Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Michael Hait's Genealogy Software Challenge - Citing a Probate Law and Making a Proof Argument

In his post Another word on “Evidence-based” and “Conclusion-based” genealogy software use, Michael Hait presented a short case study involving a probate case, and the applicable probate law, and challenged genealogy software users to:

"In a genealogy software program, how would one:

"(1) enter a “fact” or “event” for S. B. or M. B. to reflect the existence of the probate law?
"(2) cite the probate law?
"I am sure that there is a way, and if I relied on genealogical software in my research, I would have to figure it out. But I have a feeling that it would be a bit convoluted, whereas it is much easier to accomplish simply using a word processor with footnotes.
"The next question is then–how would this be handled differently by an “evidence-based” software user and a “conclusion-based” software user?"
Please read Michael's case study.  If I was faced with this situation, I would add a Birth Event for "S.B." as "before 1745" and cite the probate record for "M.B." from 1762/3 and also cite the probate law that states the age requirement is at least 17 years of age.  I would then add a Proof Argument in a Note to the Birth Event that discusses the situation along the lines of:
"The estate of M.B. was administered in 1762/3 in Whatever County, WhatState. S.B. was appointed the administrator of the estate (Whatever County, WhatState Probate Records, File xx,yyy, recorded 1763, etc.).  
"The applicable WhatState law in 1762/3 states that an administrator must be at least 17 years of age (WhatState Legislature, Law #1745-xxx, Section yy.zzz, etc.).  
Therefore, S.B.'s birth date is before 1745."
This Birth Event Note could also have been added to the Person Notes for S.B.  I tend to add my sources to the Person Notes also.
In addition, I would add the two sources, and the Birth Note, to the Parent-Child Relationship Fact in the software also, because this is primary information relating to that relationship.  
To answer Michael's last question, I don't think that there would be much difference between how an "evidenced-based" or "conclusion-based" software user would add this information.  If this is the only evidence for the Birth date found after a reasonably exhaustive search, then there would be only this one Birth date assertion and Relationship assertion, with authoritative sources attached to those Events.  There is only one piece of Evidence pertaining to the Birth date, and that makes the conclusion easy to make.
I probably would have added information to the Relationship Event and/or to the Person Notes that noted that the S.B. listed in the Revolutionary War Pension File, apparently born in 1764/5, could not be the S.B. son of M.B. who administered the estate of M.B. in 1762/3 for the obvious reasons.  
For me, my genealogy software database is my working file, and I want to put more information into it rather than less information.  It is impossible for me to remember all of the details about names, dates, places, relationships, life events and resources.  If, or when, I am ready to write a report, book or an article, then I can create a rough draft using the software including all of the evidence, sources and notes, and can edit the information as I write the report, book or article.  This rough draft has the names, dates, places and relationships defined, with an appropriate numbering system, so that I don't have to worry about confusing generations or those items - they are in the software and I avoid having to type them over again.  
I find that it is easier for me to edit a rough draft created by my genealogy program.  It is easier for me to edit notes and sources, delete unwanted or obsolete information, or draw soundly written conclusions from the available evidence using a rough draft, than to create information in a word processing program from a stack of paper in a file folder or on my desk.  I understand that the word processing file can be a working document that is added to and edited over a period of time as research progresses.  
I also recognize that different researchers and writers are most comfortable doing things the way they think best and are comfortable with.  
Thank you, Michael, for the challenge, it was fun to think this through.  I encourage readers to read Michael's post, and the comments (Elizabeth Shown Mills' comment is very informative!).  If readers have better solutions, please offer them in comments to this post.
Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Michael Hait said...

Thanks, Randy--I knew that you would step up.

Obviously, when you have a single database file with hundreds or thousands of people in it, genealogy software is useful for exactly the reasons you state. I have one for my family as well. (At least, I guess it's still there--it's been some time since I looked at it. :) )

For smaller cases, however, you have expressed the issues that I run across. Basically, by typing up the proof argument in the database, you are--at least to some extent--using the database "notes" field as a word processor. Being as much a writer as I am a genealogist, I tend to lean toward a word processor rather than a database.

In these kinds of cases, I find that the Word file is more flexible for my purposes. I can add comparative tables or images if needed. This goes far beyond the limited capabilities of the database "notes" fields.

Eileen said...

Randy, I would have done exactly what you did; except I would not add it. to the person notes just to the event/fact notes.

PatsyIvy said...
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