Friday, March 6, 2009

Resolving an Evidence Conflict - Post 1: The Assignment

One of my favorite "education" experiences is the monthly homework required by the Professional Genealogy Study Group. This group was started as an outgrowth of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) mailing list about a year ago. The purpose of the group is to help aspiring professional genealogists learn more about being a professional - including business, genealogy research and writing/presenting knowledge. Right now, there are three groups, each with a number of sub-groups, in action.

Each month, there is homework - read one or more chapters in the book Professional Genealogy (edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills), and apply the knowledge to a practical problem, then share it with the small group and constructively review the homework of the other group members. There are several small groups doing the monthly reading, homework and discussing of the subject. My small group has five members, and a professional genealogist mentor that is extremely helpful and supportive.

The February homework was to read Chapter 7 (Evidence Analysis) of Professional Genealogy, and chapter one of Evidence Explained! (by Elizabeth Shown Mills); then to select one person that I am researching and analyze the sources and information I have collected for that person. The task was to follow the chart on page 336 of Professional Genealogy and correlate the available documents to see if I have enough reliable evidence to reach a conclusion. Analysis should be done for each source (original or derivative), the information it contains (primary or secondary) and evaluated for credibility and relevance. If there is "too much" evidence for the life of one person, break it down into one aspect of their life - for instance, their birth, marriage or death.

We had our monthly online chat last night, using Windows Live Messenger, and it was the most lively chat we've had so far. Mainly because of this particular topic, because it is so complex and so broad.

I chose to analyze the birth records of my second great-grandfather, Devier James Lamphier Smith - his birth name, birth date, and birth place. The records I have for Devier J. Smith (see here and here) provide conflicting evidence for each of these facts. Which one is correct? How can I find out?

In the next post, I will define the conflicts in the available evidence for my problem. Then, in future posts, I will discuss and analyze the relevance and credibility of each piece of evidence, define additional records required to resolve any conflicts, and finally I will draw conclusions about the facts and present a proof argument. All of this can be defined as working with the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).

I heartily recommend that every genealogy researcher add the two books mentioned to their personal library, or read them at a genealogy library. They are excellent - standards in the genealogy industry. Evidence Explained! can be downloaded in PDF format for $24.95 from . Professional Genealogy can be purchased through online services like or Barnes and Noble.

Mark Tucker, on his ThinkGenealogy blog, has been posting about his ProGen experiences also. His posts on Confusion with the Various Definitions of Original Source and More on Sources: Original, Derivative, or Otherwise really helped our group focus on definitions and application of the definitions. Mark also created some great tables that several in our group have used for this assignment.

If a study group of this type is appealing to you, more Professional Genealogy Study Groups may be formed if enough people request it. Please contact me at and I can point you to the coordinator of the Study Groups.


Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

These are wonderful exercises, Randy. Thanks for sharing your progress and recommending these great resources for others.

100 Years in America
Small-leaved Shamrock
A light that shines again
Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture

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