Friday, March 2, 2012

Follow-Up Friday - Reader Comments on Evidence and Conclusions

For this Follow-Up Friday, I'm delving into the comments left on recent blog posts over the past week that might have helpful hints from readers, or asked for my comments:  

1)  In More on Conclusion-Based and Evidence-Based Genealogy:

*  Happy Dae  offered an article about the subject on his Shoestring Genealogy site:

"You may also find the following interesting:"

*  Ed said:

"I have been reading some of the same discussions, and since I write code, decided to write myself an app for that. I anticipate two parts to - cataloging sources and the claims they support (assertions, facts, events, whatever); and then putting together a proof for specific subjects and facts. 

"The question is what to do with the proof, and integrating the results of this new app with my genealogy software of choice (in this case RM5). I'm leaning towards using the PROOF document as the source for the facts in RM, knowing that the proof document itself will have citations to all the accounted for sources. However this makes it harder to 'share' sources, since the proof is unpublished.

"Obviously I am still mulling on this, but hope to have a working app in a few weeks."

My comment:  That sounds interesting.  Please share it with us when you have something working.  

*  ColeValleyGirl noted:

"Ed, you might like to look at The app is just going into beta-testing, and isn't coupled to any particular family history programme.
Disclaimer: I'm the author."

My comment:   Another interesting link and possible addition to the genealogy toolbox.

*  Jeff Hodge wrote:

"I like your first citation '1. Conclusion drawn from available evidence . . .' This is how I do it by putting my argument in a footnote. But I especially like the way you make it very clear, after you summarize the supporting and conflicting data, "My conclusion is that he was named . . .' "

My comment:  Thank you, Jeff.  I think this is a way to provide analysis and a proof argument for a name or a specific Fact.

*  Harold commented:

"My main question is what is the purpose of the written account that you ended up with? If it is to refresh your mind (or a descendant's mind!) about your work on this fellow's name, it seems pretty hard to follow. I appreciated the parts where you assessed the information but found I wanted more. Sometimes I find that a table works better than anything for comparing and contrasting the reliability of different scraps.

"These days I find myself concentrating on particular individuals more, and in fact just spent some time excavating information OUT of my database and into a written narrative that made sense, so that I could continue research on a relative that I dropped three years ago. Right now it seems to me that actually writing it up is more help to me than trying to use a genealogy database at all. But that might just be me."

My comment:  The purpose was to provide a summary and analysis of the research.  It could have been more extensive.  Like many researchers, I am trying to keep my information in my genealogy notebooks are bulging and I'm out of bookshelf space.  These are written narratives whether they are in my person notes, in a Fact note, in a word processing document, in an email, or printed out and put in a notebook gathering dust on my bookshelf.  Only by publishing the work (paper or digital) and distributing it will it be assured of being saved.  Some of the current software programs have Research Logs in the form of Tables, and a written narrative can be created in all of the programs.  If you create a written narrative, you can attach the document file (PDF, DOC, XLS, RTF, HTML, etc) as Media to a Person and/or a Fact.  It's possible to do many things with the software, we just have to learn how to use all of the bells and whistles.

*  Ginger Smith commented:

"Randy, this is how I did mine but using only one birth entry with multiple sources:"

My comment:  An excellent article with great examples and discussion.  Thanks, Ginger.

3)  There were lots of excellent comments on Puzzling Over the Evidence-Conclusion Process.  Please read them all.  Some of the highlights:

*  Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith noted:

"I still do not believe I (consciously chosen rather than 'we") ever want to get to the place where "everything I do in family history research' is on the computer. That seems to be the direction of the 'technologist' (all my IT friends, in all fields). The computing devices are great for recording and reporting. But, I still want to write my 'research report' myself, based on my analysis of the facts, the evidence, the conclusions - whatever you want to call them. That cannot (ever) all be on the computing device, controlled by the computing device - the be all, end all - of everything. 
Perhaps I really am to the state of being 'old-fashioned' - but that is where I'm as when I read this. Off-base, or on? ;-)"

My comment:  I think we're all trying to figure this out.  Obviously, repositories and paper documents are necessary for our research.  What do we do with it when we get it?  If we have paper copies, transcriptions, abstracts, extracts, or digital images, they can be put into documents or in notes in the software databases - your choice. You can write your analysis and conclusions  also in the platform of your choice.  The genealogy community has a wide range of individuals with varying skills - some have their information only on paper, some have  everything on the computer, and many of us are somewhere in the middle.   Bill's somewhere in the middle, as I am.  We have to be, because the records we need are not all in digital format.

*  Geolover wrote (in part, see his great examples too):

" The current post is interesting (to me) as it sort of alludes to a major weakness in GEDCOM-based programs. They do not help to evaluate the evidence. One can state a source, put all data from the source in note or comment or document transcript, but there's no major help in comparing what shows what (I do spreadsheets or WP tables for this) or evaluating quality. Note I do not much care for simple numeric ratings because the nature of source, informant, etc. can have more or less subtle differences.

"You say, 'When do I form a conclusion about a family structure based on the evidence collection? The parent-child relationship is probably the most important assertion of all for the family tree! I haven't sourced ANY relationship assertions yet in my database. It never has crossed my mind until now.'

"This is really a key element of the present GEDCOM system that is lacking as in the first paragraph above. Plus, the 7-Step Program breaks down in the GEDCOM system when you don't know which one of an uncertain number of individuals by the same name will turn out to be the son Willie Wonka mentioned in Charlie Wonka's will, and the goal is to establish which Willie is the one who was father of already proven ancestor Sam Wonka."

My comments:  You make the case for users creating more extensive research logs, notes, tables, spreadsheets, etc. and attaching them to the persons in the software as Media.   My research has been tremendously helped by writing evidence analysis and proof arguments for thorny research problems, because I find more evidence than I thought I had without doing it.  In the past, I have created a person in the software (actually, for Devier Smith's father) to collect all of the evidence I have, with transcriptions, abstracts, sources, analysis, discussion and conclusions, to help me sort out the "same-name" or "unknown" person.  

Evidence evaluation can be helped by using a certainty scale like Tim Forsythe suggests, or by using your own scale or description, and putting those in the more extensive notes.  Some of the software programs provide a "Proof" indicator for each Fact - e.g., RootsMagic 5 has a selection of Proven, Proven False, disputed, or blank.  

*  Taco Goulooze, in response to Bill Smith, noted:

"Well, Bill, it's still you who has to set a research goal, and it's still you who has to find a source of information, it's still you who has to enter that information. The fact that you set a goal already implies you have an idea where your research should take you, both physical (to find the information needed) and mental (to make sense of the information gathered). We should never forget that whatever software you use, it should be used to assist you with your work, not to restrict how you work."

My comment:  Amen!   The computer programs we have do have features to help us do these tasks - research logs, research notes, etc.  We just have to use them effectively.   If evidence-based programs become available (are there any yet that satisfy Tim, Louis, GeneJ and others?), then we will learn how to use them to our advantage.  

*  abercrombie uk noted:

"Hi dear. Thanks for your sharing, I just need them, it is very kind of you"

My comment:  Huh?  Linda, is that you?  What do you need now?  Sources?  Esoteric discussion?  You're welcome!  Just thought i'd put this in to see if anyone reads down this far!

*  Tim Forsythe wrote about an ASSOciation tag (interesting!), and then commented:

"As far as data entry, we may be over thinking the entire process. The point of evidence-based genealogy is to make sure we document separately every unique claim for each person. It doesn't matter which record is entered first and which last. People should do it in whatever way they are most comfortable with. Obviously if the person's record already exists, which it does in many cases, then the next step is probably to enter the source, and then fill in all the claims. If you want to enter the claims first and then go back and add the source, have at it. As long as the end result is the same it doesn't matter. If you are not sure if the claims belong to the same person, it would probably be better to add seperate individual records and merge them later if need be, than to try to break them apart later. We've all had plenty of practice at both.

"None of this prevents genealogists from putting pen to paper to derive conclusions. It is simply a method used to gather all the relevant information about a person, and document where it came from. How it is used from there is open to our imaginations."

My comments:  Great observations.  I know that I am trying to understand the concept of evidence-based genealogy, and try to apply the concepts using the genealogy software that I have available to me and have experience in.  

*  ACProctor commented on Bill Smith's comment, saying:

"Although I’m primarily a technologist, I also appreciate that there isn’t – and never will be – a single way of researching, documenting, and storing family history data. It worries me that we may be trying to overly prescribe how things are done for the benefit of computer orientated storage.

"I made a passing comment on BetterGEDCOM , fairly recently, that may have been lost in a Lilliputian discussion of Persona. The essence of that comment was that any new format for the exchange and long-term storage of our data must be able to represent all our data without bias or presumption about the process used to obtain it. In other words, it should be as applicable to rigorously and methodically derived data as to the naïve collecting of names and dates.

"This is a very fine line. It doesn’t dilute these discussions of best practices but a data format should be more concerned with being able to distinguish the types of data (and to link them together) rather than mandate a specific process for deriving them."

My comment:  Ah, technologists and users... we need to work together, don't we!  We need to keep discussing this.

I hope that my posting these reader comments helps readers understand the issues by discussing this important subject.  Excellent reader comments often get hidden in the blog list and are hidden from  view of readers unless they subscribe to a feed for the comments.

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver.


Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Randy. Thank you for this 'relook' at this discussion. I had commented, as you noted, and I really appreciate the couple of folks plus you that responded. I'm also pleased that each understood what I was saying, and I appreciate the responses, including yours. I feel better.
I do look forward to the good works underway at FHISO and the BetterGedcom wiki by folks of each ilk that really care about us all. ;-)

Ginger Smith said...

Hi Randy, I would like to comment on Harold's comment. I too, used to keep everything in excel spreadsheets and in Word documents and tables, etc. However now that I have taken the Family Finder test, many of my matches have asked for a gedcom or family tree file for me to share; or they have sent me one or they have sent me a list of their surnames and I have found the genealogy software to be an invaluable tool to use to look up similarities between my matches and I. That's why I have started back to using my gen software. Thanks for mentioning my post and examples. You've done a great summary and encouraged a great discussion.