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:

Adult Christening
Alternate Marriage
Bar Mitzvah
Bas Mitzvah
Cause of Death
Divorce Filed
First Communion
Marriage Bann
Marriage Contract
Marriage License
Marriage Notice
Marriage Settlement
Medical Information
Physical Description
Relationship (other)
Social Security Number
Social Security Number Issued
Title (Nobility)

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

The link for the 1910 formulas used (as a Notepad text file) is

the 1920 Claims Templates can be downloaded from

The formulas for the 1920 spreadsheet can be downloaded from

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 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:


If you are interested in looking at the spreadsheet file (both the template and the sheet for Carl E. Mieding), you can download it ( 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 (; the text list of Claim Types (assignment of Subjects and Types) is found at (!!!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

© Jojof1973 |

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).

Jun 252013

Evidentia-7 (Logo)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.

7.  Always-On-Top-Mini-Editor

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.

Jun 212013

During DearMyrtle’s Google+ hangout on Mastering Genealogical Proof last week, panelists were asked where they put their proof conclusions.  Those using regular genealogy database software (RootsMagic, Legacy, Family Tree Maker, etc.) have the option of storing proofs as notes attached to either the fact/event or to the person.  Those professional genealogists who do their work using a word processor are not so limited.

I recently watched the Evidentia video explaining how to use a GEDCOM export to transfer proof conclusions to either a person note or a fact/event note.  Frankly, I had not made up my mind which option I would choose.

Suddenly I realized, however, that my options were more open.  I have made the  decision to use my TNG website as my primary genealogy database.  It has the option of a wiki page for each person in the database.  Previously (prior to the time that MediaWiki was integrated into TNG) I had experimented with developing such a wiki page.  At the time, I focused on developing a basic form using data about my 2g grandfather, John Brenner.  As I reflected on the question about proof conclusions, I began to realize that TNG’s wiki integration and my previous experiment with MediaWiki provided me with a more creative option.

I still need to have my son do some tweaking of the MediaWiki integration with our TNG website.  So, I started with LibreOffice Writer.  I used the format I had previously developed and updated the data I had entered for John Brenner.  I am in the early stages of entering data into Evidentia and have not entered enough claims for John Brenner to use Evidentia’s analysis and conclusions.  Instead, I did my analysis and conclusions using LibreOffice.  While our TNG-MediaWiki is not quite ready for prime time, I still wanted to see what it would look like in a wiki, so I transferred (cut and paste) the information to a ZOHO Wiki page and tweaked the formatting.  I have exported the wiki page as a PDF file and saved it to my Google Drive (and made it share-able).  You can access it by this link:  John Brenner’s WikiPage

I would be delighted to have you look at this work-in-progress and make comments about form and/or content.  I will continue to work on and hopefully improve John Brenner’s wiki page.  Once we get the MediaWiki function of our TNG website working to my satisfaction and have processed more conclusions using Evidentia, I will begin developing TNG wiki pages (with proof conclusions) for other ancestors.  So, take a look and let me know what you think.  Your input could be a big help!  Thanks!

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!
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.