Jun 152013

A recent post by +Kim Jordan in the Evidentia Google+ community started me reflecting on thinking patterns and genealogical methodology.

I am an “integrative, intuitive thinker.”  Ideas pop into my head as finished products.  At some intuitive level my brain picks up signals and clues, assembles them, and presents a finalized integrated picture as an idea.  Consciously I am unaware of the intricate processing that leads to an intuitive leap.  All I know is the finalized idea.  It is often difficult for me to back up and re-construct the pieces that went the creation of that final idea.  As a high school student, when assigned to write a theme paper, I always did it backwards — final draft, then rough draft, then outline.  That was simply how my brain worked.  However this is not the way genealogical research works!
The best genealogists seem to be “deconstructive thinkers” and “radical questioners.”  Genealogy is about deconstructing sources to isolate the information therein.  It is about the significant questioning of that information (and its provider) in order to discover the evidence that will advance one’s genealogical research.  It is only at this latter stage that evidence is integrated into a clear picture or conclusion (a ‘proof’ statement).
As an integrative thinker, I find it hard to slow down and back away from pre-mature conclusions.  Traditional genealogical software (RootsMagic is my software of choice) does not require me to slow down.  I can easily add people and facts about those people.  This I do regularly.   Oh, yes, I am committed to making sure that all new additions are properly cited!  But the step of citing my sources hasn’t slowed me down very much.
Fortunately, for me, Evidentia softnware has come on the scene.  Evidentia requires me to slow down and work as a deconstructive thinker and questioner.  I have to begin with a Source (and its bibliographic citation).  Then, after providing the first footnote citation for the source, I  move to extracting the claims made in the source.  This requires me to look closely at every word in the document before me asking, “What  does this claim or assert?”  In standard genealogy database software (like RootsMagic), I might enter one or two facts from a source and add the citation to those entries.  All done quickly.  With Evidentia however it is a much, much slower process.  For my great grandmother, Elmira Knepper, the 1880 US census record for her birth family yielded 56 claims; the 1900 census for her marriage family, 53 claims; her death certificate, 14 claims.  Each one of the claims (assertions) is a piece of information that may become evidence.  Only after I have completed this deconstructive process and written the claims (painful for an integrative thinker!) can I move to the analysis phase where I correlate and integrate the evidence that relates to a specific research question.  The end result of the integration is a proof statement.
After doing all the deconstructive work, my brain hurts.   Instead of simply allowing an intuitive, integrative idea to arise from my pre-conscious self, now I have to actually do my integrative thinking out loud (a proof statement).  Over the years I have learned to trust that silent inner processing that leads to intuitive leaps.  It hasn’t  failed me very often.  Making those processes conscious and visible has been a slow and difficult process, but has enhanced and improved my genealogical research.
When I first encountered the Genealogical Proof Standard I immediately knew (intuitively) that it was totally on target.  Shifting away from my integrative, intuitive thinking to a more deconstructive, questioning approach so as to embrace the GPS, however,  has been a slow and somewhat painful process.  Yes, I do continue to make intuitive leaps in my genealogical research.  When I become aware of those leaps happening prematurely, I try to slow down.  I start to ask myself: “What might I have missed?”  “What are all the claims or assertions that this source is making?”
Maybe it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks!

  3 Responses to “Thinking About Genealogy”

  1. Interesting perspective, Bart. I operate in a similar fashion. GPS feels like an anchor weighing me down. But I believe it (and Evidentia) are the tools I need to fully communicate those intuitively born conclusions – and highlight the inevitable errors of judgement my back of the brain pondering produces. I can’t imagine using the tools for 20th c. research. And I can’t imagine not using them for 18th & 19th c. research.

  2. You’re right, software does make things quicker, sometimes too quick, and we do need to slow down and make sure that the proof is all there.

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