a way around brick walls.

GenSmarts does not provide suggestions to the greater percent of surviving record groups that are not digitized online or indexed in a book.

GenDetective seeks to encourage research beyond the default individual profile fields of name, birth, marriage, death and burial found in genealogy management programs. GenDetective encourages a broader search by providing a checklist of additional record groups such as military, land, will and probate for each individual in one's database.

Both GenSmarts and GenDetective provide research trip support with report capabilities sorted by locality rather than by a person's name. Genealogy database (management) programs like Ancestral Quest, Family Historian, Family Tree Maker, Legacy, Reunions, Mac Family Tree, The Master Genealogist and RootsMagic can also produce useful locality-sorted reports, listing, for instance, a list of all ancestors with an event in the specific locality where you intend to research in person during your trip.

+Hilary Gadsby, I too, have been thinking of Evidentia with regards to principles Dr. Jones discusses in Mastering Genealogical Proof, because Evidentia isn't person-centric. Evidentia is document or source-centric. Evidentia permits considering multiple items to answer the question of what data should be entered in a field in our genealogy management programs by encouraging researchers to:
  • compose an analysis of individual information items (claims) in each source
  • correlate multiple claims from multiple sources
  • account for conflicting info
  • arrive at a proof summary
This resulting "proof summary" in Evidentia can be copied and pasted to the notes for a specific data field in our genealogy management program. This provides an explanation of how the researcher arrived at the data entered in say, a birth year field. If research unearthed several conflicting dates for birth, the work done in Evidentia would guide the researcher to create a logical conclusion, essential for providing proof of the preferred birth year in this simplistic example.

I also added "+Ed Thompson, the checklist +Hilary Gadsby suggests could be as simple as a pop-up comment, or it could be a form encouraging the researcher to think through and complete."

As genealogists improve research skills, we consider information from multiple independent sources to arrive at identifying an ancestor and members of his family. Typical genealogy management software does permit citing multiple sources for an event such as a birth -- even going so far as to permit our labeling one with the "preferred" date. GenDetective and GenSmarts assist in thinking about and locating alternate record groups. Evidentia encourages written analysis and correlation of information gleaned from a variety of sources in the development of proof summaries that answer a specific research question, such as:
  • Who are the parents?  
  • What is the wife's maiden name?
  • Is my John T. Bracken the same as John Thomas Bracken who served in the US Civil War?
Mr. Myrt calls these three tools "additional arrows in our quiver." Cousin +Russ calls each "another tool in the genealogy toolbox."
(1) Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof  (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013).

[Book available from the publisher at ]

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

G+ DearMYRTLE Community
Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont


  1. Dear MRYTLE,

    Great blog post, and discussion.

    Sure gets us beyond the gathering of names, dates, and places. It gets is to What do I do with this "stuff", then, what am I missing.

    For me, the Mastering Genealogical Proof book, by Dr. Thomas Jones (1) help put structure to what we are doing. The open community discussion is a wonderful opportunity to help develop how we think and do our research.

    Thank you for a great blog post.


    (1) Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013).
    [Book available from the publisher at ]

    1. It's all about the discussion. Wish I had this discussion years earlier! :)

  2. I am in total agreement with the above comments. So much of my earliest research is poorly documented. I just hope I find time to properly analyse everything I have found.