Friday, February 24, 2012

Follow-Up Friday - More on Evidence-Based and Conclusion-Based Genealogy

For Follow-Up Friday, I'm delving into the comments left on recent blog posts over the past week that might have helpful hints from readers, or asked for my comments: 

1)  In my post Events, Assertions, Evidence, Facts, Sources, Analysis, Conclusions, Software, Oh My!:

*  Michael Hait commented:  "Mental evaluation is still evaluation. If you are searching for all available records (and citing them), correlating the relevant information and evaluating it, and reconciling conflicts, then you are doing "GPS evaluation." The only step missing is the "written conclusion." Entering the information in a database is partial completion of this condition. Adding notes to the database would be a little better. Writing out a full report for your files would be the best.  But don't sell yourself short in your research process."

My comment:  Well said, I think.  I have started writing analyses and entering them into the Fact Notes for the person.  I also have started adding research logs, and written conclusions to my Person notes when there are evidence conflicts or relationship uncertainty. 

These discussions have helped me to realize that I am not as rigorous in my data entry, sourcing, analyzing evidence and drawing conclusions as I should be.  

*  Tolley Family Historian commented:  "Don't sell yourself short, and don't beat yourself up about it. And importantly we shouldn't beat anyone else up over it either. We all "do family history" in our own way. We all learn how to do it differently (maybe better) as we do more of it. And for most of us - it's a hobby; it's FUN, or else it's not worth doing. So perhaps lots of folk don't know/understand or care about the GPS, but that's not a crime. And what if your/my conclusions are mistaken - there are worse things in the world than marrying one long dead and buried name on a census schedule to another equally long dead and buried name. If they were still around they might just enjoy the joke."

My comment:  I think we're all realizing that each of us does things differently from others.  I agree that it's not a crime to not know or understand the GPS, but that's an education issue. When I present it, people usually see the light.  Genealogy education is an ongoing process, and I think that nobody can absorb it all at once.  The light usually goes on once people realize that not all information is online.

This is a hobby for many, and a profession for some.  Most of us understand this and refrain from telling people "you have to do it this way."  The conference or society speakers, and the book, periodical and online writers, do try to educate researchers that "this is a pretty good way to do things - try it!"  I classify myself as an addicted hobbyist still learning, but this blog provides an opportunity for me to be a "good example" to others.

2)  In my post Are You an Evidence-Based or a Conclusion-Based Genealogist?:

*  Sheryl commented:  "This is exactly what has held me up in buying software or publishing the evidence I do have. I guess I am "evidence-based." I collect evidence, a lot of it is conflicting. I long for a way to publish the evidence with the image files and say this is what I think, what do you think? I never want to give anyone the idea that I am the all knowing one who has the answer. It would be nice to have a way to discuss research problems from many different angles."

My comments:  The current genealogy management programs permit you to enter all of your evidence, cite it, attach document images, analyze it and draw conclusions (if you want) from it.  You can discuss the evidence in your person notes or fact notes, or in a word processor file.   I find that the program helps me collect "everything" so that I have it in one place.  

There are several ways to discuss research problems with others - with your genealogy friends in email, on the phone or over coffee; with your genealogy society colleagues; or writing on your own website or blog.  Your local genealogy society may have a regular meeting and/or several persons with expertise that can advise you with specific problems.  They probably won't solve the problem for you, but they may give you ideas for further research.  If you wrote your own blog, then your readers might help you with research advice or even links to online resources.  This works really well for me!

*  Tim Forsythe commented:  "Randy, I'm definitely an evidence based genealogist and seem to have been from the start. I always try to include as many sources as possible in my data, even if they conflict. I even document every variation of every name. I do try to add notes when there are conflicting claims, and when claims have been disproved, I mark them as such and leave them in the database. My reasoning is that since I present my tree online at

My comments:  I appreciate Tim's website and admire his discipline at sourcing everything he finds, and like his idea of certainty assessment for each event.  That might be something for the software developers to add - a certainty assessment for each event sourced.  It's still an assessment based on the knowledge base to the researcher, but it's better than having none at all.  My mindset is "form a conclusion based on the evidence at hand, go look for more evidence, and if the conclusion has to change, evaluate it in writing, and so be it."

*  Sue Adams commented:  "I disagree with Randy's apparent thinking that the difference between 'evidence-based' and 'conclusion-based' programs is whether you can enter multiple facts of the same type. To my mind all 5 of the programs he comments on are 'conclusion-based', even though some have multiple facts bolted on. Full and true support for an evidence-based research approach is much more complicated.

"We need both conclusion-based AND evidence-based data entry, because we all take both approaches during development as genealogists (usually starting off as conclusion-based and moving toward evidence-based - someone is bound to dispute this). All the current programs are really set up for are conclusions. People resort to a variety of ways of entering conflicting data because none of the programs support the research process very well."

My comment:  Sue is right about my apparent thinking - I think that a "conclusion-based" program forces me to select one set of information (say a name, birth date, and birth place) for an Event, while an "evidence-based" program permits me to add several Facts for the Event.  Legacy Family Tree seems to be the only one I mentioned that permits only one Fact for an Event, but permits me to add alternate Facts for the record.  The other programs I mentioned permit more than one Fact for an Event.  My mindset has always been "there's a field to fill in, and I'm going to fill it with the best information I have.  I like conclusions, but am willing to change them."

I am interested in learning about how genealogy programs can provide more support for evidence-based research.   Are the research logs, fact notes, general notes, source notes and comments, etc. not enough?   I know that I have not used all of these resources well in the past, but I'm trying harder now that I'm more aware of them.  I appreciate Sue's second comment that we do need both conclusion-based and evidence-based data entry.  I didn't mean to make it an "either-or" choice, but it came out that way!

*  Russ Worthington noted that there are many very helpful comments on his blog post When to enter data into your Genealogy Software? on his A Worthington Weblog blog.  I agree - good discussion!

Thank you to my readers for their comments, ideas and suggestions.  

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copyright (c) Randall J. Seaver, 2012


Michael Hait said...

The Master Genealogist software allows for "surety levels" (0-3) to be attached to facts/sources. I have not looked at Tim's site, but I assume that this is similar to what was deemed "certainty" levels.

Tim Forsythe said...

Michael, the surety levels appear to map directly to GEDCOMs quality levels for claims. This is helpful, and Ancestors Now supports these, but adding these for every claim can be daunting. Categorizing sources is much easier, can be added at any time, and has the advantage of covering all claims that reference these sources. My FAQ covers this in more detail: