Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Does Genealogy Software Force Me to be Conclusion-Based?

NOTE:  Updated 7 p.m. on 29 February after RootsMagic commented about the "Primary" indicator.  Obsolete comments are in strikethrough, revised comments are in red.  Thank you, Bruce!

After I posted Trying to be an Evidenced-Based Researcher- Does This Work? yesterday, I realized that I was forced to be a Conclusion-based genealogist by the genealogy management programs I use.  

Look at the Birth records for Devier James Lamphier Smith.  In RootsMagic 5, I made the 7 May 1839 birth date the "Birth" Fact because that is my current conclusion.  I also had five Alternate birth Facts dating from 1838-1839 to 7 May 1842.  If I had made all of the Alternate Birth Facts I had (5 of them) into Birth Facts, then RootsMagic would have put the earliest (the 1838-1839) Birth Fact into every report or chart I make. Therefore, in RootsMagic I can either choose one Birth Fact to show in screens, reports and charts (but list all of the Alternate Birth Facts in screens and reports), or RootsMagic will make the selection for me (the earliest entry in a Birth Fact).   If I make all of the Alternate Birth Facts into Birth Facts, then I can designate one of them as "Primary" based on my evidence evaluation.    I can modify the "Sort Date" to put them in the order I desire (i.e., I can make the "sort date" 1842 for the 1839 Fact so that it comes after the "Primary" Birth Fact).  That "Primary" Fact will show up in the screens, reports and charts, but the other Birth Facts will also show up in the Reports.  Would an Evidenced-based genealogist be happy with RootsMagic 5 making the selection for them?  How would an Evidenced-based genealogist, who is not ready to draw an evidence-based conclusion, deal with this?

Legacy Family Tree 7.5 requires a Conclusion for each Fact type, but permits other Facts for the type.  If I add five more entries in Legacy for Birth, then if I can make one of them the Fact that shows up in screens, reports and charts using Options > "Swap with Birth Information."  The other Birth, or Alternate Birth, Facts don't seem to show up in screens or reports.  In this case, the user has control of the Conclusion.  How would an Evidenced-based genealogist, who is not ready to draw an evidence-based conclusion, deal with this?

Family Tree Maker 2012 permits any number of Facts for an Event.  For Devier Smith's birth, I can enter all six "Birth" Facts and then I can select a "Preferred" Fact using the Options > "Preferred" button.  I can also add Alternate Birth Facts and make one of them "Preferred."  I could change the Alternate Birth Facts to Birth Facts and make one of them "Preferred."  If I make all of the Birth Facts into alternate Birth Facts, then no Birth Facts show up in screens, reports and charts.   It appears that I have to select one of them as "Preferred" or not have Fact show up in screens, reports and charts.  In this program, the user has control of the Conclusion.  How would an Evidenced-based genealogist, who is not ready to draw an evidence-based conclusion, deal with this?

Please note that I am not complaining about these programs, just pointing out that they handle Facts differently, and seem to promote Conclusion-based genealogy.  That's understandable to me - they are database programs and many researchers "want to have something in every field."  

How do other genealogy management program enable Evidence-based genealogy?  How should these GMPs enable it?  

As has been shown in many of my posts about genealogy management programs, I do not know or use every jot and tittle feature in the programs.  I'd like to think that i'm a knowledgeable user, but evidently I am not!  I appreciate the patience of the software developers!

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Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver.


Linda McCauley said...

In Legacy, if you include "events" in a report, the alt. births will show up. (That probably doesn't work for all reports, like pedigree charts, but it works in Family Group, Ancestor and Descendant reports.) I have at least one person in my Legacy db that I've left the regular birth date field blank and added 3 alt. births because I have no clue which possibility is most likely accurate.

There are also "birth notes" in Legacy where you can explain why you have chosen the date you used over the alt. dates. These notes can also be included in most reports.

Unknown said...

Randy, that is why my website sorts all dated claims by dates and uses certainty assessments to indicate the likely best candidates, and uses notes for further clarification. As you've pointed out, certainty assessments are subjective, but are based on source categories, so that the most authoritative sources render better assessments than non-authoritative ones.

RootsMagic said...

RootsMagic doesn't choose for you. There is a checkbox "Primary" for each fact type where you select the conclusion you want.

GeneJ said...

I spent upwards of a year in dialog about record-based (what others call "evidence") vs conclusion models. After all that time, I find myself firmly in the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) model-to-be-developed camp. (smiling) If folks want to call it the conclusion model, I won't object. In truth though, I have to tug and pull on the conclusion model to accomplish the task, too.

Record-based. For years, I've used software that allows me to enter events and "alt" events. Each can be associated with one or more sources. And yes, I can choose a primary event ... but wait, say I actually want to produce a genealogical communication (family group sheet, narrative), what happens to the record of all the conflicting evidence when I choose a primary event? (Unfortunately, most of the conflicted information from isn't being reported in those genealogical communications.)

GPS. The requirements for a GPS model are not a secret. In all too short form--we have multiple event data, different record-data and multiple sources, right? Based on what we know "about the source" we observe cluse and patterns in the "record data," from which we may reach genealogical conclusions. These conclusions mostly answer questions about identity or relationships.

When I reach conclusions, I want to retain the record of the source ("about the source") and the source data ("record data") that was considered. From the record of that source data, I want to recognize as "evidence" the specific information that contributed to my conclusion. I want to explain my reasoning--yes, that was "my reasoning." In genealogical terms, we call this a proof summary or a proof argument. It may be simple (doesn't take much reasoning), or complex--it is still "my reasoning."

Let's say I've not yet been able to reach a conclusion--I'm still not inclined to favor the "primary" event. I still want to report about all the sources and data I've considered; I want to report about the conflict and explain "my reasoning" for having not reached a conclusion ….

Since we don't yet have that GPS technology model yet, I don't record many alt events any more. I create a record of what I consider my "best evidence" and then report "about my sources" and record-data conflicts, resolved or not, in my citations. I am able to prioritize my source If the conflict are materials, I add a conflict tag or source to my events. If my proof is complex, I haul out the trusty word processor or add a separate proof tag or citation to my events (although it can be painful, I can attach multiple sources to a tag).

In the course of discussions over the year, I've been told the "record based" model will better support my research process. Sigh. My research process consists of more the performing a search and recording data. I've been told "record based input" will provide machine readable information so that algorithms can be written to do the work for me. (Humm… "input" is not a small task. As for the pattern recognition and thought provoking effort---well, that is a feature I love about genealogy.)

I'm a supporter of the emerging record based technologies--but modern needs are far more than search and capture. At least I believe the emerging technologies need to catch up. Each of us, can help. As you do so often, Randy, we can all do a better job of explaining our needs, and we can work togther in representing our needs--after all, these are community requirements. Vendors and technologists are listening. Bless us for folks like RootsMagic, who commented, just above.

Sheryl said...

This is a little off topic, but I feel that our research process will advance with more websites putting historical documents online. I am talking about websites like Family Search, Internet Archive, Chronicling America. They allow us to link to the document without paying for a subscription to see the document. This will allow more evidence to be evaluated. Pay sites with copyright written all over the place are keeping historical research in the dark ages. It seems especially offensive on documents created before 1900.

Sue Adams said...

Yah! You've got it, Randy. And very nicely explained for the rest of us.

GeneJ is right about the need for a data model that supports the GPS. The RootsMagic work around is just that, and a clumsy one that is well, just unusable.

My next challenge to you, Randy: Imagine one of the birth records for Devier Smith is for a differnt person. Being a good genealogist you recorded all the information on that record (i.e. parents etc.) in your software. Now you want to remove that record from your Devier Smith's family. How easy is it to unpick this?

Celia Lewis said...

I count on your digging and delving into the ways the software works, Randy! I struggle with showing my process on both Legacy & RootsMagic (can't afford FTM - neither of which quite do the job. Too many preset templates trying to make it easier, means it's harder to be flexible. Thanks for posting your work! Always an education for me.

Louis Kessler said...


I think you do it right and you've described the process needed perfectly.

I've printed out your comment and put it in my important document file. :-)


KAM Chapman said...

GeneJ - Thank you! You just pulled out so many of my thoughts and put them together so well. Thank you for sharing and thank you Randy for more stimulating thoughts and discussion. I'm loving it! :)