Monday, February 20, 2012

Are You an Evidence-Based or a Conclusion-Based Genealogist?

In Events, Assertions, Evidence, Facts, Sources, Analysis, Conclusions, Software, Oh My! I noted that I would review how the genealogy management software programs that I have used handle those items.  

Concerning Events, multiple or alternate Assertions, conclusions and Facts, here is my experience:

1)  Personal Ancestral File (PAF):  I used PAF from 1989 until 1998, and don't recall if it permitted alternate Facts (births, marriages, deaths, etc.) or not.  I no longer have it on my Windows 7 computer system and my former system doesn't work any more.

2)  Family Tree Maker 16:  I used Family Tree Maker from 1998 to the present, although I don't use it as my "data entry" program any longer.  I like the way FTM 16 handles alternate information:  I can enter any number of assertions for a Fact type, including a date, a location, and a source for the specific Fact.  I don't have to use an "Alternate" designation for a Fact.  If I have more than one Fact (assertion) for a specific event, I can click a button on the Fact list to "Make Preferred" the assertion that I select for my Conclusion.  I can write my soundly written conclusion in the "Notes" section.

3)  Family Tree Maker 2012:  I've used FTM 2008 to FTM 2012 off and on since 2008, but it is not my "data entry" program.  FTM 2012 handles alternate information the same way that FTM 16 does.  I can enter any number of assertions for a Fact type, including a date, location, and any number of sources for a specific Fact.  I can attach Media and Notes for each Fact.  If I have more than one Fact for a specific Event, I can click on the "Options" button on the Fact screen and select "Preferred" to make the preferred Fact show up on the screens and in reports and charts.

4)  Legacy Family Tree 7:  I've used Legacy Family Tree 7 since 2009, but it is not my "data entry" program. Legacy 7 has a "Conclusion based" system that permits only one Event/Fact (date and place name) for births, christenings, marriages, deaths and burials.  Any number of sources can be attached to each Fact, along with images and notes for each source of a specific Fact.  A user can create an "Alternate" Fact for birth, christening, marriage, death and burial  Facts and add sources, notes and images.  To make an Alternate Fact a Preferred Fact, highlight the Fact in the Edit Person screen and select "Option" to Swap with the Preferred Fact.  The former preferred Fact becomes an Alternate Fact and the Alternate Fact becomes the Event Fact (preferred).  

5)  RootsMagic 5:  I've used RootsMagic since 2009, and it currently is my "data entry" program.  RootsMagic has an "Evidence-based" system that permits any number of Assertions/Facts for an Event, and any number of sources.  Media can be attached to the person or to a Source.  A note can be added for each Fact.  If a user desires, s/he can have any number of Birth Fact entries.  A user can add an Alternate Fact for names, birth, christening, marriage, death and burial and add sources, notes and media.  To make an alternate Fact a Fact, the user can use the "Options" button on the Edit Person screen to change the Fact type from "Alternate Fact" to Fact.  There appears to be no "Preferred Fact" option in RootsMagic.    

It appears to me that all five of these programs can handle multiple Assertions/Facts for specific Events, and permit sources, notes, and media to be added to them.  There are differences between the different programs, but the results are nearly identical.  

The bigger issue is really how the user of the program inputs their data.  Russ Worthington described "Conclusion-based" input and "Evidence-based" input in his blog post When to enter data into your Genealogy Software? on his A Worthington Weblog post today.  

 For example, if I have five sources of information, say:

*  Birth in about 1823 in Massachusetts (age 27 in 1850 U.S. Census).
*  Birth in Oct 1823 in Massachusetts (given in 1900 U.S. Census)
*  Birth on 16 October 1823 in Westminster, Massachusetts (listed in Town vital record book)
*  Birth on 16 October 1823 in Westminster, Massachusetts (Birth certificate certified by town clerk)
*  Birth on 16 October 1823 (on cemetery gravestone inscription)

An "Evidence-based" user might enter all five of those as Birth assertions (Facts), and would cite a source for each Assertion, and might attach Media and/or make notes for each assertion.  S/he would make one of the assertions a Conclusion and label it as a "Preferred" Fact, with supporting sources, media and notes, which would then show in reports and charts.  

A "Conclusion-based" user might have only one Birth fact in their database, might replace any Conclusion with another Conclusion Fact, and cite only one Source for the Conclusion.  Another user might cite multiple sources for the Conclusion reached.  Another user might enter "Alternate Facts" for each Assertion/Fact that they come across, and update the Conclusion Fact with the date and location developed by making soundly reasoned conclusions with the applicable sources, media and notes.

The genealogy management programs appear to be written in such a way that any user can adopt standards of inputting assertions and making Conclusions based on Evidence.  There is no set "right" way.  

After working with Russ for several months now, I think that I understand his "Evidence-based" logic processes concerning data entry.  I've enjoyed several of Geoff Rasmussen's webinars about learning how to use various features in Legacy Family Tree, and see how he enters data (it is also Evidenced-based).  They are the most creative and methodical persons I've seen (hmmm, I haven't seen that many!) when it comes to data entry into a software program.  By comparison, I'm definitely Conclusion-based and am not that methodical - in fact, I'm pretty haphazard!  

Why am I a "Conclusion-based" person?  Perhaps it is because that was how I started out in PAF and FTM (even though FTM permitted preferred facts).  I realize that I should have entered the data as I received it from the different sources found over the years, but I didn't. At this point in my genealogy career, it will be very difficult to modify my ways of doing data entry, but I have some decent role models to emulate.

What kind of data entry genealogist are you?  Do you enter each assertion as you glean and gather them, or do you draw a conclusion and enter only that conclusion?  If you are just starting your research, then I encourage you to become "Evidence-based" because that seems the most logical to me at this point in time.

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) Randall J. Seaver, 2012.


Cousin Russ said...


Great blog post. Very, very helpful.

Thank you,


Sheryl said...

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.

Unknown said...

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 ever 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 I want to be able to give my visitors as much information as possible so that they may make their own conclusions. One of my pet peeves is finding conclusions already made for me when I visit other trees. The main problem I see with the conclusion based approach is that when a new piece of evidence comes along, it may be difficult to weigh its relevance against other sources if those other sources were discarded at the time a conclusion was reached. In genealogy, seldom do we find absolute truths, and even long held beliefs can be shown to be wrong based on new evidence. My website tries to take the evidence approach one step further. You may remember that I categorize my sources by several factors, and based on these categories, my software creates certainty assessments that are then shown on my website. These certainty assessments give visitors an additional tool upon which to base their own conclusions.

Sheryl said...

Yes, Tim Forsythe, I like your website. I would especially like people to be able to make comments on a person's page and on a source's page. Something similar to blog comments. Your never know what additional leads other people might have and corrections in our reasoning they might make if comments were easy to add.

Sheryl said...

Another thing, Tim, are the source images in your gedcom or do you add them later? Are the images stored on your website or another website? What about things like a probate document that is 50 pages long?

Sue Adams said...

I disagree with Randy's apparent thinking that the 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.

Cousin Russ said...


I am really interested in your comment:

"All the current programs are really set up for are conclusions"

I think this has be part of my confusion. In my file, I rarely reach a conclusion. Unless, when you say "conclusion" it is momentary or at this point in time. I may have 5 different entries for One Fact or Event.

For example: Birth: 1 may have the Year, 2 may have the place, 3 may have year and state, 4 may have the Month, Year, and State, 5 may have Month Date and Year. NONE are complete. I have not reached a conclusion, because I haven't found the record with the complete birth information. Or, I am gathering Evidence to reach a conclusion.

Do you see my confusion?

If you don't with to respond to Randy's blog, Please comment on my Blog post:

Thank you,


KAM Chapman said...

I'm with you Sue! I want to go through the whole research process in my program, from either direction and have it make sense. I don't want to have to add alternate people or dates or events or whatever as a hack until I have come to a dang solid conclusion. I want to share the mumblings and mullings as such, not as "facts."

Russ, I read your blog post - thank you for it. All of the family tree software that I have looked into require conclusions - like John is this dude's name - to be entered in order to attach a source with the thoughts that came from it into your system, but what if you feel completely uncertain that the name is John, since the source may only have a "J." and nothing more. Do you ignore that tid-bit? Do you ignore that source? Do you make up an extra name for "J?" Do you make up a spare person until you are sure "J" and John are really the same person?

I don't like the feeling of making people or places or anything else up, just to make what I am doing fit into the forms available in the tree program. So, in answer to Randy's question, I am definitively an evidence-based genealogist.

Cousin Russ said...


I am not sure what "All of the family tree software that I have looked into require conclusions" means.

If my evidence I am looking at calls "the dude" John, and I am pretty sure that it's my person, based on the rest of this piece of evidence, I'll record those pieces of evidence into my file.

Looking at my file, for the Name Entries, John may or may not be his name.

I may only have a middle name of "J" for his name from other pieces of evidence.

I can not jump to a conclusion, as I have a conflict J vs John . I need more evidence.


Caroline said...

Genealogy database software is no longer a place to collect facts and print out reports to share with distant cousins by email or snail mail. It is now a tool to be used in the research process as evidenced by the rich feature sets listed by the different companies.

And the company that creates software that actually supports the way a newer researcher performs their work both online and offline will be the winner. This includes allowing the researcher to have an online tree synced with their database and their smartphone and/or tablet. Also, it includes assisting the researcher in recording clues that they find anywhere online so that they don't have to use online storage [cloud] systems to record parts of their data. Right now, the only one that is addressing this new genealogy research workflow is Family Tree Maker 2012.

In my opinion, most of the genealogy database software is closed, and makes a user manually enter in information, and they haven't been keeping up with the technology either. People are not online now, then offline later. They're ALWAYS online whether they are at home and or they are out and about, and they need access to their data ALL the time.

For example, I was just looking at a tutorial of a newer version of a particular software. And they seemed really excited about their newer mapping features. But? It's a contained mapping feature. Why are they not just incorporating Google Maps? Google Maps is online, and THAT is where I'm researching. Instead of coming up with these closed systems, why not utilize the online technology already out there, and concentrate on making an app and online database that syncs with all my devices so that I can actually use it as I'm working? If my tree and/or data is online, then I can just give my distant cousin [who, by the way, found me online] access to the tree. Easy peasy.

I realize not everyone uses the software the same way, but this is the genealogy research workflow of the present and future, and it's why we keep using other technology to get our job done. They need to focus on the problem to solve and not their competitor.


Tessa Keough said...

As with many things in life, we need to be aware that not everyone does something the same way. Many people who "do" genealogy like using a genealogy database system that requires input rather than ones that pushes information from the research to the program (I am guessing although not sure) that Caroline is speaking of FTM. Another important point, we need to respect that not everyone works online; lots of people use their own systems. Unfortunately some act as if you are not using the "latest" thing you are behind the times. Lots of people do not spend all their research time online, many of them research in archives and libraries and courthouses. Many think about the information they have acquired before they are comfortable placing it in a program (online or offline). Many others have no interest in “sharing” their research or their trees with the general public (or perhaps only portions) and they prefer to share with reports. As a result, there needs to be this type of thoughtful discussion on improving all programs, not a view that online all in one is the future and if you aren’t there you are the past.

I personally do not like the interaction between Ancestry and FTM and like to keep my work separate (as do many others). I do not like yearly for purchase updates and the constant barrage about purchasing a variety of products from either site. I also think that the "ease of use" with Ancestry and FTM oftentimes makes for rushed "research" and lots of bad shaking leaves discoveries. I like to set up and control my system. Now does this make me not a "newer" user in the genealogy sphere – absolutely not. I am online, I use ancestry and several other free and subscription sites, as well as online storage services, I attend webinars, use hangouts, and blog, I have mobile and computer based programs, and I use different search engines and mapping programs.

While I think it is important to focus on one database program (as your main program) really learn it and know the ins and outs, I think it is important not to tie yourself into one program and/or one way of thinking. Learning your program and adapting it to the way you research, take notes, source data, etc., is important and should be encouraged. I think many of us make the mistake of thinking that everyone has the same access to programs and services as we do and I have found that is simply not true. Moving this discussion of programs and GEDcom variations is extremely helpful for all of us but we should remember not to dismiss those who don’t do it “our way.”

KAM Chapman said...

Russ - sorry to be slow slow in response. That is what I think too - don't jump to conclusions, but certainly record it if I feel some confidence that it's my guy. My concern was and is with the way that it seems like I need to already have some confidence before I can include something that may only be a leading hint or totally off the mark all together. I want to include it all now, with the program being able to understand my thoughts and why it is included and that it may mean everything or next to nothing in the end. I want a program working with me in every step, not just the ones that I have already tested out. I also want to restrict sharing the stuff that is not tested in a way that gives those thoughts the same weight as something I have had time to really zero in on and develop to a point of confidence in its validity.

Caroline - I loved how you talked about the genealogy workflow. That process - the research process - is so valuable. It is not just a nice looking tree hanging on the wall or blog that matters to me. It is the process of discovery. We need to be able to share that workflow for others to be able to use our research as a building block in their own research - if we want them to not have to re-do our work or wonder how useful our conclusions can be to them. I want my program available to look at and work with anytime, anywhere. Otherwise it can't follow all of that work flow. I want it to remember what I am doing and have done so that I can share it. Plus, when I have to stop my research and come back months later, I want to easily know right what I was doing with all the tid-bits of evidence and information I had previously been using.

Beirne Konarski said...

A couple of comments. First, the blog post says: "There appears to be no "Preferred Fact" option in RootsMagic." Isn't that what the Primary checkbox is for? It's what I use to specify my conclusions.

In terms of whether to include all of the evidence in one's genealogy program, I include all of the evidence I find and then draw conclusions. Keeping all of the evidence does not have to work against conclusions, and I think they actually support them. Part of the GPS is the RES, and seeing the full collection of evidence in my software supports that.

Also, I have lots of cases where I have been unable to reach a conclusion. Until then I need to keep all of the evidence so help me make my decision.

Finally, it is possible that even if I reach a conclusion, that later on new evidence will come in that contradicts it. Having all of the other evidence on hand will assist in the re-evaluation.

The key is being able to manage all of this. I recently switched from FTM 2012 to RM 5 and found that RM 5 has some handy features for emphasizing conclusions. You can mark a piece of evidence as proven, proven false, or disputed. The ones proved false or disputed show as red with strikethrough, making it clear which evidence has been rejected. I only wished it marked the proven facts in a different color to make them stand out from the undetermined evidence.

Unknown said...

After viewing this blog and other like it, I went back and examined the software and website presentation that I'm currently using. In FTM 2012, I always input all variations of a "fact element" and attach the source materials to that element. For instance my grandfather has 14 sources attached to his "name fact" in my FTM 2012 database. As I find variations of his name, I record each variation, and attach the source to support that variation, and the program allows me to pick a "preferred" fact. This is useful because it helps me keep track of and sort out where all of these variations came from, and I can "rate" the source materials based on a 4-star rating built into the software. I consider this valuable information as I work up my conclusions on the facts that surround my ancestor's life. While it is commonly known that FTM 2012 (and now FTM 2014) sync with your tree resident on the website, what I hadn't really taken note of is that the website is really a "Conclusion" presentation of my data, so anyone that's interested in my work would only see my conclusionary results synced from the FTM software's Preferred Facts fields. As an example, my online tree at Ancestry shows my grandfather's birth information as: John Thomas Slager, born 14 Mar 1914 in Chicago, Cook, Illinois, USA. The ONLY assigned source for his Birth entry is the "Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1922" online database. This is truly the only source that provided me with all of the birth information about him in one record, which is why it is attached to his Preferred Fact data. The other 13 sources only had variations of his name, birth date and birth location. While I can easily access and analyze all 14 sources on the Ancestry website (because my role is Editor for my tree) it's easy for me to forget that a visitor would only be able to see my conclusionary results, namely the Preferred Fact in FTM and the citation attached to it. It would appear to a visitor at first glance that I really haven't done an RES on my grandfather, even though I have. My actual work is only visible to ME, or others that are given the role of Editor for my tree. I find this a little disconcerting, as I want to make sure my genealogical work is clearly presented, and I don't come across as an "attach one record and move on" type of genealogist. I have thought of writing Proof Statements for my ancestors, in which I go into detail about all of my sources for all events and how I reached my conclusions on the facts of their lives, and just upload that Proof Statement as a "story" to my ancestor, and I will probably still do that, but I haven't done that yet. I must admit that I like using FTM and Ancestry for the visual interface. I personally cannot stomach using a software interface or website that doesn't have a nice look to it. I know that's just a preference, and it probably doesn't matter to most other genealogists, but I not only want to have high quality work done, but I want to work with it and have it presented in a slick format as well.