Jan 172015
 

#Wk2GenealogyDo-Over. In order to be faithful to my intentions for a genealogy do-over, I choose to fall behind.  This choice is a direct result from week 1’s identifying the three phases of the genealogical process — viz., the Source Session, the Claims Session, and the Conclusion Session (see http://brennerfamilytree.org/wp/?p=1082).  The reason I joined the Do-Over was that I previously had no clue about the overall genealogy research process.  I did little bits of all the various research tasks and just hoped that eventually they would come together. The result — some sources and their repositories cited, some not: some documents analyzed, many not; few conclusions written, most not; conflicting conclusions entered into my database and shared online; most documents stored (in multiple locations locally and in the cloud), but few entered into my database; boxes and shelves of un-sorted, non-indexed, not scanned papers and photos gathered from a variety of family members.

So,  in addition to interviewing myself, I gathered together all those papers and photos to prepare myself for sorting, scanning and indexing (filing).  In the process, I set aside all those documents that related to me.  In part, I needed some of them to fill out my self-interview.  I decided that I was going to move ahead with processing (Source Session) my self-interview and the documents related thereto. I am in the process of scanning, transcribing/abstracting, citing, and filing those documents.  I am using my Research Log (a new behavior). I will continue to follow the Do-Over so that, after completing the Source Session, I can return to (catching up with) the tasks of the Do-Over. This will probably mean that I will be following the Do-Over on a different, somewhat belated schedule. So be it!  Later I will complete the Claims Session and Conclusion Session with the data about my life.

A key reason for joining the Do-Over was to change my approach to genealogical research, it already has.  Thank you Thomas!

Jan 042015
 

red-do-over-button-small

I am catching up after preparing for and celebrating a memorial for my wife, Susan, who died of an aggressive brain tumor in mid-December.  It was a glorious celebration with family and friends participating.  So, more than genealogy is getting a do-over in 2015.   Here are my reflections and learnings for Week 1:

Cleaning House:

I am archiving all previous research. I will consider my archives as a repository to search periodically. I will use only documents (paper or digital) from the archive – not indexes; not transcriptions, translations or abstracts; not analyses; not conclusions (proof statements or arguments).

Preparing to Research:

After reviewing previous research practices, as well as the many suggestions from the Genealogy Do-Over community, I have assessed my research agenda and identified three separate phases or sessions which need to be completed regularly:

Source Session:

  • Establish a Specific Research Question
  • Open Research Log (I have modified Thomas MacEntee’s Research Log)
  • Search for documents that address the Research Question
  • Site Sources for each document (I will write free form citations based on Evidence Explained)
  • Scan Paper Documents
  • Save digital files to Dropbox (using Naming Protocol). [Note: I am currently revising and expanding my previous Naming Protocol.]

Claims Session:

  • Transcribe, Translate, Abstract (I have used Transcribe in the past; I am currently experimenting with GenScribe.)
  • Enter into Evidentia
    • ClassifySource
    • Extract Claims
    • Connect Claims to People

Conclusion Session:

  • Resolve Conflicts
  • Write Proof Statement / Argument
  • Enter documentation, analysis and conclusion into RootsMagic and TNG (The Next Generation of Genealogy Sightbuilding)

Recovery Session:

  • Relax
  • Take a Deep Breath
  • Smile
  • When ready, begin a new Research Agenda.

My Golden Rules:

  • Ancestors have a story to tell; listen first, talk later. (This is my reminder to slow down.)
  • My ancestors and my grand-children are counting on me to tell Ancestor stories. If I don’t tell them, they may not get told.
  • We all are genealogy cousins. Treat other genealogists and family historians with respect and integrity.
  • I don’t own my Ancestors; I don’t own the data about my Ancestors; I do own (and am responsible for) my conclusions about my Ancestors.
  • Site, Cite, Sight & Insight! Site (online and on location) to find sources; Cite all sources completely; Analyze (sight in depth) all data and draw appropriate conclusions (insight).
  • Grow my tree; don’t graft branches. Don’t compromise my integrity by accepting the conclusions of research done (or not done) by others.
Dec 282014
 

Jenny Lanctot’sred-do-over-button-small post — “Genealogy Do-Over: Prep Time” — (http://aremyrootsshowing.jenny-ology.com/2014/12/28/genealogy-do-over-prep-time/) started a brief conversation about the importance of having established a clear and consistent format for naming genealogy files.  I have been using a format similar to that developed by Jenny Lanctot (and others) that is primarily focused on Surnames.  Over the past couple of months I have been reflecting on moving to an alternative approach.

There has been a conversation in the broader genealogical community which has raised the question of whether we are doing source-centric or results-centric research.  The distinction between the two can be seen by comparing Evidentia and Roots Magic.  Evidentia focuses on analyzing documents (sources) and the claims they make; and then attaches persons to those claims.  RootsMagic, on the other hand, beging by building a database of persons and adding the results of your reseach to the appropriate people.  Evidentia is source-centric; RootsMagic is results-centric.  The results-centric approach turned me into a name gatherer, with sources being of secondary importance, shown by the number of people in my database without sources.

So, the Genealogy Do-Over provides me the opportunity to change my file naming protocol to reflect a different approach to my genealogical research.

I have created “!Genealogy Master” folder.  (The “!” simply moves the folder to the top of the alphabetic list of folders.) There are two sub-folders — “Primary Sources” and Secondary Sources.”  The Primary Sources folder has the following sub-folders: Baptism, Bible, Birth, Census (with sub-folders by year), Confirmation, City Directory, Death, Family Letters, Land-Property, Marriage, Migration, Military, Naturalization, Obituaries, Passport, Wills-Probate.  The Secondary Sources folder contains these folders: Articles About Family Members, Cemetery Information, DNA, Family Group Sheets (from others), GEDCOMs, Locations, Published Family Histories, Signatures, Surnames (general information abut surnames or families as a whole).  I will name files, especially those that go into the Primary Sources folder, using the following template:  [Type] YYYYMMDD [Location] [SURNAME, FName, (married surname)][Ident#]*.

* I have adopted the Ancestral Lines Pairing System (http://www.ancestrallines.net/) developed by Capers McDonald.

This naming convention, in addition to utilizing Evidentia early in the processing of sources while refraining from entering the results into RootsMagic until the end of the process, will (I hope) keep me focused on processing sources in order to arrive at results, rather than short-circuiting the research process and jumping to conclusions.

Dec 262014
 

red-do-over-button-small

Two years ago I wrote a blog post entitled “A Hobbyist’s Genealogy Manifesto” (http://brennerfamilytree.org/wp/2014/12/my-genealogy-do-over-manifesto.html). Since I am joining Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do Over, it seemed appropriate to revisit and update my Manifesto. Two years ago my concern was oriented to my passion for genealogy; now my concern is for the quality and integrity of my family history research.

Now, as previously, I approach the topic as a hobbyist, not a professional genealogist. I do, however, understand the uneasiness and apprehensions that professional genealogists must have when any of us hobbyists publish unsourced information and/or draw invalid inferences from the information at hand. While the professionals have standards that relate to their certification, we hobbyists have only the principles and practices by which we informally abide. So, as I anticipate joining all those committed to the Genealogy Do Over, here are the principles, practices, and expectations (goals) that will guide my work:

1. I will expExplorelore
I admit that I am a data hunter and gatherer. Sometimes my research has seemed like a feeding frenzy. I intend to make my research more orderly and goal-oriented. This will require me to do two at least things that I haven’t been doing very well — viz., pose more focused research questions and maintain an accurate research log. I have learned that research often uncovers data that conflicts with and/or contradicts previous data. When I find conflicts, I will not be in a hurry to resolve them, but will continue to gather data until I can resolve the conflict. I have found Evidentia to be a useful tool for processing conflicting claims. While I primarily use the internet for finding information that relates to my family lineage, I intend to increase on-site research, as appropriate.

learn2. I will learn
For me, I expect the Genealogy Do Over to be primarily a learning experience. I know that I will continue to make mistakes in my research, in organizing my information, in making inferences and drawing conclusions, in citing sources, and in transferring data. I will, therefore, not only strive to correct such mistakes but will also seek to learn so as not to repeat them. When others point out mistakes I have made, I will accept their insights and wisdom with grace. I will admit mistakes when I am aware of them and then correct them to the best of my ability. In addition to participating in the Genealogy Do Over, I will continue to learn more about standard processes and protocols by reading genealogy blogs, attending genealogy workshops and conferences, participating in online study groups and webinars, and/or engaging in formal courses of study.

3. I wExploreill cite
I will provide accurate source citations for published research (in my blog and on my website). If I can’t cite the source, I won’t publish it. I adhere to the Pirates of the Caribbean philosophy of citation – that is, they are not so much ‘laws’ (to be slavishly followed) as they are ‘guidelines’ to assist us (see my previous blog post). When entering information in my RootsMagic database, I use RM’s built-in citation templates. When entering data in Research Wiki or my online database, I use E. S. Mills’ Evidence Explained as a guide, as well templates I have developed myself.

share4. I will share (both giving and receiving)
Through my blog and the presence of my online family tree, I will continue to share my research and my conclusions with family members as well as other genealogists and family historians. I will also continue to gather and share data with “cousins” who are also researching any of my family lines. Where possible I will be in contact with those “cousins” to determine the sources and validity of their information; and I will share with them the sources of my information. When I discover undocumented “cousin” information, I will use it as clues for further research, but will not add it to primary database or publish it until I van validate it by additional documented research.

standards5. I will practice and advocate for the highest standards for genealogy and family history
This is my ‘pay it forward’ intention. In addition to learning for myself during he Genealogy Do Over, I realize that I can join with other genealogists who are promoting ‘best practices’ and standards for the field of genealogy. Therefore, when I share findings with my family, when I communicate with new-found “cousins,” when I talk with others who are interested in genealogy and family history… I will try to be a gentle advocate for the best of current practices and procedures. My entrance into the world of genealogy was heralded by the gracious gift of Dana Jack Bode, a 1st cousin once removed, and enhanced by the gift of former brother-in-law, John Boyer. They taught me much by the ways they approached their research. It is my turn now to ‘pay it forward.’

Integrity6. I will operate with integrity
Wikipedia defines “integrity” as “a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes.”
Elizabeth Shown Mills, in a comment on “Eliminating the Hobby from Genealogy,” suggests that genealogy is “not a game of solitaire or an afternoon of knitting in which our screw-ups can be quickly unraveled with no affect on others. As in all research fields, most genealogical screw-ups – all those wrong conclusions – can be prevented by following the standards and practices that create reliability.”
I hold myself accountable for my genealogical research by remembering my two grandchildren – Olivia (11) and Benjamin (9). To them I am just “PopPop,” not a genealogist or family historian. In the years ahead, I hope they will entertain some fascination with our family’s history… and when they do, I want them to have the best records that I can leave. One of the ways I ensure such a legacy is to commit myself and my genealogical endeavors to a consistency that embraces “the standards and practices that create reliability.” To that end, I commit!

Face7. I will have fun.
I will approach this genealogical do over with the full intention of having fun.  Yes, there will be hard work; yes, there will be frustration; no, it will not move fast enough; I will probably want, at some point, to abandon the process and revert to my already-don, half-validated database; I may question both Thomas MacEntee’s and my sanity at times.  In spite of all that, I will stick with the process because I intend to have fun — laughing at my previous attempts to slide unvalidated information in as if it were clearly and obviously true; chuckling to myself when I  am able to demonstrate that the results of my genealogy research are more credible; delighted when another brick wall falls.  I am ready; let’s begin!

Dec 192014
 

Susan Frances (Weaver) Brenner died peacefully Wednesday morning (December 17th) after a valiant battle with an aggressive brain tumor. She was a loving wife and mother, a capable nurse, a frustrated potter, and a fierce peacemaker and mission worker. Her “can do” attitude was an inspiration to those who knew her. Family and friends are gathering for a memorial celebration at 10:30 am, Saturday, January 3rd, in the Fellowship Hall of St. Charles Presbyterian Church. You are invited to join us as we celebrate the good times and the not-quite-so-good that made Susan the remarkable person that she was. Dress casually and bring your memories of Susan. In lieu of flowers, perhaps you might consider making a contribution to your local Habitat for Humanity in her memory, or to the St. Charles Presbyterian Church, or to your own religious assembly.

Susan and I were married for 52 years. We all will miss her but are glad that her pain and struggles are over. She has joined the grand parade of ancestors.

Aug 272013
 

Evidentia-7 (Logo)I have completed Claims Extraction Templates for the US Census years 1850 through 1940.  This includes the 1890 Veterans Schedules.   These templates were developed using LibreOffice Calc but have been saved as .xlsx files (meaning that they can be open in Excel or any spreadsheet that can open an Excel file).  I developed these files to provide the complete sentences that can be copied and pasted directly into Evidentia’s “Catalogue Claims” section, thus avoiding my having to write a new sentence with each entry.  The process of developing these Claims Templates required me to explore each year’s census form to determine what Claims could be extracted.  That was a helpful discipline.

If you choose to use these templates, you are free to alter the way any of the Claims are stated and/or to add (or remove) Claims as you deem appropriate.  For each Census year, I have developed a separate spreadsheet with two sheets — first, the template which contains the formulas but no data; second, a sheet contain the data for one of my ancestors.  I provided the second to make sure the formulas were working.  If you choose to use the Templates, you can see how the Claims will look.  The second sheet can be deleted.

Copy templateTo use the Claims Extraction Templates for extracting the claims for your ancestors, open the template for the selected year. In order to copy the template, click on the cell that is above the “1” and to the left of the “A” (see picture at right).  Copy that and open a new sheet. Click on that same cell in the new sheet and paste.   The fully formatted Claims Extract Templates will now be entered on the second sheet.  You can rename the sheet to reflect your source / ancestor by left clicking on “Sheet 2″ and selecting “Rename Sheet.”  Open the respective Census record for the appropriate year and enter the general data in Line 2 and the information about each of your ancestors on the respective lines (usually B4 through B13).  The Claims will be automatically completed for all the ancestors entered.  (Note: if you have more than 10 ancestors I would recommend that you simply open a new Sheet and copy the Template to that sheet. You can then enter the information about the rest of your ancestor’s household in the second sheet.  The extracted Claims statements for the various individuals will not be affected by their being on separate sheets. ( I originally thought about adding lines to the page and copying the formulas but this is a more complicated task and can easily result in either too much time being taken or wrong formulas being entered.)

A disclaimer:  I am not a power spreadsheet user.  I have been learning as I have been developing this Claims Extraction Templates.  I have used three types of formulas:  1) direct statements of claims; 2) statements of claims conditioned by IF formulas — that is, IF “A” is true then one claim is stated; IF “A” is not true then another claim (or no claim) is made; and 3) claims that are drawn from two or more possible statements, utilizing the VLOOKUP formula.  (These latter statements are the ones reflected in the boxes below the data entry cells.)  There are probably other ways to accomplish the same results. These were the best ways that I could find.

1850 US Census Claims Extraction Templates

1860 US Census Claims Extraction Templates

1870 US Census Claims Extraction Templates

1880 US Census Claims Extraction Templates

1890 US Census (Veterans Schedule) Claims Extraction Templates

1900 US Census Claims Extraction Templates

1910 US Census Claims Extraction Templates

1920 US Census Claims Extraction Templates

1930 US Census Claims Extraction Templates

1940 US Census Claims Extraction Templates

Note:  If you downloaded any of the previous Claims Extraction Templates that I have posted, I have probably made changes.  The templates listed above are New.  I have left the previous versions available, but would encourage you to use the newer versions.

Happy Claim Extracting!

Aug 162013
 

As I have been working on Claims Extraction Templates I have realized that there have been a number of Claim Types that I have had to add to Evidentia’s list.  I explored other software and then compiled a fuller list by adding Fact Types and Event Types (or whatever they were called) in RootsMagic, Legacy, The Master Genealogist, Gramps, Family Historian, and Family Tree Maker.  That list is as follows:

Adoption
Adult Christening
Alternate Marriage
Annulment
Association
Baptism
Bar Mitzvah
Bas Mitzvah
Birth
Blessing
Burial
Caste
Cause of Death
Census
Child
Christening
Citizenship
Confiration
Cremation
Death
Degree
Divorce
Divorce Filed
Education
Elected
Election
Emigration
Engagement
Ethnic
Event
Excommunication
Fact
First Communion
Funeral
Graduation
Grandchild
Grandparent
Guardianship
Hobbies
Honors
Illness
Immigration
Interment
Inurn
Language
Marriage
Marriage Bann
Marriage Contract
Marriage License
Marriage Notice
Marriage Settlement
Medical Information
Military
Miscellaneous
Name
Namesake
Nationality
Naturalization
NobilityTitle
Obituary
Occupation
Officiating
Ordinance
Ordination
Parent
Physical Description
Possessions
Probate
Property
Relationship (other)
Religion
Residence
Retirement
Role
Separation
Social Security Number
Social Security Number Issued
Spouse
Title (Nobility)
Will

Aug 162013
 

Evidentia-7 (Logo)In a previous post (Claims Extraction Templates) I described the process by which I began to develop templates in LibreOffice Calc through which Claims from the 1930 US Census could be extracted and then entered into Evidentia.  I had used the 1930 Census as the example and included links to the resulting spreadsheet template for 1930 US Census, as well as a text file (generated in Notepad) that contained the individual formulas that I had used.  At the time I had developed spreadsheets for all the censuses from 1850 to 1940, but was not ready to share them until I have revised them.  (I was learning as I progressed from one census year to another.)

I have completed my revision of the 1910 1920 Claims Templates using LibreOffice Calc.  (They should also open in Excel).  Each time I revise one of the spreadsheets I learn more.  By the time I’m done I may really begin to understand what I am doing.

The link for the 1910 Claims Templates is https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/6904113/Claims%20Template%20-%201910%20US%20Census.xlsx

The link for the 1910 formulas used (as a Notepad text file) is https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/6904113/Census%20Claim%20Template%20Formulas%20(1910%20US%20Census).txt

the 1920 Claims Templates can be downloaded from https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/6904113/Claims%20Template%20-%201920%20US%20Census.xlsx

The formulas for the 1920 spreadsheet can be downloaded from https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/6904113/Census%20Claim%20Template%20Formulas%20(1920%20US%20Census).txt

Happy extracting!

Aug 112013
 

Recently there was a most interesting discussion of Claim Extraction Templates in the Evidentia Google + Community. It was initiated by Paul Harris who had created Claim Extraction Templates in Notepad, from which he was able to paste the completed Claims into the Catalogue Claims screen of Evidentia. Paul describes his work on Claims Extraction Templates in a Screencast at http://www.screencast.com/t/gYueKj4HOHX. In the ensuing discussion, Kevin Grooms indicated that he had been working toward a similar end, but using Excel.

Evidentia-7 (Logo)Extracting Claims from sources and crafting Claims statements is a slow process in Evidentia. Each information item needs to be identified and then a statement of the Claim it makes must be written and assigned to one or more Subjects. Slowing down the process of examining sources is helpful. The slower pace means that I don’t skip over details that I may not think important at the moment but which might become important later on. It seemed to me that Claim Extraction Templates could do at least three things for me: help in the examination of various type of sources in order to identify the Claims that they make, aid in drafting more consistent Claim statements, and make entering Claim statements (and assigning their respective Subjects) a little less tedious.

I decided to begin with US census records using LibreOffice Calc to develop the Claim Extraction Templates. I choose census records because I have a lot of census records to extract, each year’s information is consistent because of the forms used, and there is a lot of information to be extracted for each census record (especially with large families). I started with the 1850 US census and have just completed all the years through 1940. I am not a power spreadsheet user. This was a learn as I go project. My earlier attempts will be revised on the basis of my later learnings. For the rest of this post, I will describe the process (and results) for building a Claim Extraction Template form for the 1930 US census, and will use the record of my Great Uncle Carl Mieding as an example.

There are three different kinds of data to be accounted for on each census page: general data regarding information of the particular page (location, enumeration district, page, date); general information for the particular household (street, address, dwelling#, family#, etc.); particular information for each individual in the household (name, age, marital status, occupation, et al.). I have developed a separate spreadsheet for each census year. Each spreadsheet has the capacity to contain multiple sheets (a template, and a sheet for each of the households enumerated). I have set up each spreadsheet Template with the capacity for 10 individuals. (For households with more than 10, extra lines can be added to the data entry section of the spreadsheet and addition sections can be added Claims section.)

In the development of the Claim Extraction Templates for the first census records I worked on, I was entering the formulas directly into the spreadsheet. I began to realize that it was necessary to repeat the formulas for each individual. Unfortunately, formulas, when copied, are always adjusted to reflect the new cells. That resulted in formulas with wrong elements. I then began to save the formulas for each of the Claim statements in a Notepad text (.txt) file. I initially work on the Claims for the Head of Household. I test out the formulas in the spreadsheet but finish with them in Notepad.

Once I have completed the formulas for the Head of Household, I save them in Notepad and save a second copy under a slightly different name. I open the second copy and remove the formulas that are generic for the household (for example, in 1930 the question was asked “Is there a radio in the household?”). These formulas still point to the information related to the Head of Household (line #4 in the spreadsheet). I do a search and replace to change all references to line 4 to have them now point to line 5.

It is quite simple now to copy the formulas to the Claims Templates section of the spreadsheet. I highlight and copy the entire list of formulas for the Head of Household (each one on a single line, no extra lines between them). I click in the 1st cell where the formulas are to be entered and select “Copy.” The Text Import dialogue box will open. I simply select “OK” and all the formulas are entered in their correct form. I do the same for the next person in the household (using the second set of formulas). Because that data remains on the clipboard, I can now enter it as many times as needs to represent the total number of individuals. (I have included 10 individuals in my spreadsheets.) One other step is needed. After copying each set of formulas, I do a search and replace all in the spreadsheet (replace 5 with 6 for the 3rd person; replace 6 with 7 for the 4th person; etc.)

I also have constructed formulas for indicating the assignment of each of the Claim to the respective individual with Claim Types (birth, residence, occupation, etc.) These, too, are saved as notepad files and entered by a batch copying.

My process for extracting Claims from census records is as follows:

  1. Open the spreadsheet for that census year
  2. Create a new sheet for the household to be analyzed
  3. Name the tab for the new sheet (Surname, First Name, MI)
  4. Copy the Template to the newly created sheet
  5. Open a copy of the respective census record and enter the data from it directly into the newly created sheet for that household
  6. Copy and paste the Claims from the spreadsheet into Evidentia’s Claims Catalogue page
  7. For each Claim copied from the spreadsheet into Evidentia, I also note the Claim Type(s) for each of the Claims (column 2 in the spreadsheet) and enter that information along with the Assigned Subject.

The Claims extracted from the 1930 US Census for my great Uncle Carl Mieding are as follows:

 UncleCarl(2Cols)

If you are interested in looking at the spreadsheet file (both the template and the sheet for Carl E. Mieding), you can download it (https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/6904113/Claims%20Template%20-%201930%20US%20Census.xlsx) and open it with your spreadsheet software. That will give you access to all the formulas for computing the Claims. Note that many of the data fields in the Template are already filled with 0 (zero). Those formulas in those data fields are set to return a blank Claim if other data is not entered into the cell. You will also note that data entry for a number of the fields is related to a box below the entry cells.

The separate text list of formulas for Claim Extraction Templates is:

1930 Claim Template FormulasThe separate text list of formulas for Claim Extraction Templates is found at (https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/6904113/Census%20Claim%20Template%20Formulas%20(1930%20US%20Census).txt); the text list of Claim Types (assignment of Subjects and Types) is found at (https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/6904113/!!!Census%20Claim-type%20Formulas%20(1930%20US%20Census).txt).

As I review and revise the rest of the US Census Claim Extraction Templates I will post them.

I am finding that the development of the formulas for each record set takes time. Once done, however, it is a simple matter of highlight, cut, and paste the resulting extracted Claims into Evidentia (along with the assignmet of Subjects and Types). Thanks to Paul Harris, Kevin Grooms, and all the members of the Google+ Evidentia Community who shared in the discussion.

 

Jul 052013
 
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© Jojof1973 | Dreamstime.com

I started as a name collector and progressed to being an information sponge.  Thanks to Thomas W. Jones’ Mastering Genealogical Proof and Ed Thompson’s Evidentia software, I am early in the movement toward a third phase of my practice as a genealogist / family historian — namely, correlating and analyzing evidence.

A couple years ago I became introduced to the Genealogical Proof Standard via Mark Tucker’s Research Process Map.  I understood the importance of categorizing sources, information, and evidence.  I even started to provide citations for my sources. But something was missing!  Something was holding back my progress as a genealogist / family historian!

When I began to experiment with Evidentia, it became patently clear that I needed to shift my emphasis from subjects to sources, from information per se to the claims made by the information.  Along the way I had learned that quality research begins with a research question, but I had not yet integrated that learning into my own research.

I have been entering sources into my Evidentia database and extracting the claims within those sources.  Yesterday I began to analyze the evidence related to the birth of my great grandmother Mary Ellen Cole (Brenner).  Actually, I had done this previously as I was evaluating Evidentia on a trial basis.  This time, however, the lights went on!

I find it interesting to note that, while Evidentia will not allow the user to advance in the process until the steps necessary to keep within the GPS standards are met, there is no requirement to pose a research question prior to analyzing evidence.  One might contend that the process of assigning claims to a subject (e.g., Mary Ellen Cole) and a category  (Birth) assumes a question, but not a specific question. And, as I understand it, it is the specific nature of the research question that determines which information becomes evidence.  As an example, I was assigning claims relating both to birth dates and locations to the Birth category.  (I may have to expand my categories.)

I had entered the claims from the 5 census  records containing information for Mary Ellen Cole (Brenner), her death certificate, and her tombstone.  I had moved to analyzing those claims as evidence about when and where she was born.  In the middle of that analysis I came face-to-face with the reality that it is the research question which changes information into evidence.  One of the claims of the 1930 census was that Mary Ellen Brenner was 22 years old at the time of her first marriage.  The date of Mary Ellen’s first marriage was now evidence that would contribute to the analysis. Here’s the rub…  I had two sources, but not yet extracted the claims from those sources —  a report of the marriage in the East Liverpool, Ohio, Saturday Review and FamilySearch’s index of Ohio Marriages, 1800 – 1958.  (O.K., I know, an index is not a source.)  Since FamilySearch has un-indexed images of Ohio county marriage records, I browsed through the 1887 records of Columbiana County and found their record — license issued on 30 September 1887; marriage certified for 1 October 1887.  I entered this source in Evidentia and extracted its claims.  I also discovered that I had a copy of their Marriage License / Certificate and a newpaper article reporting on their 50th anniversary. I had not previously considered these information items as evidence.  But, now they were and, having found them, I entered them into Evidentia. The closest any of them came to identifying birthdate was to declare that Mary Ellen was over 18 at the time of the application for a license.  They did however identify the date of the wedding.  Indirect evidence is still evidence.  So, I then re-worked the analysis of the evidence.

The new evidence did not change my conclusions, but it did help me better to understand the relationship between the research question and evidence — without a research question, information remains information.  I now understand more clearly how information becomes evidence.  Now the task is to transform more of the information that my research has found into evidence.  This means that I have to start asking more questions (and learn how to ask appropriate research questions).