Evidentia is a software program designed to help genealogists process their research in accord with best practices of the field, including the Genealogical Proof Standard. I downloaded the trial version last December, entered data from a number of sources containing conflicting information about my great-grandmother Brenner’s birth year, and after analyzing the data developed a proof conclusion. I was impressed and immediately purchased Evidentia for my own use. I have not become a power user, but I find myself increasing entering data into Evidentia so that I can do appropriate analysis and correlation leading to proof conclusions. Here are the top 10 reasons I continue to use Evidentia more and more.
10. Evidentia is Source-Centric
Like so many others I began by name collecting. I have been using traditional genealogical database software (RootsMagic, Legacy, FamilyTreeMaker, et al) that supported my habit of beginning with people, finding information about them, and entering it as facts/events/relationships. I then learned to provide citations for the sources. Evidentia turns the process inside-out and upside down. It starts with entering a source and providing a citation; then extracting the informational claims contained in that source, before attaching those claims to individuals. This has been a significant change in thinking patterns and in practice.
9. Evidentia’s Citation Manager
Fortunately, I had already made the transition to providing source citations. Evidentia makes the process of citing sources relatively easy. Because I have a lot of sources formatted (using RootsMagic’s source templates) according to Evidence Explained!, I can cut and paste the bibliographic source citation into Evidentia’s “Source Listing” on the Document a Source page and the first footnote citation into the “Citation” box on the Catalogue Claims page. If I don’t already have a citation, Evidentia provides a series of templates as well as a template creator. I have found all these methods of entry to be usable.
8. Free-form Claims
Evidentia helped changed my perspective on genealogical “information.” Information seems to be such a pervasive term in this digital age of instant Internet accessibility. It is too easy for us to think that information is fact. Evidentia helped me understand that, for the genealogist / family historian, information makes claims. These claims may be factual and accurate, or mis-guided, or wrong. They still, however, are claims that need to be analyzed. Most of the many birth years for my great-grandmother amounted to claims she made about her birth year (and age). Since it appears that she was actually 4 years older than her husband, she seemed to have reduced the difference in their age by a year each census. Which of the claims was accurate; which, false? The information itself does not have the answer. No templates here. I am free to enter the claims in whatever manner I deep appropriate.
I work with two computer screens. On one I have Evidentia running; on the other, a digital image of the document I am processing. Once activated, the “always-on-top-mini-editor” stays on the screen with the document. It serves as my place holder as I move it from information piece to information piece, entering the appropriate claims made by the information. This sure saves time, as well as avoiding the frustration of losing my place in the document I am processing.
6. GEDCOM Import of Subjects
After entering the claims made in a particular document, it is necessary to classify them (primary, secondary, indeterminable) and assign them to one or more subjects. I can enter a new subject’s name into the database as I am assigning the claim, or I can import (via GEDCOM) a list of subjects from my regular genealogical database. I just completed such an import. Each subject was listed, where possible, with their approximate birth year — e.g., Cole, Nathan D. (ca 1855). My only difficulty here occurred because I had listed multiple birth dates for many individuals in the database. No problem, Evidentia’s “List Manager” has a merge function that can combine the records of two individuals into one.
5. Evidentia Helps Me Focus & Prevents Genealogical “Drifting”
In DearMyrtle’s Google+ Hangout on Mastering Genealogical Proof (lesson 1), the term “drifting” was applied to genealogical research. How easy it is to drift – to begin following rabbit trails instead of staying on course. This tendency has been rampant in my research. I easily lose focus and begin pursuing “low hanging fruit” that seems easier to get than the information I was seeking. I also tend to drift when I am processing the data of my research. There always seems to be something that catches my attention and diverts it from the matter at hand. Evidentia helps me stay on track as I am processing my research data. As I use Evidentia, I find that I am extracting many more claims from each source. A US Census record for a family might contain 60 or 70 claims (or more). Previously I had stopped short of identifying all the claims. Because Evidentia is source-centric, I tend to stay with the source until I have extracted most (all) of the claims. Only after identifying the claims do I concern myself about the subjects to which those claims are to be assigned.
4. Analysis, Correlation, and Proof Conclusions
Here is the genius of Evidentia — until I have documented a source I can’t move to cataloguing claims. Until I have written out the claims contained in the source, I can’t assign them to subjects. Until I have completed my catalogue of claims assigned to subjects, I can’t analyze the evidence and write a proof conclusion. Evidentia provides the structure for all that to happen. There is no format or template for analysis of the evidence or writing a proof conclusion. That I must do. When completed, however, Evidentia provides a nicely formatted and complete report. Personally, I do need to learn a little more (and practice a lot) about writing proof conclusions (statements, summaries, arguments).
3. Evidentia Google+ Community
At the present time there are 180 of us who are members of the Evidentia Google+ community. Here questions get asked, answers are given, matters get discussed. It is an informative interchange between a group of people trying to improve their genealogical research using Evidentia. The added bonus is the presence of Ed Thompson (the developer of Evidentia).
2. Ed Thompson
As a developer, Ed Thompson has his ear to the ground. He listens! Sometimes he shares his ideas about improving Evidentia, soliciting feedback. At other times, a member of the Google+ community will suggest a change because of the way they understand the process. Often, Ed responds quickly and indicates how he might / will make changes to the program in its next release. Perhaps the most significant evidence of Ed Thompson’s willingness to improve Evidentia came with the publication of Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones. Even before I had started reading the book, Evidentia had added “authored work” to the classification of Sources and “indeterminable” to the classification of claims (information).
1. Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)
I am delighted by the energy invested by members of the online genealogical community in reading and studying Mastering Genealogical Proof. This resource has so many of us thinking, learning, talking about the GPS. Evidentia gives me the venue to practice processing sources, claims (information), and evidence in keeping with the standards outlined by the GPS. Because of the GPS, Mastering Genealogical Proof, and Evdentia my genealogical research is starting to show some significant improvement. I don’t aspire to be a professional, certified genealogist. I do, however, want the fruits of my labor to be credible. I want to have a tree with deep roots and solid branches.