Dec 202012
 

For me, genealogy is often about recovering from “rookie” mistakes. Usually this mean that I have to correct the way in which I had previously added data to my RootsMagic database. With regards to entering birth dates, this has been a two or three step process:

  • In my “rookie” enthusiasm, whenever I had found a precise date for an individual’s birthday I would enter that date into RootsMagic (often with a source citation). Later, if a particular census record seemed to generally agree (the specific date was within the range suggested by the individual’s age as reported in the census record), I would add a citation for that census record as a source for the specific birth date. I know… not too swift on my part! (I certainly wasn’t operating under the umbrella of the Genealogical Proof Standard.)
  • Step two began when I realized that it would be more acceptable to cite multiple sources for a particular information item/fact/event/date only when the multiple sources were in 100% agreement about the item/fact/event/date. I have been reworking the birth date data for my direct line ancestors in RootsMagic. I have removed the multiple citations for specific dates unless the source were in total agreement. I then created new birth events for the additional data pieces with their appropriate citations. Since most census enumerations just list age (not birth dates), I would calculate the year of birth and enter that date with the prefix “about.” In most cases this step is sufficient to provide me with enough data to proceed with confidence.
  • Step three, however, has arisen because my great grandmother Mary Ellen Cole, daughter of George Washington Cole and Sarah A. Renkenberger, wife of Lloyd Brenner, either a) was confused about the year in which she was born or b) chose to confuse others about how old she was. Great grandma Brenner seemed to get younger as the years rolled by. Because of the wide range of possible birth dates (about 1861 to about 1866) in the 9 sources I currently have, I have corrected her data in my RootsMagic database to include the inclusive range suggested by the given age for each census year (see below).

Because I do not have a birth certificate or a family Bible record, I have had to deal with nine individual sources containing information about my great grandma Brenner’s birth date. Not one of them is in complete agreement with any other. It’s time to put on my thinking cap and analyze these data carefully.

As I was in the process of working on this issue, I learned that a new program, Evidentia (“Evidentia is the genealogy software that supports your research by guiding you through the Genealogical Proof Standard”), had been released. I have recently been looking for this kind of tool. I decided to give it a try using the data regarding my great grandma Brenner’s birth date.  In order to get oriented, I watched the YouTube videos on Evidentia – an introduction; getting started (4 parts); and creating templates. As is my usual wont, I then jumped in so that I could learn as I moved along. I hit a few bumps and snags along the way, but nothing serious. Soon I was on my entering data.

Since Evidentia uses a “source-centric” approach, step one is to “Document A Source.” I had a copy of Mary Ellen Brenner’s death certificate. I created a source called “Ohio Death Certificate” (which I can use for other Ohio death certificates found on FamilySearch. Next, I had to identify the “Provenance” of the source using a drop down list. This was fairly straight-forward. I was using an image copy which I had downloaded. The final step for documenting the source was to create the bibliography source citation (called the “Source Listing”). There is a handy pop-up citation creation tool which populates both the Source Listing and the “Citation” (long footnote citation). The screen for documenting a source is shown below:

While Evidentia does have a large number of citation templates built into the software, it was necessary for me to create a few of my own. For the more recent U.S. Census years, the built-in template were for NARA microfilm records. Since I was using images downloaded from Ancestry.com, I have to adapt the built-in templates using the “Template Creator.” After a couple of abortive attempts, I got the hang of template development and moved ahead. In one case, I had a field for the NARA microfilm roll number in two different ways (Film# and Film #). Both showed up in the final template. No problem, I re-opened the Template Creator and edited the template and removed one of the field designations. Problem fixed.  I entered nine sources.

The next step was the one that took the most time – entering “Catalogue Claims” for each of the source records. This meant extracting each bit of information from the source, connecting it with an individual, naming the particular type of information (for example: birth, death, marriage, military, education, naturalization, etc.), and finally indicating the quality of the information (primary, secondary, negative). My biggest learning during this step was the large amount of information that can be extracted from individual sources. This is especially true with census enumerations. A part of my previous “rookie” mistakes was looking for particular information in records, finding those particulars, and then moving on. As I started pulling information from the source and entering it into Evidentia’s Catalogue Claims, I found myself looking much more carefully at the census records and trying to extract every bit of information that I could. Of course, much of the information had nothing to do with the research task at hand – that is, identifying the birth date for Mary Ellen Brenner (nee Cole). However, that information is now stored in Evidentia and can be used when appropriate while pursuing other research goals. The Catalogue Claims screen is below:

The final step is “Anaylze Evidence.” Evidentia does not allow short-cuts. If you don’t begin with documenting your source, you can’t proceed to the extraction of information – Catalogue Claims. If you haven’t completed all the steps of Catalogue Claims for each of the sources, you cannot move on to Anaylze Evidence. This step is the development of your “Summary Conclusion” (proof statement) which proceeds from a) identifying the Evidence Quality (direct, indirect, negative) for each assertion from the Catalogue Claims that relate to the “Subject” (Mary Ellen Brenner) and the “Claim” (Birth) and b) analyzing the assertion. The Analysis is not determined by filling in a standard form or choosing an entry from a drop down menu. The analysis is accomplished by thinking through the Assertion and then writing your own personal assessment. As I worked through the various assertions, it became clear that my great grandmother had some issues with having others know how old she was. So, the variety of census enumerations contained a variety of ages – great grandma Brenner seemed to be getting younger as she got older. Perhaps she was self-conscious about being 4-5 years older than great grandpa Brenner. I can only guess at her motivation, but the pattern is fairly clear.

I found only one significant problem with the software. When I began to work on the Analyze Evidence form, I notice that there was one assertion that had no reference to Mary Ellen’s birth. In fact, it was about the birth place of her husband’s parents. I went back to the Catalogue Claims record for that source and there was no connection to Mary Ellen or to her birth. Because the Evidentia software listed the assertion, I had to process it before I could enter a Summary Conclusion. My solution was to select “Negative” as the Evidence Quality and to write “Not applicable.” in the Analysis box. That was sufficient to allow me to proceed. The Analyze Evidence screen is below:

Having done all this work, I was then able to create a Report. My Summary Conclusion was: “Mary Ellen Brenner (nee Cole) was most likely born on 24 August 1862 or 1863.” The complete report is below (after a few summarizing comments).

This was an extremely helpful process and I found Evidentia to be fairly easy to work with after a brief trial-and-error period. I had been working on Mary Ellen’s birth date before discovering Evidentia. I was arriving at the same conclusion, but without the clarity of process. Evidentia forced me to look at every piece of evidence related to my great grandma Brenner’s birth date that I had collected. I couldn’t overlook anything. Everything had to be accounted for. Furthermore, the final Analysis of the evidence and the Summary Conclusion were totally up to me. My thinking was not strained through someone else’s filter. Evidentia led me carefully through the Genealogical Proof Standard process so that I could make my final assertions about the evidence and what I had had “proven.”

I was working from a trial copy of Evidentia which I had downloaded after giving my name and email address. I am convinced; I am going to purchase Evidentia for my own regular use. Disclosure: I am not affiliated with Evidentia; in fact, my only contact with Evidentia has been the perusal of their website, viewing their YouTube videos, and downloading their trial software. Here’s my final report:

 

 

 

 

Analysis:  9 sources were considered in evaluating this claim.

The Ohio Death Certificate – Mary Ellen Cole (Brenner)[1] asserts that Mary Ellen Brenner was born 24 August 1864 at Lewistown, Ohio. The source reviewed was an Image Copy. The person providing the information is believed to be a Secondary Source (meaning the person did not have direct knowledge of the fact or event). The information supporting the claim is considered Direct (meaning it is explicitly stated as fact).

All birth years that likely originated with Mary Ellen herself, vary from those possibilities that came from her parents. There is no evidence to suggest that August 24th is the correct month and date of Mary Ellen’s birth. Mary Ellen likely knew her own birthday. The evidence of all the sources, other than the 1870 & 1880 censuses, suggest that Mary Ellen tried to mask the true year of her birth. That she was born in 1864 is, therefore, suspect.

The Ohio Death Certificate – Mary Ellen Cole (Brenner)[2] asserts that Mary Ellen Brenner was 80y, 9m, 17d old on the day of her death. The source reviewed was an Image Copy. The person providing the information is believed to be a Secondary Source (meaning the person did not have direct knowledge of the fact or event). The information supporting the claim is considered Indirect (meaning it is implied by the facts rather than explicitly stated).

This calculated date originates from the given date of 24 August 1864. That date likely originated with Mary Ellen herself, since her husband Lloyd was the Informant. It varies, of course, from those possibilities dates that came from her parents. It is likely that August 24th is the correct month and date of Mary Ellen’s birth. That she was born in 1864 is, however, suspect.

The 1870 Census – G.W. Cole Family[3] asserts that Mary Cole, female, white, was 8 yers old, born in Ohio. The source reviewed was an Image Copy. The person providing the information is believed to be a Primary Source (meaning the person had direct knowledge of the fact or event). The information supporting the claim is considered Indirect (meaning it is implied by the facts rather than explicitly stated).

This is the earliest record of Mary Ellen’s birth. The data most likely comes from one of her parents. This would place her birth in either 1861 or 1862. The Cole family was enumerated in August, most likely Mary Ellen’s birth month. Even though the enumeration before her likely birth date, it is quite possible that the infromant made a mistake and indicated that Mary Ellen was 8 (instead of 7).

The 1880 US Census – G Washington Cole Family[4] asserts that Mary Cole, white, female, was 17 years old, born in Ohio. The source reviewed was an Image Copy. The person providing the information is believed to be a Primary Source (meaning the person had direct knowledge of the fact or event). The information supporting the claim is considered Indirect (meaning it is implied by the facts rather than explicitly stated).

This is the earliest record of Mary Ellen’s birth. The data most likely comes from one of her parents. This would place her birth in either 1861 or 1862. The Cole family was enumerated in August, most likely Mary Ellen’s birth month. Even though the enumeration before her likely birth date, it is quite possible that the infromant made a mistake and indicated that Mary Ellen was 8 (instead of 7).

 

The 1900 US Census – Lloyd Brenner Family[5] asserts that Mary Brenner, white, female, 35 years old, was born August 1864 in Ohio. The source reviewed was an Image Copy. The person providing the information is believed to be a Secondary Source (meaning the person did not have direct knowledge of the fact or event). The information supporting the claim is considered Indirect (meaning it is implied by the facts rather than explicitly stated).

This agrees with the Death Certificate date (month and year). Once again, this came from Mary Ellen who apparently kept getting younger as she got older. August as birth month is likely correct. The year (1864) is probably wrong.)

The 1930 US Census – Lloyd Brenner Family[7] asserts that Mary E Brenner, white, female, age 64 was born in Ohio. The source reviewed was an Image Copy. The person providing the information is believed to be a Secondary Source (meaning the person did not have direct knowledge of the fact or event). The information supporting the claim is considered Indirect (meaning it is implied by the facts rather than explicitly stated).

This would make Mary Ellen’s birth year either 1865 or 1866. This is the latest birth year suggested by Mary Ellen. No, not likely at all.

The 1940 US Census – Lloyd & Mary Ellen Brenner[8] asserts that Mary Brenner, white, female, age 75, was born in Ohio. The source reviewed was an Image Copy. The person providing the information is believed to be a Secondary Source (meaning the person did not have direct knowledge of the fact or event). The information supporting the claim is considered Indirect (meaning it is implied by the facts rather than explicitly stated).

This would make Mary Ellen’s birth year either 1864 or 1865. Mary Ellen aged an extra year from the previous year’s census, but this still doesn’t fit.

The Cemetery – Grave Marker – Lloyd and Mary E Brenner[9] asserts that Mary E Brenner (“Mother”) 1864 – 1945. The source reviewed was an Image Copy. The person providing the information is believed to be a Secondary Source (meaning the person did not have direct knowledge of the fact or event). The information supporting the claim is considered Indirect (meaning it is implied by the facts rather than explicitly stated).

Since the tombstone includes both Lloyd and Mary Ellen’s dates of birth and death, the informatin date to at least 1949. Even though this is in potential agreement with three other sources, they all likely have the same origin – that is, Mary Ellen herself. Not as reliable as the 1862 or 1863 dates provided by Mary Ellen’s parents.

The 1920 US Census – Lloyd Brenner Family[10] asserts that Mary E Brenner, white, female, age 54, was born in Ohio. The source reviewed was an Image Copy. The person providing the information is believed to be a Secondary Source (meaning the person did not have direct knowledge of the fact or event). The information supporting the claim is considered Indirect (meaning it is implied by the facts rather than explicitly stated).

This would make Mary Ellen’s birth year either 1865 or 1866. This is the latest birth year suggested by Mary Ellen. No, not likely at all.

End Notes

1  1870 U.S. census, Mahoning, Ohio, Population Schedule, 19, ,26-31, dwelling 139, family , ; digital image, Ancestry.com (:); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm , roll .

2  1870 U.S. census, Mahoning, Ohio, Population Schedule, 19, ,26-31, dwelling 139, family , ; digital image, Ancestry.com (:); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm , roll .

3  1870 U.S. census, Mahoning, Ohio, population schedule, 19,1,26-31, dwelling 139, family , ; digital image, ancestry.com (:); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm , roll .

4  1880 U.S. census, Mahoning County, Ohio, population schedule, Beaver Township, enumeration district (ED) 91 p. 21, dwelling 179, family, 181, G Washington Cole family; digital image, Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com : accessed 15 June 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1045.

5  1880 U.S. census, Mahoning County, Ohio, population schedule, Youngstown Township, enumeration district (ED) 71 p. 12B, dwelling 237, family, 249, Lloyd Brenner family; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 June 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1239.

7  1930 U.S. census, Mahoning County, Ohio, population schedule, Youngstown, Ward 4, Block 230, enumeration district (ED) 50-59 page 11B (written), dwelling 175, family 203, Lloyd Brenner family; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1845.

8  1940 U.S. census, Mahoning County, Ohio, population schedule, Youngstown, Ward 4, enumeration district (ED) 96-83 page 5B (written), dwelling 89, Lloyd & Mary Brenner; Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : downloaded 28 September 2012); NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 3270.

9  Belmont Park Cemetery (Trumbull, Ohio, United States), Lloyd and Mary Ellen Brenner, ; photo by Dana Bode, ???.

10  1920 U.S. census, Mahoning County, Ohio, population schedule, Youngstown, Precinct C, enumeration district (ED) 197 page 11B (written), dwelling 227, family 249, Lloyd Brenner family; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1415.

Prepared by Bart L. Brenner

Evidentia® 2012

 

  6 Responses to “Too Many Birth Dates – A Trial of Evidentia Software”

  1. Very interesting, Bart! Thanks for the description and the whole report. It looks pretty useful, doesn’t it?

  2. Hi Bart. Ditto Randy’s thank you. It’s not just the women in my census who seem to defy the aging process with census as they age. I suspect some of this is the relative difference in the age–there are great differences between someone who is 2 and 5; and someone who is 5 and 8–but those three years (or eight, or ten) seem not nearly so different between 20 and 23; or 50 and 53; or even 60 and 60. As to the latter, I suspect we just get “old.” :-)

  3. Ooo. I meant between 60 and 70.

  4. Nice analysis, Bart. The only comment I would make (only because I had the same issue) is that you are assigning “Primary” to a lot of information that is probably not. For example – any census other than the 1940 has no indication of who gave the information to the enumerator, yet you have labeled the 1870 and 1880 censuses as primary information. These should actually be labeled “unknown.” Additionally, in your claim entry for Lloyd Brenner’s age of 81 years on Mary’s death certificate – that’s also not primary information. Yes, Lloyd was present at his birth, but was he old enough to remember the details of it? Doubtful. Therefore, everything he “knows” about his birth was either told to him or found in documents, and is considered secondary information. For me, the primary/secondary issue holds a lot of weight when I get to the analysis part.

    Something else that might help is separating the “birth” and “birth place” claim types. If for no other reason than just to streamline the analysis process. I find that it’s easier to only analyze one claim type at a time.

    I recommend that you check out the two webinars and the two Google+ Hangouts that DearMYRTLE has organized in the past 2 weeks. They can help shed some light on the entire process. Also – there are going to be monthly user group Hangouts on G+ specifically showing the data entry and analysis from actual documents, which should also be very helpful.

    • Thanks, Jenny, I am in the process of revising my work. Your insights are helpful. It is a learning process and I appreciate your help.

  5. This is an excellent article to help understand Eventia. I appreciate your taking the time to document your process for all of us.

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