Saturday, July 20, 2013

Mastering Genealogical Proof - Chapter II

Chapter II, "Concepts Fundamental to the GPS", covers some basic concepts and terms relating to the Genealogical Proof Standard; terms which seem to confuse when we get lost in the terminology instead of the meaning. Before discussing the categories of sources, information, and evidence, and their relationship to each other Dr. Jones emphasizes the importance of the research question. Research projects begin with specific questions, generally concerning identity, relationship or activity. The questions should be precise enough to prevent too many answers. For example, Who are the parents of Robert Eastham, who died in Halifax County Virginia in 1803?", offers a better path than “Who are the parents of Robert Eastham of Virginia?” (There were several.) On the other hand, “Prove that Ann Thweatt was the wife of Robert Eastham who died in Halifax County, Virginia in 1803”  rather than “who was the wife of Robert Eastham who died in Halifax County Virginia in 1803, limits the possibilities of identifying the wife.

There were five of us for this GenProof group discussion. We met on the evening of July third; the holiday probably prohibited some people from attending. For the most part, everyone seemed comfortable with the content of the chapter and the terms involved. At the end of each chapter there are exercises to reinforce the concepts.  Members of our group approached the questions in various way but we all used them. There are also two case studies in the book that are used with the study questions.

What did evoke conversation was determining whether information gathered from some sources should be considered primary or secondary. One example was Bible records. Tom Jones used a family Bible record from the Pritchett article (Appendix A) which he categorized as primary.[1] Some of the group felt that Bible records should be secondary, since the “informant” may not be known. For this particular record Tom Jones identified the person, so it seems he was comfortable that she was the person who recorded the information in the Bible.

Debbie Hooper, our group facilitator, brought up the ongoing discussion about classifying evidence as either direct or indirect. A common example is whether a census age is direct evidence of the birth date. There seem to be two camps on this question. Recent posts on the “Transitional Genealogist forum ” list at address this issue. Tom Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills both emphasized the importance of how we use, or don’t use, evidence that we find, rather than the label. 

  . . . all your research products, should demonstrate that you readily recognize indirect evidence, understand it fully, and use it skillfully to achieve valid conclusions. . . . --- Tom[2]
. . . success with genealogical problem solving--doesn't hinge upon learning textbook definitions or knowing what label to apply to something. What makes us successful is (a) the ability to recognize evidence that doesn't jump off the page and slap us in the face; and (b) the ability to use that unobvious information to solve a problem. Elizabeth [3]

It is important to acknowledge why we use these categories and definitions: they help determine the value of what we find and they let us know we may need to dig deeper, to find the most reliable sources available.

[1] “Logic Reveals the Parents of Philip Pritchett of Virginia and Kentucky”; Mastering Genealogical Proof, Appendix A, 103. National Genealogical Society Quarterly 97, March 2009: 29-38
[2] Tom Jones post, 3 July 2013, 9:35 AM; Transitional Genealogist Forum, ( : accessed 3 July 2013).
[3] Elizabeth Shown Mills post, 3 July 2013, 10:55 AM, Message: 5; Transitional Genealogist Forum, 3 July 2013, 10:55 AM, Message: 5; ( : accessed 3 July 2013).

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