Thomas W. Jones new book, Mastering Genealogical Proof, defines "Direct Evidence" as (page 14):
"...an information item that answers a research question all by itself. When we consider the possibility that an information item describes what actually occurred we are using that information item as direct evidence."
And "Indirect Evidence" as:
" ...a set of two or more information items that suggest an answer to a research question only when they are combined."
The discussion on the TGF board quickly went to "it depends on the question being asked." Example questions and answers included (my interpretation, I hope I got them right!):
* With a question of "How old was John Doe on 1 June 1850?" an answer of 49 years old is "Direct Evidence" (because it answers the question - it doesn't have to be exact, or correct).
* With a question of "What year was John Doe born if he was age 49 on 1 June 1850?" (and therefore he was born in either 1800 or 1801), the answer would be "Direct Evidence" (because it answers the question, but not exactly).
* With a question of "What was John Doe's birth date if he was age 49 on 1 June 1850?" The answer would be "Indirect Evidence" because it does not answer the question exactly.
* With a question of "What is the birth date of John Doe if he died on 1 June 1850 and his age at death was 49 years, 4 months and 3 days?" the answer would be "Direct Evidence" (because this single piece of information provides enough data to permit calculation of an exact birth date).
* With a question of "What is John Doe's birth date?" if a death certificate says the birth date was 29 January 1801, the answer would be "Direct."
Elizabeth Shown Mills added this in the discussion:
"If we assume that direct evidence gives a full answer and anything less than that is INdirect, then we have simplified both our expectations and our research. If we redefine INdirect as "something that addresses the question but doesn't give a full answer," then our focus--and our research methodology--stays at base level."
In my assignment of Direct or Indirect Evidence to source citations that provide information about an exact date (day-month-year), I've been using "Direct" for information that states a specific day-month-year, and "Indirect" for information that requires additional information to determine a specific day-month-year.
My practice has been to assign "Indirect" to the first four examples above if the question was "What is John Doe's birth date?" My view was that I needed more information to determine an exact day-month-year in the first three cases, and that I need to make a calculation in the fourth case (since there were two different pieces of information - a death date and an age at death). I find age at death quite a bit in the Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1915 collections and use them to determine birth dates. Some gravestones list a date of death and an age at death also.
Is a death record that includes both a death date and an age at death one piece of information or two? I've been treating it as two, but it seems like it's one now to me. Am I quibbling over a small point?
The TGF message board also highlighted that assigning Direct or Indirect to evidence items was not the most important factor here - the purpose of the assignment of the term is to help the researcher evaluate all of the available evidence and apply the Genealogical Proof Standard to draw a soundly reasoned conclusion that answers the question at hand.
Elizabeth Shown Mills summed it up nicely with:
"Success with a BCG portfolio--indeed, 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. "
I encourage interested readers to read the entire thread of responses. The TGF message board is one of the best freely available forums to ask questions and receive answers from knowledgeable and respected genealogists.
Am I correct with my assignments of Direct vs. Indirect in the five examples above? What examples do you have that you are puzzled about?
The URL for this post is: http://www.geneamusings.com/2013/07/what-exactly-is-indirect-evidence.html
Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver