Jun 082013

Two important resources have collided in my experience.

I am starting to work my way through Thomas W. Jones’ Mastering Genealogicla Proof. In Chapter 2 Dr. Jones discusses information and evidence. “Information may arise from experiece, fabrication, hearsay, intuition, observation, reading, research, or some other means.” (page 10) Information may be incorrect or inaccurate, but it is objective and tangible. Evidence, on the other hand, “exists in our minds” (page 14) as an answer to a research question.

Evidentia-7 (Logo)I am also investing significant energy in learning Evidentia software. Evidentia requires me to begin by identifying and citing a source. Then I can move on to extracting the information from that source. (Here is the collision!) Evidentia does not use the term information. Instead Evidentia provides me with a form to extract the various claims made by the source. Extracting claims is a very slow process, requiring me to draft a statement for each claim (completing the sentence, “The source asserts that …”). Only after I have extracted the claims from one or more sources can I move on to analyzing evidence.

Yes, I know that information, in and of itself, is not necessarily accurate. Its objectivity and tangibility, however, easily seduce me into thinking that it must have some truth in it. When I hear something stated with clarity and determination, I have a tendency to believe it unless there is overwhelming evidence to prove me wrong. When I enter information into my RootsMagic database, I enter it as a fact or event. That has a ring of authenticity to it, unless I have two or more conflicting pieces of information. (Herein lies the heart of the source-centric vs. conclusion-based approaches to adding data to genealogical software. In truth, my RootsMagic database contains both.) I suspect that all the negative discussion about undocumented online trees is reflective of the conflict created by a desire to want to believe information.

Evidentia has caused me to rethink my use of terms. Instead of providing myself a potential trap by saying that sources contain information, I have revised my terminology to suggest that sources contain claims (or assertions). A slight alteration of Dr. Jones’ description: claims “may arise from experiece, fabrication, hearsay, intuition, observation, reading, research, or some other means.” Now I know that, unless I have entered analysis and proof summaries into my RootsMagic database, all I have are a plethora of claims. In truth, RootsMagic is primarily, at the present time, my claim-base.

When I was dealing with information, I could proceed with some dispatch. After all, the information for ‘facts’ and ‘events’ are easily entered into a genealogy database. Increasingly, I have cited the sources for those ‘facts’ and ‘events.’ even though many of those citations are for “indeterminable” data. Evidentia requires me to slow down and write a brief statement for each of the claims I can extract from a source; identify each claim as primary, secondary, or indeterminable; then attach that claim to one or more people. Only after completing these steps can I move on to analyzing the evidence and writing proof statements. (I am still too early in my identifying the claims to worry about analyzing much of the evidence.)

There are a couple of interesting discussions in the Evidentia Google+ commuity about extracting census data. The 1870 US Census record for my great-grandmother, Mary Ellen Cole, indicates that she was 8 years old. I enter that information in RootsMagic as a birth fact indicating her birth date to be about 1861 or 1862. In Evidentia, however, I can be much clearer – namely, “This source indicates that Mary Cole was 8 years old on 1 June 1870 [the official enumeration date] or on 6 August 1870 [the date the Cole family was enumerated].” Neither the RootsMagic information nor the Evidentia claim are yet evidence or a conclusion. I need to compare and analyze all the claims I have about her birth before I can come to a conclusion and write a proof statement. (I currently have 8 birth facts entered in RootsMagic for Mary Ellen Cole, with about a 5 year variance.) That proof statement will indicate which date I enter into RootsMagic for her birth. The proof statement itself will be entered as a note about her birth. That note will contain all the conflicting claims, the analysis, and the conclusion. (The conflicting claims will no longer appear as birth facts.) If addition claims arise, I can add them to Evidentia and then re-work the analysis. If a different conclusion is arrived at, I can change the birth event in RootsMagic, along with the note containing the proof statement.

Yes, information in the Genealogical Proof Standart and claims in Evidentia mean exactly the same thing. However, having been raised in an age when it is said that “information is power,” information seems to connote more authority than claims. So, I am shifting my terminology to talk about primary, secondary, and indeterminable claims.

  One Response to “A New Word for My Genealogical Vocabulary”

  1. I have toyed around a bit with Evidentia. I think it would be good if you were working on a limited project but not for all of your genealogical research. It would be better if Evidentia interfaced with Legacy (or in your case, RootsMagic) which would make it more useful. By the way, I am in the Mastering Genealogical Proof Study Group that is being sponsored by the ProGen people (I am also in ProGen).

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